‘’We are calling on the government to use their political will to force shipping companies to have holding bays for containers’’
Alhaji Abdullahi Inuwa is the Vice Chairman, Lagos State Dry Cargo section and also the Director of Field Operations for the National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO). In this interview with Anozie Egole, he talked extensively about the challenges the truckers face on the road and the challenges of navigating the chaotic Apapa traffic.
Why did truckers protest recently and blocked access to Tin Can ports?
Actually it was not really the blockage on Tin Can ports; it was an in-house protest within the drivers themselves. What happened I would say was out of ignorance, some of the thugs were driving against the traffic and they were led by some military men from Berger Yard to Trinity. So the drivers now tried to protest but for the timely intervention of some of our members, including the unit chairmen, myself with the help of the police in-charge of the Tin-Can axis, we came and we addressed the issue and we also paved way for all those trucks that blocked the road to pass.
The NPA in an effort to address the Apapa traffic has introduced a call up system. How prepared is your association to key into that?
Thank you, this is a good question and I want you to listen. Let us stop deceiving ourselves; there is no truck that enters into the ports without call up, the Truck Delivering Note (TDO) serves as a call up. This TDO has already been programmed between the shipping companies and the terminal operators and once you get that TDO it means that you are authorised to come into the ports. Any truck that you see that is going to carry cargo is going with that TDO and for the other general cargo, like those ones going to ENL, Josepdam, amongst others, before they enter, they prepare call-up. Before you enter, you the transporter will provide the number of trucks that want to load, the clearing agent will take it to the management of the terminal. They will now raise the list and forward to NPA before they will allow the truck to enter and this process is applicable to all the terminals. So, if they are still talking about call-up, I don’t know which call-up they want to introduce again which already the TDO is serving as a call-up for the containerised cargoes. The problem they are having is that there is manipulation by shipping companies and terminal operators and they are all hiding under that thing because they are beneficiary of what is happening now.
Another problem that we are having is the empty containers, the shipping companies and the terminal operators do not have control over their empty containers. They only have control over those trucks coming to load because they have already been programmed through the TDO between the shipping companies and the terminal operators. I am aware that any truck that carries a container is only going to discharge the content in the container and bring back the container within a grace period of some days. Failing to bring back the container within the grace period will attract some demurrage. Initially the concession agreement says that every shipping company must have a holding bay for their empty containers. So that when the trucks are coming back from the warehouse they will only go to the holding bays of the shipping companies outside the ports and discharge the empty containers. It is the responsibility of the shipping companies to get approval from the NPA if they want to ship-out the empty container. The NPA management will now give them the approval, but because of manipulation and greed by the government regulatory body on shipping companies and terminal operators, they just close their eyes and allow shipping companies to be bringing in their empty containers directly to the ports. They do not want to pay for the rent of the facilities they are using for the holding bays. Initially, in the past when the concesioning started we had so many holding bays at Orile, Amuwo Odofin, Kirikiri, Satellite, Ikeja, Okota, then when we are coming with the empty containers the drivers will just go and drop it straight to the holding bay. Suddenly the whole thing changed and they started bringing the containers direct to the ports.
In 2011, when we noticed that this issue will get to this level, we withdrew our services. The NPA called us for a meeting where they brought a resolution which they signed on the 8th of March 2012 which would have solved 80% of the traffic issue that we are having today. But they failed to implement the resolutions. So you see the issue now is, if really the NPA is serious they should ensure that every shipping company will have a holding bay. They should set up a task force immediately for any container that is going out of the ports; they should indicate the holding bay where they are returning their empty container, they should indicate that so that the driver will know this is where he is going to drop the empty container. Let the government also acquire an empty land where if any shipping company fails to comply they will have an officer that will monitor if the container had come to the holding bay or not. And if not the will seize the container when the shipping company is ready, they will come and pay charges and take their empty containers. The government should be in charge.
What extra measures do you think can be used to address Apapa traffic?
That is what I am telling you. We that are there know people are enjoying themselves under the bad road. If I want to rate, that road takes less than 25% the remaining goes to the shipping companies. If we want to fight the bad road, we have to invite all the shipping companies because more than 85% of the trucks on the roads are carrying empty containers. Out of about five categories of trucks that we have like, sided body that carries bags, we have the silo that carries flower and wheat, we have the tipper, we have frozen foods and containerised, you only find out that it is only container trucks that is everywhere within the ports access roads and they are carrying empty containers. And they say if you the owner or the driver do not return that empty container within a period of days you will pay demurrage. Initially they said they should drop it at all their holding bays but because of greed and what they are benefitting they are dealing with the poor masses.
Some months ago your association started putting palliatives at some bad spots at Coconut bus stop along Apapa-Oshodi expressway, what is happening to the project now?
We have spent close to N3million so far. As a matter of fact we started and we used to hear from the ministry of transport and NPA whenever we meet. They always promise that we will hear from them, but we are yet to hear from them. Last week, we had our Annual General Meeting (AGM) which all our members in all the states including members in FCT were present, the meeting was held in Jigawa state and I presented that issue and our national president is looking into it. He has mandated the Executive Secretary to look into it and give him feedback. So we are waiting for that report.
Now that we are entering into the festive season which comes with a lot of challenges, how prepared is your association to handle the challenges?
The challenges is a holistic one, the major one that we have is the highway, there are so many bad roads and they cause us a lot. Because there is no trip you go up to three times that you will not lose some parts of your truck due to the bad roads. So whatever we are getting we are using it for repairs. Also within this period the ports is supposed to be busy but because of the situation that we are having it is not like that. Before now, it will only take a truck like four o five days to go to Kano and come back. But now, from National Stadium (Surulere) to the port will take you over a week and it is a big loss to us; you know transportation is about turn over. There are so many security agents in place there to control the traffic; we appreciate their effort but there is something people do not know. Some are doing it for good while others are there to enrich themselves. Some do not want the situation to go. Some even create artificial traffic by deliberately blocking the lane and allowing only one single lane. They will block the place even when the road is free and when you are tired you will negotiate with them before they will allow you to go. If not that the Lagos state Governor, Mr Akinwumi Ambode has a listening ear, many of our members would have been jobless. All those days where you see our containers falling on the road, it is only the Lagos state through LASEMA that will come and rescue us. They will lift the truck, clear the road free of charge. He has also asked LASTMA and other agencies to slow down the imposition of fines. We are therefore calling on the government to use their political will and force these shipping companies to have holding bays. We know the government is trying because if you are talking about the road I know that they are on the pipeline. It has to follow due process. We are also saying if the government can give out the road to contractors so that those contractors will build the road and put toll-gate where they can manage it for some years before handling it back to the government. The contractors will fix the road and collect their money because the work is too much for the government to do.