‘’That (burnt) complex has been there even before PTML, so nobody can tell me that the place has been concessioned to PTML’’
On 2nd of January 2018, there were two fire outbreaks at Tin Can Island Port in Lagos. The first was at the Containerized Office Complex at PTML, the second was at the clearing agents’ office block at. The two properties are owned by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). Several offices and valuables were burnt while several millions of Naira was reportedly lost. In this interview with the chairman of the Containerized Office Complex; Chief Chukwuemeka Shedrack, Shipping Position Daily Assistant Editor; Dapo Olawuni gets first-hand account of the incident.
“The port does not have a public toilet or parking space, any little space they see, one or two people in NPA will just sell it and retire”
‘’The way out is for NPA to build a standard office that would accommodate all the agents and a place where port users can go and eat or rest to wait for their consignments
What was the cause of the fire accident at TCIP?
He cause of the fire for now is unknown, but all we are suspecting is sabotage, I cannot understand how a complex owned by NPA, being managed by Seaview Properties, two of them, the one at Tin Can and the one at Containerized Complex got burnt the same day, the particular day the fire incident happened, people were not yet back from the Christmas holidays so there was no work at the complex at all, so we cannot say it is because they put on their generators or it is because they were cooking, there was nothing like that.
Could it not have been as a result of a power surge or maybe some of the offices did not put off appliances?
You cannot say that it is as a result of power surge, we do not have electricity at this complex, the PTML Terminal for the past five years has cut-off our electricity and the NPA is not doing anything about it, so there is nothing like power surge. We cannot ascertain exactly for now what could have caused the fire. Initially I was telling them that the damage was N100million, but when the occupants came back from the holidays, they started evaluating their losses, as at when the fire occurred, many people were still in the village, but when they came back, they made us to know that there were cash in these offices that were also burnt as well as office equipment.
The MD of NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman came to the scene of the fire, what was her promise to the affected agents?
She set up a committee to investigate and find out the cause of the fire outbreak and make sure that such thing does not repeat itself again, she asked us to go back to our offices. We told the MD that we would like one of our members to be a member of the committee because we are the people on ground, but since she made the pronouncement, I have never seen any committee walking into that complex to carry out any investigation. Meanwhile, I have on my own set up a five-man committee to look into the fire outbreak, and I would like the NPA to work with us so that we can get to the bottom of it.
I noticed that renovation of the affected offices have started, is it NPA that is paying for it?
It is not NPA, we were able to gather with the people that were affected, the incident happened on the 2nd of January, I wrote a letter to Seaview Properties who are our direct landlords, copying NPA, DSS, Fire Services among others, alerting them of the incident, the fire services officials really tried their best, but it took NPA five days to come to the place to see for themselves what really happened. So, the people that lost their properties were just hanging around because their offices got burnt, so people joined hands with them and started helping them to carry debris and trying to help them restore back to their offices, by so doing, they have to repaint, renovate the offices and those are the works you see going on over there, the people cannot continue staying outside, they are the ones responsible for the renovation.
We know that Seaview Properties have since ejected the occupants of the containerized complex, with the renovation going on; does it mean you people are no longer leaving?
What I know is what the NPA MD said and I don’t want to quote her out of what she meant in her mind, she asked us to repair the damage and move back into our offices, by coming to that place, I am sure she has seen for herself that the people she met are not hoodlums the way we have been painted. She has seen for herself that everybody there is disciplined and the environment is very good. Don’t forget that we took NPA to court two years ago because we were asked to leave the place, some people within NPA are trying to work against the organization and the MD Hadiza, if the MD should know what the exact problem is, she has a compassionate mind and she is also a human right activist, she would be in a better position to tell us to go back to our offices, because we have stayed there for more than 25 years and we have not been creating any problems in the port, but few people because of their own selfish interest and the little PR they want to collect based on their agreement with PTML, this is why they want to get us out, that complex has been there even before PTML, so nobody can tell me that the place has been concessioned to PTML; in the master plan of the port, you cannot even find PTML there. The case is still pending at the Appeal Court, the NPA is yet to reply the Appeal Court, and it is only when they have replied that they will set another date for the case. We have discovered from Seaview Properties and NPA that the space is going to be concessioned out to PTML.
Do you agree that the port system is overcrowded and there is need to discourage human contact?
Where I think they should eject people is the people inside the port, there are some clearing agents inside the port after you cross the major gate, those are the people that were asked to leave the port, all their secretariats were demolished, this is where we had the false marketing, but they have chased them out, but this containerized complex we are now, is a place mapped out by NPA solely for clearing agents’ offices, any other structure you see around there like the banks are just coming on their own. NPA built the offices for agents, they advertised for it and we picked up the allocations and they approved it, so if we are talking about the port being crowded, it is not about us, it is about the people outside. We did not enter the complex without NPA consent.
How can we then reduce the crowd always milling around the port on daily basis?
This is a big problem that the government needs to look into, when you look at our own port, every customs officer wants to see the agent, NPA and other government agencies want to see the agent, even when you put your Single Declarations Form and the computer has accepted it, they would still insist on seeing the agent, this is a Nigerian factor that government should look into. Let the NPA sanitize its home, because of their selfish interest, they want to concession the containerized complex where the agents are having their offices. The port does not have a canteen as I am talking to you, the ‘Anyman Canteen’ was sold by one or two persons, the port does not have a public toilet, the port does not have a parking space, any little space they see, one or two people in NPA will just sell it, and when they sell it, they would just retire, all these are creating problems for the people that are there working. The way out is for NPA to build a standard office that would accommodate all the agents and a place where port users can go and eat or rest to wait for their consignments, we don’t have such things here at the port, these are the reasons we are having these hiccups.
You agree that ‘Anyman Canteen’ was reportedly sold because it was beginning to house notorious elements around the port who engage in all manner of atrocities including ‘Machine Outside’
I don’t know what you meant by Machine Outside, you are the one that know about it, I am not saying that anything cannot happen wherever you have 12 people, but what I am saying is that, it is when you want to hang a dog that you give it a bad name, if such an act was going on at the Anyman canteen, is it also happening at the Containerized Complex? Why do they want to sell it, who are the people that want to sell it, how many are they? Why mush they sell it and push about 2000 clearing agents out of their offices, they are saying that they do not want people to loiter around the port and yet you want to chase out the people from inside their offices. Since the Seaview Properties gave us the eviction notice, they have not been collecting money from us, but we are ready to pay them, we do not owe them, this was why, when they called us illegal tenants, we asked them how they could be collecting money from illegal tenants. We have our receipts, letter of allocations and applications that were acknowledged and signed and approved.
What are your expectations for this sector in 2018?
My expectation is that there should be improvement in all aspect of our operations, we need improvements. The Federal Government says that importations from the borders are banned, and if you are now importing through the seaports, the duty rate is too high, government needs to cut down the duty rate on vehicles through the seaport. Since 2012 till now, the value of the same car of the same year remains the same, so there is need for government to review the ex-factory price, a car of 10 years, they still give it the same duty of when the car was manufactured 10 years ago. On the access roads to the port, it is nothing to write home about, the last time the NPA boss came here to inspect the road, she promised to relate the message to the government, but up till now the federal government has not done anything, it is regrettable that up till now they cannot do anything on the road which is the gateway to the nation’s economy, many lives and cargoes have been lost on the road.