When these containers block tanker drivers, will our members climb over them to go into the tank farms?
• 40 tank farms in Apapa is a bomb waiting to explode
Nigerians have been told to hold the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA responsible for the gridlock on Oshodi-Apapa expressway and other places in Lagos State as a result of illegal parking by container-laden trucks and tanker drivers.
Zonal Chairman, National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers (NUPENG) Lagos Zone, Comrade Tayo Aboyeji who disclosed this in an interview with Saturday Sun said it was unfair for Nigerians to hold tanker drivers responsible when the blame should go to NPA.
According to him: “It is the inefficiency of the management of NPA that is responsible for the gridlock. Imagine, NPA officials at times only work for two hours in a day, then close for the day’s work while leaving several container drivers unattended to, and these stranded containers who are prevented from entering the port by NPA officials now block tanker drivers who want to go and load fuel in tank farms within the same vicinity from proceeding to their own destination.” Aboyeji who spoke to TUNDE THOMAS also talked on other related issues.
Tanker drivers who are members of your union, NUPENG have been accused of becoming a nuisance on Lagos roads, and in fact responsible for the gridlock on Apapa-Oshodi expressway, what’s your take on that?
It is very unfortunate that members of the public and the media have been unfair to tanker drivers by accusing our members wrongly. Tanker drivers are not the ones causing the gridlock. It is the port users that are causing the gridlock. Those tankers you see on the highways, on the bridges and other places are trapped while on their way to go and load fuel at the tank farms in Apapa – these tankers are trapped on their way to the ports by containers who are also going inside the port to pick their products but are also unfortunately trapped.
Members of the public should get this right including the media who have been very unfair to us; tankers are not the ones causing the gridlock. Tankers that are parked all over the place are trapped, it is not the intention of tanker drivers to constitute themselves as nuisance to other road users, but they have to park in those place where you see them because they can get inside the port, especially to the tank farms where they are supposed to load fuel because containers going into the port have blocked them.
Those containers are going into the port, but are now blocked due to the ineffectiveness of port operators and this has become a major problem. Why did I say that port operators are ineffective? I said so because these port operators a times will only work for two hours in a day and they then close the gate and stop working for the remaining part of the day, but you can imagine the agony and pains that this action of port workers, the NPA officials is causing members of the public. How can a public institution work for just two hours, and decide to close for the day’s work? This is what is causing the problem at Apapa port.
During recent stakeholders meeting we had with Governor Akinwumi Ambode of Lagos State, I mentioned what I’m saying now there openly and the Managing Director of Nigeria Ports Authority NPA was also in attendance. When these NPA officials work just for two hours and then lock their gates, these containers can’t get inside the port, and in the process they block tanker drivers who are on their way to various tank farms in Apapa port and environs. When these containers block tanker drivers, will our members climb over them to go into the tank farms?
Port officials should be held responsible for the Apapa gridlock. Tanker drivers are suffering monumental losses as a result of the gridlock in Apapa because they can’t load fuel as they ought to. NPA should be held responsible for the mess in Apapa and not tanket drivers.
As a stakeholder, what will you suggest as a way out of the quagmire?
They should decongest the Apapa port. Decongestion of Apapa port is the only solution to the gridlock. Why must it be only Apapa port that is being used throughout Nigeria when there are several other ports all over the places. You have port in Port Harcourt, Warri, Calabar, Onne, Port Harcourt, Koko and other places, why can’t these other ports be used?
Why only Apapa ports?
Most of the containers that you see at Apapa Wharf, in fact 75 percent of them are coming from the Eastern part of the country. If the ports in Onne, Calabar and Warri are active, there is no need for these containers coming from the East to come to Lagos again. We have told the NPA this several times, but their complaint has always been that they don’t have equipment at Port Harcourt, Calabar and Koko ports. But can’t the Port authorities provide these equipment at these ports? Must other Nigerians be made to suffer because of NPA’s inability to provide equipment at their ports?
Then if NPA can’t provide equipment at these other ports, can’t they again provide holding bays where these containers can park and wait until they get clearance to proceed to Apapa port to load products? NPA can afford to provide holding bays where these containers can park and wait until officials at the port are ready to load them. If holding bays are provided for container drivers, then you won’t see them parking again on the bridges and along highways. This is what NPA should do immediately.
Now that a task force has been set up with a mandate to clear the gridlock, what’s your assessment of their operation so far?
I told them during a stakeholders meeting we had with Governor Ambode that the setting up of the task force is not the solution. By setting up that task force I believe that they just want to enrich some individuals.
Why do you say so?
Task force is not the solution. Setting up the task force is just a palliative measure. The solution is that the port should be decongested so that there will be free flow of traffic.
The task force option being embraced by the Federal and Lagos State governments can even become a problem. You ask me why? The answer is simple, these task force members that are being used for this operation are military men, and by the time they encounter any difficulty in the course of performing their task they become aggressive, and will eventually transfer their aggression on the tanker and container drivers, and they may trigger another crisis.
The solution to this gridlock problem is the decongestion of the port. Why only Apapa port? There are other ports all over the country – these other ports should be utilized. Setting up the task force is just a palliative measure, and not a permanent solution to the problem.
Some Nigerians have claimed that a cabal or some powerful groups and individuals are benefitting materially from the gridlock, and that they would like the situation to remain as it is now, what’s your take on that?
Obviously there are some people that are benefitting from the gridlock. Most of the containers that are stuck or parked along the highways that are trapped and can’t go into the port pay N10,000 demurrage daily. What that means is that if a container is parked on the bridge or highway for 10 days, the driver or the owner will pay N100,000 demurrage, if it is 20 days, then the demurrage is N200,000. Then when you multiply this with the number of containers parked on the highways and the bridges, you can imagine the amount of money being made by some people, then you can now understand why the port is not working effectively.
On the tank farms, people have also complained about their being located in Apapa, a densely populated area, what’s your reaction to that?
Over 15 years ago, when the first tank farm started operation in Apapa, fortunately I was part of NUPENG officers that went there. After two weeks of operation, we discovered that another tank farm was springing up. After that, other tank farms started springing up. I can vividly recollect shouting then that there will be a problem in the future with all these tank farms springing up in Apapa, but nobody listened to me, rather I became an enemy of many for saying the truth.
They were telling me that what was my own business, and that why was I disturbing them. Then we had about seven tank farms in Apapa, but now we have over 40 tank farms in Apapa. From Coconut to Beachland, and now to Ijegun in Satellite Town you now have tank farms all over the place without regard for the danger such may pose to the public. In Ijegun now, we have over 10 tank farms but residents have started complaining about the presence of so many tankers in their neighbourhood, and the danger inherent in having tank farms in populated areas. But NUPENG members or tank drivers should not be blamed for this development because wherever we have tank farms, tanker drivers will always go there. Those tank farms are not supposed to be located in residential areas, but unfortunately the regulatory agencies and the investors, that’s the owners of the tank farms seemed not to be bothered. Having tank farms located in residential areas is like an accident waiting to happen.
Some Nigerians have complained about the menace of Tanker drivers on the highways, even citing the recent accident involving a tanker on Otedola bridge along Lagos-Ibadan expressway with so many lives lost. Following that accident, some stakeholders including members of the public have suggested the idea of having tanker drivers restricted on the highways to a certain period of the day, especially at night. Some even suggested that rail should be used in transporting fuel products, what’s your reaction to that?
Our members have no problem whatsoever with any idea being suggested but the fact is this, we must face reality. Is it by rail that you move fuel from tank farms to Mushin, Oshodi, Abule-Egba, Ojota, Ikeja, and other places? The fact is this, assuming you move fuel with train from Lagos to Ibadan, is it train now that will go and discharge fuel to various locations in different parts of Ibadan and its environs?
Then what about the suggestion that tanker drivers should be restricted to night movement …
(Cuts in) That suggestion will also not work – we’ve tried it in the past, it didn’t work.
Tanker drivers can’t move in the night because we don’t discharge fuel at filling stations in the night. Not only that, our drivers have been attacked in the night by area boys, hijackers, fuel thieves and hoodlums. So it is not safe for us to move at night. Even when tanker drivers move during daytime they are attacked.
What will make it easier for tanker drivers to operate, let government repair our roads that are not okay. The condition of our roads is even better now, it was worse before. Most of the accidents involving tanker drivers are caused by bad roads. No tanker driver wants to carry the long truck, and then decide he wants to go and have accident because if he does, he wouldn’t know whether that accident will lead to his own death or cost him his life. No tanker driver plans to cause or have an accident, but road accident generally is inevitable.
NUPENG and tankers drivers have also been accused of being fond of using strike as a weapon or tool to blackmail Nigerians on any issue, why is this so?
That’s being unfair to us. When last did NUPENG go on strike? For about two or three years now, we’ve not gone on strike, but that’s not to say that when we are aggrieved that we shouldn’t act. People should not blackmail us. NUPENG doesn’t just go on strike without a cause. Again, before we go on strike we would have exhausted all avenues for an amicable settlement.