Chief Micheal Ajayi is the General Manager Western Ports of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). On Monday, he played host to FT Logistics Global Services Ltd. at forum where they demonstrated a project,” Electronic Call-Up System for Trucks” which the company was working on in collaboration with two other companies aimed at arresting the incidences of traffic gridlock at Apapa. In this interview, Chief Ajayi speaks on his impression of the project, the just ended withdrawal service action by the truckers to protest Lagos State Traffic Law among others. Excerpt:
Having watched the presentation by FT Logistics Global Services Limited on Electronic Call- Up system for trucks, what is your impression of the project?
I am highly impressed with what they have done, the presentation was good, the idea behind it was good, it is a novel one, something practiced in advanced countries. We have noted the problems that all port users, commuters, stakeholders have been facing on this Apapa axis, let me just use it that way and nobody is comfortable with it.
It has affected trade, it has affected productivity at the ports, it has affected the health of the workers, it has affected the health of the economy ipso facto and for a group of companies coming together, to think out of the box with a view to salvaging the problem, I think it is an excellent idea worth our commendation.
In government agencies and establishments, change in leadership and administrations is inevitable. What happens to this project you are looking at together with FT Global assuming you are transferred as the General Manager Western Ports and another officer takes over from you?
Yes! What I want to tell you is that this project surpasses my administration as an individual. It was an idea that was conceptualized by this group of companies; it is a novel idea, it cuts across regimes, it cuts administrations of individuals. So, even if there is a change of baton, it doesn’t stop the idea, you won’t kill a good idea no matter the kind of administration you have, the idea will thrive and it will go beyond all of us.
With the kind of roads we have here in Lagos and its environs, do you think this project will thrive?
It is achievable although the deplorable state of the roads is a hindrance but then we cannot wait until all the bad portions of the roads are repaired before we can start the programme. We must start from somewhere, by the time we start, we believe along the line, the roads will be repaired and everything will be synchronized and work for the betterment of all of us.
Stakeholders are clamouring for a reduction in the cost of doing business at the port. Will this project not add to the cost of doing business at the ports?
I don’t see it adding to the cost of doing business at the ports. If anything, it is to make business thrive, if anything, it is to make business grow. If you know the amount of money, if we put figures to what we lose by staying hours in traffic, if you know the amount of man-hours being wasted by the drivers of these trucks, if you know the number of loss to trucker owners and stakeholders. You know we have cargo dwell time, you need to know the pains all the terminal operators go through when cargo had to spend so much time in their terminal.
But if you have a perfect system that offloads all this cargoes out and then you take in your empty containers easily, you will know that this project is not adding any dime to the cost of doing business. If anything, it will make your revenue to grow in geometric progression.
Currently, the revenues of all the truckers are not on the same level. It is dwindling because of Apapa gridlock, it is a nightmare and if that nightmare goes off, obviously, we are cozying home and I believe that productivity will improve, the cost of doing business will reduce and business will be attractive in this area. So, I don’t see it as adding to the cost of business. What we have now is a better organization for truckers and the pains that the drivers do go through in getting to the ports will be over.
Sometime last month, we noticed that truckers withdrew their service from the port as a result of Lagos State traffic law. On resumption, agents and importers had clmoured for terminal operators and shipping companies to waive the number of days that the action lasted. But the Management of Tincan Island Container Terminal (TICT) had insisted on waiving 5 days out the 10 days that the agents are asking for which is still not acceptable to the agents who are saying it is 10 or picketing action. What is your take on this?
For me, I have not been officially notified of any impending action by the freight forwarders. I am in close touch with the leadership of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents. So we have not been notified officially of any action and I believe, if you know their leadership, it is well occupied with a highly responsible Nigerians and with highly responsible stakeholders who will not just want to go on strike for the sake of it.
If they want to go on strike, they will notify us and we will intervene. Anyway, we know that a case of force major has been established by the strike not due to their fault. They want to take their cargoes but unfortunately, there was a withdrawal of service by the truckers. Be that as it may, it was like a win-win situation, you wanted 10 days and 5 days was given, it was like a win-win situation.
So, I will appeal to them, instead of going on strike, they should use a legitimate process to discuss and something positive will come out of it.
Let us talk about the Treasury Single Account (TSA), virtually every government agencies and parastatals affected by the TSA are crying. Tell us, what is the effect of this policy on NPA Western Ports or are you immune from the noticeable effects on other?
Well, this question is not meant for me. It is meant for the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority or the top management. I am not supposed to answer to that question. For me, whatever Federal Government does is in order. It is the father of the nation and they meant well. So, the question should be referred to my Managing Director.
We have recorded some death of some dockworkers and some staff at different terminals at different times and reports we are getting is that the families of the deceased workers had not been given adequate compensation. What efforts are you making to see that incidences of loss of lives are eliminated and people don’t lose their lives in the course of carrying out their legitimate duties?
We have taken time to visit these areas that we had these challenge and we have a safety department too that go on top of it even though I will say that those terminal operators where such incidences happened are working to meet the labour unions half way. If they have not done anything, trust them, they would have gone on strike. They are working hand in hand and on our own side, our safety department is doing a lot of work to ensure that all terminal operators comply with safety rules.
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