The Nigerian Ports Authority and terminal port operators have been charged to improve operations at the Apapa and Tin Can Island ports in Lagos as a means of solving congestion and gridlock problems in Apapa, Nigeria’s premier port city.
Over the last five to 10 years, congestion and gridlock have become the defining feature of Apapa, making the port city a loathsome destination where residents are suffocating and groaning, businesses are dying, and the economy, both local and national, are bleeding.
The stakeholders, who gathered in Apapa on Tuesday for a meeting convened by the Nigerian Shippers Council to discuss ways to end the gridlock and restore order in Apapa, noted that though Nigerian ports generate about 70 percent of all ports revenue in West Africa, none of them was mentioned in a recent global maritime report on ports efficiency.
“There should be a standard operational efficiency which the terminal operators should comply to. On their part, the operators should tell us how many trucks they can take in a day,” noted Cajetan Agu who represented Hassan Bello, CEO of the Shippers Council.
Agu explained that inefficiency in port operations is a major reason trucks are all over the place on port access roads. He canvassed alliance with the Lagos State government for a mobile court that should try traffic offenders and send them to jail if convicted.
Besides inefficient operations, the stakeholders also accused the terminal operators, especially the major ones, of exploiting importers. The specifically mentioned AP Moller which, they said, exploits Nigerians by deliberately making their equipment breakdown to slow operations.
Though Kayode Opeifa, the executive vice chairman, Presidential Task Team (PTT) on the Restoration of Order in Apapa, insisted in his presentation at the meeting that there was no gridlock in Apapa, some stakeholders reasoned differently.
The publisher noted that operational costs for businesses have skyrocked as haulage cost has gone up by over 500 percent in the last 24 months.
“We should tell ourselves the honest truth that there is gridlock in Apapa. Let’s make no pretence about this; the media should get deeper into the Apapa mess; name and shame those behind the mess,” Aigbogun said, calling for unity of purpose among major stakeholders in the port city.
Earlier, Funmi Olotu, the port manager at Apapa Port, who represented the NPA managing director, Hadiza Mohammed, had canvassed synergy between the terminal operators and the ports authority.
The port manager noted that there was gridlock in Apapa and condemned the activities of uniformed men and truck drivers on the roads. She pointed out that there were today such clichés as ‘flying trucks’ and ‘marching break’ on the roads.
She explained that whereas uniformed men were promoting ‘flying trucks’ by driving or escorting the trucks, manufacturers trucks were involved in ‘marching break’, meaning that they allow other trucks to move ahead of them for a fee which, she said, was as high as N20,000 per truck. “In some cases, you see a truck driver making up to N80,000 on a single trip for marching break,” she said.
Olotu was not comfortable with the activities of government agencies, especially the Customs which also contribute to the gridlock. She did not understand why Customs should clear a consignment inside the ports only for the same Customs to stop the truck carrying the consignment at the port gate for re-examination.
“Customs should not punish the importer and the truck owner with this practice. They should be able to trace their official who examined the consignment and punish him for not doing a thorough job,” she said.
The terminal operators who were in the eye of the storm at the meeting told the gathering that they were also victims of the chaos in Apapa, advising that there should be better coordination and cooperation among agencies of government, especially the NPA and the presidential task team.