“Our trucks will park on the roads forever, if there are no holding bays”
Alhaji Kayode Odunowo is the, Chairman, Joint Council for Seaport Truck Operators (JCOST) and also Deputy Chairman Lagos State in the National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO). In this interview with Anozie Egole, he spoke extensively on the challenges the association is facing in assessing the ports and sundry other issues.
“How can a security agent in the port stop you to ask for your driver’s license when he/she is neither the VIO nor FRSC officer?”
For some time now, JCOST has been silent, what has been happening?
Yes for some time now, we have not really done anything because this regime is trying to wind up. We are preparing to hand over to a new regime, so we are trying to put our house in order. And secondly we have been in court with some government agencies like the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC). So we want to settle all these issues before we can organize our election.
What actually led to the court case between your association, JCOST and the government agencies?
We went to court with NPA because of the issue of sticker; they have been forcing our people to take sticker a couple of months ago. And our people said NO, they cannot be paying for sticker every year; it is supposed to be once in a while. Sometimes the importer pays for these stickers alongside the shipping charges but they will still tasking our people.
We went to court with FRSC because of their outrageous charges on our people, their charge ranges from N200,000 to N450,000. These were the reasons why we are in court with the two agencies. The latest about the case is that it has been adjourned till 13th of this month.
What do you think is the cost implication of the Ijora bridge repair that is going on?
We are not aware that they said they were going to close down the bridge to carry out the repair. What we are aware was the ultimatum given recently by the Nigerian Navy.
What steps did your organization take to ensure compliance with the ultimatum by your members?
As you can see, there is no vehicle on the bridge again. We have ensured that when it is time they call them five at a time to come to the ports that is the step we have taken. You can only see them on the roads.
There is a recent collaboration between, NARTO, MWUN, Joint Seaport Operators, what do you have to say about the collaboration?
They had MoU and it has been signed, they have even started temporarily in the ports. All the associations when you say NARTO, RTEAN and MWUN, you are talking about JCOST, it comprises of NARTO, AMARTO, RTEAN, MWUN and others. So we cannot say no to the collaboration between the associations.
Are there any other plans by your association towards adding more palliatives to the bad spots at Coconut bus stop?
What we are saying is that as far as we are concerned, we are forcing the government to do something on the road. The road is not something that one or two associations can fix; it is the work of the government. The ones done by NARTO last year was a welcome idea and they spent a lot of money on that project. So you cannot just allow only one or two associations to be repairing roads for the government. It is the duty of the government to repair roads for the tax payers.
For how long will the trucks still be on the bridges?
My own is that they will be there forever if there are no holding bays. Where will the drivers park their trucks? That is the noise that we have been making; let all shipping companies build a holding bay for these empty containers, but they refused. So the trucks will continue to stay on the road and there is nothing anybody can do about that. We are not the owners of the containers; it is the shipping companies that own these containers. We have asked them to give us holding bay but they refused. What the Navy said that they don’t want trucks on the bridge we have complied there is no more vehicles on the bridge but removing the trucks form the roads I don’t think is it possible.
What have been the challenges so far?
Apart from the bad roads, we have been encountering harassment from the security agencies; the harassment is too much. They are not allowing us to make profits from this business again. How can a security agent in the ports stop you to ask for your driver’s license when he/she is neither the VIO or FRSC officer? They only do that to extort the driver and when they do this they will cause traffic and it affects us so much because almost all our profits are being taken away. So we have problems, you can see so many of our drivers on the roads, some of them have been there for more than one week now. They eat, bath and even ease themselves there and that is not fair enough. So we are appealing to the government to really help us, we have given them the solution to this problem but to comply with it is the problem.
If they want the vehicles to leave the road, shipping companies should direct all the vehicles to their holding bays where they will transport all the empty containers to the ports at night; not in the afternoon. With that you will see that there will be no vehicle on the roads, we have been saying this since 2011 and you know we have tried.
This is a general problem that we are facing- for example you as a person when you leave Apapa to Mile 2, you will know how many hours it will take you. So what we are saying is for the government to do something so that the roads will be free. They should finish the palliatives that they are doing on time.
What are you plans for the welfare of most of your drivers?
This is what I have been complaining about and I know that you are not even happy with the way you see our drivers on the roads, it is not fair. Talking about their welfare, they cannot leave their trucks on the road to go and sleep because they could be called up anytime. So whenever they want to sleep it must be in the truck.
Normally what we do is to educate our drivers to be law-abiding and we have introduced insurance scheme for our drivers. Premium for the insurance depends on the percentage of the drivers’ salary. The programme is still new it is just about six months old and it is for all drivers especially NARTO drivers.
How would you assess the road re-construction going on at Apapa work by Dangote?
They should finish that work on time before the rain starts. I don’t understand the job that they are doing, I don’t really understand. I know if it was Berger or other reputable contractors they would have finished the job. If they can do that particular place well, it will reduce the traffic at Tin-Can.
How would you assess business in the first quarter of this year?
There is no business moving at all since last year. Instead of trucks to load for about 4-5 times in a week, they only load once. And at the end of the day to return the empty container for the once you moved is very difficult. So there is no business.