In February this year, the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Mohammed Bello-Koko acknowledged the various concerns raised by port stakeholders about the electronic scheduling system for trucks doing business in the port. He consequently gave inkling that the call-up of trucks into Lagos ports would be rejigged.
He however acknowledged that the call-up system, popularly called ‘ETO’, has revolutionised delivery and evacuation of shipments at the port. He also said that, everything necessary would be done to sustain the positive impacts of the system to the country’s ports.
This appraisal has come about one year after the truck call up system was introduced.
We recall that, precisely on February 28, 2021, the NPA introduced what can be described as the game–changer for chaotic Apapa traffic. By the explanations that were given by the NPA, an electronic call-up system would be deployed to direct truck movement into Lagos ports of Tin Can and Apapa.
The NPA had rested the implementation on five pillars, which were supposed to hold the operations of the electronic call up via the eto app.
According to the NPA, trucks must be called upon using the Eto electronic call-up system before they could gain access into the ports. Therefore, all trucks and their owners are expected to download the Eto App and sign-up in order to become part of the new system.
“It would be done transparently on a first-come-first-served basis. We have also requested for the operator to have a dashboard in front of port locations where the movement of trucks would be displayed for truckers to see their daily schedule,” Hadiza Bala Usman, the then-managing director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), has said.
Ordinarily, this ought to have removed human intervention in the process of managing truck movement in and out of the ports. It was also expected to put an end to the problem of extortion of truckers by security operatives in charge of traffic control within the Apapa corridor.
Another pillar of the electronic call up is that, trucks must stay at designated parks; and to achieve this, some truck parks were selected. This means that, under the e-call up system, trucks that are not parked within the approved parks would no longer gain access into Lagos ports to pick cargo.
What this clearly meant was that, with the electronic call up, trucks should cease to park indiscriminately on Apapa roads and bridges. This is expected to eliminate the ugly perennial traffic gridlock that have been the lot of Apapa for so many years.
One clear condition with the use of eto and the e-call up is that a fee of N10,000 only will be paid. According to NPA, truckers are expected to pay a token of N10,000 for utilising the Eto App and to park in the truck park. The download of the App is free and truckers are only expected to make payment when they want to exit the park.
By the initial arrangement, there is no other fee to be paid by truck owners to access the port or park at the transit park.
At the onset of the e-call up system in February 2021, the NPA made it clear that consignees should drop empty containers at the holding bay of shipping companies, from where the shipping lines are expected to be responsible for taking the empties into the port.
The electronic call-up system was expected to restore sanity within the Apapa port corridor by removing the daily traffic congestion.
This looked good on paper, and the arrangement actually worked in the beginning, then the unexpected began to happen, thus threatening the start-up success of the e-call up.
Added to these, is the extortion that resurfaced on the Lagos ports corridor, where the various personnel of government agencies who have been drafted to the ports corridor started compromising on a larger scale.
By its own admission too, the NPA at a time acknowledged that, there were over 30 checkpoints within the Apapa and Tin Can Port axis.
Even though the Lagos state government impounded many trucks for infractions, despair is gradually setting in on the part of all stakeholders, who had endured years of pains and business losses on account of the terrible vehicular traffic.
It will not be out of place to state that the whole essence of the electronic call up has been destroyed by the abuses that have resurfaced. It is sad that those who took advantage of the old system are the same actors who are frustrating the electronic call up.
As much as industry stakeholders acknowledge that there is some improvement in traffic, they none-the-less criticize the unbridled abuse and extortion on the part of the security personnel drafted to the approaches to the ports.
But by and large, the electronic call up has been a revolution. It has changed the traffic landscape of Apapa. No longer do we have articulated vehicles perpetually on queue on the approaches to Apapa.
Apart from the challenge of road construction between Mile 2 and Coconut on the approach to Tin Can port, the only challenge that we think the NPA should look into is the complaints of truckers about the operational modalities that are being rolled out periodically by the operators of the e call up.
Both the NPA and the operators of the electronic call up should go back to the drawing board and re-strategize. The take up point may be to meet with stakeholders who are critical to the operations of the new truck call up system.
It will be appropriate to take a second look at the promises made at the onset of the new system in February and how well the system has fared since its introduction.
Those who are calling for the unbundling of the electronic call-up system by bringing new actors, may have a point. This perhaps informs the tilt of the NPA in that direction.
In all honesty, the handlers of eto, that is, Messrs Truck Transit Park (TTP) Limited have not done enough to get the buy-in of truckers, who are their first-line stakeholders. Their attitude is perhaps a build-up from the manner in which the eto call up system was flagged off by the NPA.
The call for unbundling is also a confirmation of the fact that Messrs TTP has not done well. This is true, because most of the promises that were made have not been fulfilled. If eto had worked well, there ought not to be any truck on the approach to Apapa port, especially from the Surulere and Ijora axis.
Perhaps, the greatest justification for unbundling is the abuse of the ticketing and payment system, as well as the excesses of personnel of government agencies who have turned their assignment to a lucrative business of extortion. They have been joined by some non-state actors and a plethora of transport union officers.
The electronic call up system is an IT-driven initiative, which requires regular upgrade. Apart from promises to upgrade, this newspaper is yet to see or hear from stakeholders that the eto is a top-of-the -range app.
All of the above have collectively made a mess of the NPA electronic call up system. This is certainly not the intent of the call up system.
If unbuckling will mean injection of new IT and innovation to the truck call up system in Lagos ports, then we are for it.
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