Chief Remi Ogungbemi is the Chairman, Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO). In this interview with our correspondent, he bared his mind on the operational challenges of members, the infrastructural decay in the maritime industry, the Apapa gridlock and many more. Excerpt:
Sir, there are insinuations in some quarters that your association is contemplating withdrawing their services at the end of a yet to be scheduled town hall meeting with other stakeholders in the maritime industry over the state of the port access roads. How true is that?
Well, the traffic situation within the port environment has become recurrent problem because the truckers are at the receiving end of the problem and it is unfortunate that most of the blames are being laid at the doorstep of the truckers whereas truckers are not the course of the problem. I must tell you as an insider that the problem started right from the era of port reforms, then coming to port concessioning, they were doing the reforms and the concessioning without carrying the truckers along and during the reformation exercise, they have removed places earmarked as truck terminals within the port environment and the truth of the matter is that the port cannot operate without the trucks.
If you cannot operate without the trucks, why not make provisions for which these trucks will be coming from, a place that will serve as marshaling yard so that it will be easy for us to use a call up system to call a number of trucks required at any particular terminal at a time.
So that is what I feel is the crux of the matter and on the the state of the roads, it has gotten to a climax of which on daily basis, truck will fall on these roads and the falling of trucks, it has an economic effect on the truck owners, the authorities, the public are crying that the condition of our vehicles, our vehicles are not in order, so that is why it is better for us to keep away from the roads until when the roads are better. So, we are part and parcel of the call , if the authorities concerned did not wake up to their responsibilities, we have no other option than to keep our trucks until when the roads are okay.
Are you contemplating going on strike?
I will not say go on strike, we can only withdraw our services.
When would that be?
We are not sure yet, we are still waiting to hear from the authorities. We believe in a round table discussions, we believe in dialogue. Even personally, I have called the Federal Controller of Works, he referred me to FERMA, FERMA is coming to do some palliative work. I don’t know how soon.
Recently, FERCSERA said that they will start towing trucks off the roads. How do you see the coming of FERCSERA, is it a welcome development to you and to your members?
Well, I don’t see any magic that they can perform, it could have been better if they could make an alternative arrangement where these trucks will come from. It is where you have a place where you can keep these trucks, it is only then that you can have sanity on the roads.
If you say you are towing vehicles, to where? It is better, let the FERCSERA or whatever group tell us the place that they want to tow these trucks to, we will even like to take them there ourselves.
There was a report which quoted the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola as begging your members as well as other trucking associations to considers working at night so as to reduce the traffic gridlock witnessed during the day on the roads. What is your opinion on the appeal?
I don’t think working only at night will be the solution, the problem has to do with the fact that the environment can no longer accommodate the volume of activities that are being given to it.
For example, the roads we have been using for the past forty years are the same roads, the same facilities and population is increasing, business concerns are increasing, the volume of cargoes that are coming to our ports are increasing, then you want to tell me it is by working at night.
The conesionaires, I mean the terminal operators, they signed agreement with Nigeria that they will be working twenty-four hours, it is part of the agreement. If the government reverts to working only at night, they can go to court and sue the government claiming that it was not part of the agreement they reached with the government. And the port operates for twenty-four hours, there is no how night operation can be conducive.
Are you saying that what FERCSERA is trying to do will be an effort in futility?
Yes, it is going to be. Let me take you a little back. Formerly, we have a joint task force set up by both the federal and the Lagos state governments, I think about two years ago, they came and were gone and I told hem what you are doing is not the solution, it is just a mere cosmetics that cannot cure wounds and they agreed with me.
Now, even before this FERCSERA, we have what we called LAPAMU before, they came and they left, they can’t do anything. Then after LAPAMU, we had LAPAC,they have all come and gone . They were only a task force, they cannot achieve anything.
Now, they said FERCSERA is coming, it could have been better for them to create a place where the trucks will be coming from, that is the only solution. If you come and say you want to tow trucks, I am afraid that is the mechanism they are using to shut down the operations of the ports because the ports cannot operate without the trucks.
So, FERCSERA must go back to the drawing board, put their house in order, provide the necessary infrastructure that will make the environment and that will make their duty easier for them to achieve them but if that is not done, I am seeing FERCSERA as another group that is coming may be to start exploiting truckers because if they tow a truck and will be demanding a payment, payment to who? Where do we go?
Let FERCSERA tell us where to take these trucks to, we will take the trucks there ourselves without necessarily towing the trucks .
Operators of the tank farms especially the Petroleum tanker drivers are already pointing accusing fingers at the container laden trucks as the major cause of the challenges they have in the cause of lifting their products…? (Cuts in).
Well, they are all entitled to their own opinion and we are also entitled to our own opinion. To my own understanding, it is said that it is expected that whoever wears the shoes knows where it pinches. I want to say that even the tank farms put together are the major contributing factor to the traffic gridlock that we are experiencing within Apapa. But I will not blame the tankers rather I will blame those that sat down somewhere to approve the citation of such tank farms in the first place.
Ordinarily, under normal circumstances, we are not supposed to have tank farms around Apapa and the ports. It has choked up every environment, they would have use a pipe to pipe the products outside of Lagos to either Lagos-Ibadan expressway or to any other place.
But to allow all these tankers to start coming into Apapa, it is not the best. So, I am putting the blames on the people that approved the citation of tank farms within the port environment. Pipes would have been used to pipe the products outside the port environment so that the tankers can go there and lift their products.
Are you aware that these petroleum products are also imported?
Yes, they can use pipes even from the ships, when the ships arrive, they just connect the hose into the ships and through the pipe, it go to Epe, it can go to Badagry, it can go to elsewhere within the suburbs of Lagos.
It is like we are putting all our eggs in one basket, then if the person carrying the basket falls, that means everything will just fall off. So, the people in authority should think twice, they should consider the operational challenges before they can site anything at any particular place.
Do you think building fly over across all the existing roads in Apapa will go a long way in reducing the traffic gridlock witnessed presently?
Either it is going to be a fly over or a low over, all I know is that there is need for expansion, expansion that will correspond with all the increases that we are having.
I have said it before, about forty years ago, I was a bachelor living in a bachelor room. Now, that I am married with children, probably, if my religion permits me to marry two or three wives and children, there is no how I will expect that bachelor room to accommodate all of us. What we need is to expand.look for two or three bedroom flat so as there will be comfort and sanity.
But if I rely in making laws, you sleep by three O’ clock and wake up by four o’ clock and you sleep by four o’ clock and wake up by five o’ clock, it won’t help matters. That family will definitely hate themselves.
We need expansion, expansion of the necessary infrastructure will bring sanity and orderliness on our roads not setting up task force, not towing of vehicles, not fines because as at now, within the port environment, we see authorities coming to tow vehicles and they slam on it one hundred thousand Naira, two hundred thousand Naira, that is not the solution rather they are compounding the problems of the truck owners because the money we are supposed to maintain the trucks are being taken away directly under the guise that they are trying to bring sanity on our roads, sanity cannot come in an environment like that.
Sir, what is the update from the trailer park that you acquired at the trade fair? Will it help reduce the carnage on the roads?
Let me help you put the record straight. We did not acquire it, an individual on his own volition decided to come up with the offer. We have received the offer, and the project is on course, there are many challenges, there are hiccups. For example, do you fly to enter the park? It is the only road that the traders in the markets are using. We have ASPAMDA market, we have Balogun market and other activities.
So, if all the trucks should go there now, it will amount to solving a problem here and creating another problem there. The investor on that project is working on how to create a separate entrance and exit to that place so that there will be no commotion with ASPAMDA market and the Balogun market.
Apart from that, we have another suggestion which we have also muted to the authority, this army signals at the Mile 2, the army officers have handed over the property to the owners of the facility. I have gone to the owners of the land, we have collected the documents of the land and we have given them to the authority.
If the authority can acquire the place, it will serve as the extension of the port. And I believe this place can accommodate all the trucks that operate in Apapa and Tincan. That is what I know that can be a solution not bringing a punitive measure that are compounding the problems of the truckers, devouring the proceeds of the truckers.