NPA’s Electronic Call-Up System: Putting The Cart Before The Horse?

Last week, the Editorial focus of this newspaper was on the Apapa gridlock and the ongoing road reconstruction of the road leading to Lagos ports, especially the one leading through Mile 2 to Tin Can port in Apapa.

In that write-up, we underscored the fact that Apapa is very strategic to the economy of Nigeria, but we also acknowledged that, approaching Apapa from either the Mile 2 axis or Funso Williams/ Ijora axis has been a nightmare for years.

According to the Editorial, what is happening in Apapa is not unexpected, given its privileged location as home to Nigeria’s two foremost ports which are currently being managed by nine terminal operators. Between the two ports (Lagos Port Complex and Tin Can Island Port) more than 65 percent of dry cargoes and about 90 per cent of the nation’s liquid (petroleum products) are handled. This is because it hosts about 45 tank farms (and still counting). These are in addition to the many banks, shipping companies/agencies, licensed customs offices, factories and numerous other businesses that are located in this port city.

Before the traffic menace enveloped it, Apapa used to be a thriving, beautiful and very busy city, with free flowing vehicular and human traffic; this is in addition to other human endeavours that take place there.  It is sad that Apapa has now turned to a failed city; a bedlam of chaos and a no-go-area for many.

No doubt, the traffic gridlock has impacted negatively on all economic and social lives in Apapa and environs.

But, by the end of penultimate week, the Nigerian Ports Authourity (NPA) unveiled its novel electronic call-up and technology-driven app, called ‘eto’, which it explained will be needed to assess the ports as from 27th February 2021.

While commending the NPA for the well-thought-out idea of electronic call –up of trucks, we also will like to call attention of the organisation to the fact that it has left out the most important part of the novel idea.

To the best of our knowledge, in the build-up to the recent announcement, the NPA kept stakeholders in the dark, all that it said was that it would in February begin electronic call-up of trucks.

The NPA said this is part of efforts aimed at finding a permanent solution to the problem of truck congestion around Apapa and its environs.

It added that the eto application will be responsible for the scheduling, entry and exit of all trucks into the ports with effect from 27th February 2021. “Therefore, all transporters, trucks owners and truck drivers will be required to download the eto App from Google play store or sign up at before the commencement date to enable them register accordingly.

The NPA went ahead to warn that, non-compliance to the directive on use of eto and its guidelines will result in denial of access into the ports, impounding of trucks and withdrawal of registration/operating license.

This is where we have a problem with the whole arrangement. It is surprising that NPA did not deem it important to sensitise or carry the stakeholders along in the new journey of e-call up. There is no record of any meeting with the key stakeholders that are relevant to the successful launch and use of the eto app.

The critical stakeholders, who by our judgement have been side-lined are: the organised private sector, shipping lines, truckers’ associations, transporters, freight forwarders and the terminal operators. Sadly, none of these has had the opportunity of a buy-in or at the least a demonstration of the workings of the electronic call-up. This is a recipe for failure!

Apparently conscious of the fact that they are needed to ensure that e call-up succeeds, the NPA, in the statement mentioned above, solicited for the cooperation of transporters, truck drivers, cargo owners, clearing agents shipping companies and all port users in the implementation of the project, which it acknowledges as capable of bringing order and sanity to the ports access roads.

So, we ask: Why did NPA not engage the transporters, truck drivers, cargo owners, clearing agents, terminal operators and shipping companies?

Rather than hold pre-launch sessions with these stakeholders, the NPA, only issued a statement to spell out the guidelines.

In the statement signed by the Assistant General Manager, Corporate &Strategic Communications, Mr Ibrahim Nasir, the NPA only went ahead to state that, “all trucks doing business at the ports will be required to park at the approved truck parks until they are called up into the port through the Eto app.

Unless, such parks have been or will be communicated to the stakeholders, especially truck owners and drivers well ahead of the February 27th electronic call-up take-off date, we foresee a bedlam.

In the press statement, the NPA spent so much space explaining the workings of the new system, who does what and how such would be done.

There is still enough time to speak to and teach these critical stakeholders on the details of the electronic call-up system. It will be foolhardy to wait and see how it works before embarking on a carry-along with the stakeholders who are critical to the success of the new system.

If the NPA and the consultants handling the electronic call-up must know, the truck driver who may not even have an android telephone is as important to its success as the IT officer who handles the backend and the dashboard information.

It is not late to still sit with these important stakeholders. Even if NPA and the consultants handling the project are confident of a hitch free take-off, it will still not take anything from anyone if stakeholders are taken through the process.

We stress this, because the NPA had a firm belief concerning the previous system of manual call-up, but no sooner than it was flagged-off, the same stakeholders who were expected to make it work (including personnel of the NPA) took advantage of the loopholes, frustrated it and eventually truncated it.

Finally, the NPA should not be under any illusion that once the shipping lines present their holding bays and the roads are fixed, the headache of traffic gridlock will disappear…. No, the new system must be made to work, and we dare emphasise that any system that will work, must build-in shock absorbers and fortify its human resource management.

A lot of hope is built on the electronic call-up system as the game changer, it must work please!