By Asuquo Nuwak
No one ever accused truck drivers and their owners of causing traffic gridlock in Apapa than shipping companies, terminal operators, tank farm operators, depot owners and government agencies.
In truth, the radicalism of most uniform men who are on illegal duties has turned truckers to what can be described as “Automated Teller Machine” (ATM).
This is something we should collectively be worried about. At the same time, Tincan Island Container Terminal, TICT with 17 shipping companies is operating with very limited and insufficient Cargo handling equipment with only one entrance which serves both trucks going to load import containers and export containers out of the terminal.
What Alhaji Abdullahi Inuwa and other truck owners seems to want is a steady process of change, and that is what we are going to get, whether or not Hadiza Bala Usman and Hassan Bello remains for longer as Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA and as Executive Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Shippers’ Council, NSC respectively. The arguments about who got what wrong will have a big impact on Nigerian Ports Authority and Nigerian Shippers Council politic. But the main priority for Hadiza Bala Usman and Hassan Bello should be avoiding any further mistakes and blames, and they are worrying signs. Above all these worries of abandonment of holding bay by shipping companies and holding bay charges marked the beginning of congestion which leads to constant traffic bottleneck.
Alhaji Abdullahi Mohammed Inuwa has afterall, consistently pointed out the flaws of Shipping Companies and terminal operators who are busy feeding fat from Importers, agents and truck owners who pay demurrage for empty containers and loaded containers which are trapped due to traffic bottleneck.
The two major highways leading to Apapa-Oshodi Expressway and Ijora roads leading to the ports and depots are in bad condition, claiming many lives, causing damages to trucks and making importers, clearing agents and truck owners to incur debts often time.
Speaking on the presence of tank farms, he said 90 percent of the petroleum products and 65 percent of dry cargoes are handle through the use of trucks in the transportation of these products to different destinations across the country.
He complained that there are many check points mounted in all directions leading to access roads to the ports, with thugs otherwise known as collection returning officer (CRO) or kelebe seen in each of the busy point collecting money from truck owners on behalf of security agencies. He said sometimes trucks may be delayed for five minutes by security agencies before allowing them to pass through each of the points.
He noted that at the main entrance of the ports, some overzealous security agents are often seen removing truck plate numbers, steering, chained, deflating tyres, breaking of side mirrors and headlights. The drivers are often harassed by extorting monies ranging from N5,000 to N10,000 before allowing the truck driver to drive one-way against the traffic which consequently leads to long queue of trucks trying to access the port at the same time and thereby causing constant traffic bottleneck on daily bases.
The truck drivers who are coming from different destinations to drop empty containers seems to be anxious or in a hurry to drop empty containers to avoid payment of demurrage to shipping companies which charges between N6,400 for 20ft container and N12,800 for 40ft container respectively per day after the expiration of the grace period. He believe that if shipping companies provide holding bays it will help to reduce the pressure of inflow of trucks coming to the ports. When it comes to immediate relief, this is understandable.
Alhaji Abdullahi Mohammed Inuwa, recalled how truck drivers before the commencement of the ports concession, usually dropped their empty containers at holding bays while empty containers were only allow to enter the ports on request from shipping companies holding bays for shipment through hired trucks.
The bigger problem lies ahead with Nigerian ports Authority (NPA) as it cannot be exonerated from the blames on this terrible situation of traffic gridlock. Nigerian Ports Authority management has been shamed by its inability to control or look after joint committee which comprises NPA, Shipping Companies, transport associations and Unions.
Experience shows that shipping companies seems to manipulate their ways by abandoning the use of their empty container holding bays. Instead, they have decided to send empty containers directly to the ports for selfish interest and greed. The right answer is often the simplest as the shipping companies abandoned the use of their holding bays to make more profit. A big part of the problem is shipping companies’ system of cutting down cost and expenses of cargo handling equipment, holding bay charges and other transportation charges which should have been paid by shipping companies if they have maintained sending empty containers to the holding bays.
Given this record, it is surprising that the leaders of government are still blaming truck drivers and their owners for Apapa Traffic gridlock. Unfortunately, there are some reasons to think that this ugly situation marked the beginning of congestion which leads to constant gridlock and traffic bottleneck while shipping companies and terminal operators are busy feeding fat from importers, clearing agents and truck owners from demurrage collected from empty containers and loaded containers being trapped due to bottleneck of traffic.
There seems to be dishonesty on the part of NPA management, the same NPA was able to convince the Ministers of Transportation and Finance in the past years to form taskforce known as LAPAMU, LAFAC FECSARA and others with four (4) Toyota Hilux Vans and fund made available to NPA management for the purpose of decongesting the roads. Instead of accomplishing that noble objective, the innocent truck drivers were arrested with their trucks impounded with a fine tickets of N90,000 to N100,000 issued to them. Up till date, nobody can explain to which account the money was paid to. Above all, the Department of petroleum Resources (DPR) which give approval to tank farm operators without holding bays needs radical change of policy. In some cases targeting and monitoring need to be improved.
There is need for democratic government to make big and innovative efforts to tackle further issuing of licenses to build more tank farms near residential areas.
Studies shows that they are more than 20 oil depots in Ibru Jetty alone with only one gate which is used for entrance and exit of trucks loading petroleum products. Consider the kind of bottleneck always experienced on the road. A big part of the problem is DPR continuous system of issuing licenses to build more tank farms.
So great is the outcry of people living in Agegunle, Kirikiri town and Apapa at this cruelty of exposing the residents to live on the keg of gun powder that the democratic government has refused to issue an apologetic clarification. This is nonsense. The residents are living on key of gun powder.
Again, consider how private oil depot owners collect money from customers for products not available in their storage. Consider also how the same privates oil depot owners issues tanker drivers with loading tickets to load petroleum products which is not available. As a result, there is always blockage at the service lane up to the expressway.
Some signs of change are visible, as Alhaji Abdullahi Mohammed Inuwa, has long urged Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA and Nigerian Shippers’ council (NSC) to compel shipping companies to return their empty containers to their holding bay outside the ports and can only bring them to the ports on request for shipment.
Equally, he has called on Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) to support their efforts at making sure that tank farm operators are compel to use their holding bays for tankers loading in their depots while call up system in batches should be adopted to bring tankers to the depots on request for loading. Again, Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) has to monitor the activities of the depot owner who collect money from their customers and issue them a loading tickets for products which is not available in their storage.
Above all, he further sought for collaboration between APM terminal and Lily pond terminal to move empty containers and export containers into the ports through the use of railway as possible ways of reducing traffic gridlock, rather than going directly to the ports to drop empty containers and export containers for shipment.
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