– Pains agony as stakeholders blame unending gridlock on concessioning, comatose refineries, poor holding bays

Isaac Anumihe and Henry Okonkwo

For many weeks now, all efforts to ease off traffic congestion occasioned by indiscriminate parking of heavy-duty vehicles on Lagos roads, particularly Apapa, Oshodi, Badagry corridors, as well as other neighbourhoods where tank farms exist have not yielded reasonable results.

READ ALSO: How to end Apapa traffic chaos, by Ambode

At the last count, trailers and tankers are still parked indiscriminately on Apapa-Oshodi and Mile 2-Badagry expressways, as well as all roads and streets in the Kirikiri Industrial area and Amuwo Odofin-Ojota roads, making traffic on these roads hellish.

The situation is one that
has made life for Lagosians to become unbearable, particularly for those living around the ports, like the Tin Can Island, Agegunle, Kirikiri, Amuwo Odofin, Maza Maza, Ilasa, Itire and Orile areas as most of the residents have suffered untold hardship trekking long distances, injured by the motorbikes, or robbed by hoodlums as they are trapped in the traffic induced by trucks.

Many of them who spoke to Sunday Sun lamented endlessly at how monstrous tankers and trailers have made their roads impassable and their lives miserable.

“Our roads have been totally blocked. We cannot drive out or drive in or drive around our areas anymore” Mr Bamidele Avoseh, a community leader and secretary of Apapa Community Development Association (CDA), said.

“For me to go to Alausa, I take a jetty from Apapa round to CMS, then from there we go to Alausa. That is how we move now. The government should please come to our aid,” he pleaded.

Another resident of Agegunle, Mr Greg Isetu, also cried at the health hazards their community is facing now.

“The tanker and trailer drivers have turned our drainages into their toilets. So just imagine the filth and health risk such nasty acts expose our children to, especially now we have the rainy season,” he said.

Also Ikechukwu Ndu who lives at Coconut area said: “No one can imagine the pains we residents around the ports experience. We suffer so much pain here in Coconut. What we experience here cannot be compared to what you commuters and motorists face on the roads. The government has made effort to ease the traffic a bit for you road users. But we residents have been left on our own. It is so terrible. Our community has been defaced by these tankers and trailers that park indiscriminately on our neighbourhoods.”

Also hit hard by the gridlock are operators in the ports whose operational costs are sky rocking.

According to the National Coordinator of Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders, Dr Patrick Chukwu, the gridlock is eating deep into the pockets of freight forwarders as they are losing over N10 billion every month.

“The freight forwarders are losing about N10 billion every month. Formerly, we were carrying containers with N50,000, but now we are carrying containers with between N450,000 and N500,000 locally while upcountry is N1 million,” he lamented.

In the penultimate week, the Vice President, Prof Yomi Osinbajo had ran down to Lagos from Abuja when the situation had worsened and gave a two-week ultimatum for the trucks to be cleared out off the Apapa roads, but his order has not helped the situation as the Apapa corridor is still overwhelmed by trailers and tankers. From the two ports of the Tin Can Island to Apapa Port down to Mile 2, Kirikiri Industrial Layout, dovetailing to Oshodi, heavy-duty vehicles have taken over a good portion of the expressway.

Highly disturbed by the situation, both the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and stakeholders in the maritime and transport industry are looking for lasting solutions.

They accused the over 26 concessionaires operating in the ports of largely being responsible for the ugly situation, saying that their inability to establish holding bays, which would have taken care of the haphazard manner the trucks park on the roads, was a major factor to the problem.

For the stakeholders, if the operators have holding bays, their trucks would not litter the roads where they constitute great nuisance to other motorists and commuters.

The stakeholders who spoke to Sunday Sun, also revealed that the concession of the port was done without operational guidelines, which made it difficult to control and penalise the terminal operators.

It would be recalled that during the period of the concessioning, the then Director General of Bureau for Public Enterprise (BPE), Mr Benjamin Dikki, had explained that it was done following the need to bring in the private sector to develop the ports.

Dikki explained that the concessioning of the ports became inevitable following the need to bring in the private sector into the development of the country, thus it became top priority in the reform agenda of the then government.

However, prior to the ports reform programme, the Nigerian ports were characterised by infrastructure deficit with minimal private sector participation and dominant public monopoly in design, development, maintenance and operations.

The Nigerian Port Authority governance framework was marked by unusual degree of centralisation, limited autonomy, government interference, burdensome bureaucratic structure, excess labour force and conflicting role as a regulator and an operator.

The result of these was inefficiency in the ports operations with the attendant high cost of processing imported goods and the inability of Nigeria’s exports to compete in the international market.

The ports were inefficient and unattractive to shippers and were characterized by long turnaround time for cargo and ships; insecurity of cargo, low productive labour force in NPA, multiple government agencies in the ports, corrupt practices and excessive charges.

It was against this background and the recognition of the role of transport and ports in modern economic growth and development that the government undertook to reform the transport sector to bring it in line with international best practices.

“The objectives of ports reform are located in the overall desire to achieve fast clearance of cargo, quick turn-around time for ships calling at our ports, removal of duplications in the functions of security and related government agencies, and the facilitation of trade,” Dikki said.

The genesis of the problem

Regrettably, the 24 terminal operators that emerged from the concession were not given any rule of operation, a situation that gave them the leverage to operate without holding bays.

READ ALSO: Low port performance: NPA, terminal operators trade blames for failure

According to a maritime expert who has participated in 167 committees, nine of them presidential committees, Mr Lucky Eyis Amiwero, the concession was illegally done as it has no constitutional backing.

Hear him: “The concession was wrongly done. It was illegally done because there was no law backing it and the concession did not take into cognisance the holding bays.

“Before the ports were concessioned, we had holding bays at Tin Can, Brawa, Lilypond and Nigerian Port, that is, the Apapa Port complex. You will see the holding bay under the bridge established by the Federal Government. That of Tin Can is at the front of the canteen. You see the holding bays at Apapa. Most of them are inside. Then you see a trailer park at Berger constructed by the Lagos State government under the Lateef Jakande regime.

“You must look at the implications. The problem we are having is that the government does not look at experts. You don’t do these things by fire brigade approach. These things must be done with experts because there are procedures. These procedures are things that are affecting the ports.”

The holding bays

“The holding bay is all about vehicles coming to load in the ports and where they will stay for a while before they will go in for loading. Holding bay is different from trailer park,” Amiwero explained.

Trailer parks

“A trailer park is where the trailers park. It is not an issue that is supposed to be done by a private sector. The Lagos State government must be interested in doing it or the Federal Government. Before concession, the trailer park was constructed by the government at Berger and it is still there; but holding bays are supposed to be in front of the ports or inside the ports. Then they were constructed and owned by NPA because that is where the trailers are supposed to go, inside the ports,” he said.

Lease as against concession

According to him, there is no concession as claimed by the concessionaires. “What we have is lease because we don’t have concession in our laws as far as the Port Act is concerned. So, if you look at the lease agreement, the component of the cargo dues has holding bay fees charged by the terminal operators. So, the terminal operators are to provide holding bays because they receive the containers and transfer the containers to the shipping companies. So, that is the agreement between them and the shipping companies,” he said.

Port expansion

He also revealed that there was no room for expansion because all the lands in the ports have been given out during the concession period.

“There is no government warehouse and there is no export area within the ports. Before the ports were concessioned, all these things were in place. During the concession, every space was given out to the concessionaires, which has never been done anywhere in the world. Concession must take into consideration some of the elements that can make the ports more operational. So, our ports are just the ports that are run on business sake. Every space was given out,” Amiwero lamented.

Lagos ports

He regretted that in a place like Lagos, where there are five ports such as Tin Can, Apapa, Brawa, PTML and Lilypond, none has a holding bay.

This situation, investigation revealed was part of the causes of the spill over of articulated vehicles that had come to do business in the ports on the Apapa roads.

Amiwero blamed the problems experienced around the port areas on lack of monitoring agencies that would have compelled the terminal operators to move in the number of containers they are taking on daily basis.

“The number of containers that are being brought into the country should be the same number of containers that should be moved out of the country.

“You don’t run a concession in the whole world without a law. It is only in Nigeria that you run a concession without a law. So, you have so many agencies who cannot control the ‘lease operators’. Before you concession a port, one of the key elements you must put in place is a port regulator. That is what we don’t have. NPA cannot regulate because that regulation has been given to NSC,” he said.

NPA versus NSC

“There is a kind of power-play over the regulation of the ports. There are port designs in different forms all over the world. You have independent port regulators and you have port designs, which are done
by the ports themselves. But if the government has given the powers to NSC to do that, it is left for NSC and NPA to come together and see how these things can be done because it
is not all about the space or the volume of cargo.

“Once your import and export policy and trade-related policies are not reformed there is bound to be crisis. We are having one of the most difficult regimes in the whole world. In trade across border we are 183 from 190 countries all over the world. In Africa we are the last. So, you have one of the most expensive regimes,” he said.

Tank farms

Tracing the origin of tank farms, Amiwero said that the idea came when the refineries collapsed and the country has to refine crude outside Nigeria.

“We cannot refine the crude oil here. The almost 68 tank farms are brought in politically and the owners are big-time politicians. So, it is a terrible situation and it is an explosion. You don’t need the tank farms
if the refineries are working. If the ports are working you don’t need the tank farms. A tank farm is like a storehouse. Before Ghana got their oil they were refining our oil. They have a refinery,” he said.

Traffic lockdown: Economic activities grounded in Lagos as businesses count losses

Business and commercial activities around the Apapa, Oshodi and Badagry corridors are now on the verge of closure following the protracted total traffic lockdown that has left in its trail severe anguish on citizens who wonder if there is still any government authority to help them out of the quagmire.

This is as truckers have continued to roam the streets of Lagos, especially the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, like a village deity, leaving in their trail huge financial losses, accidents and deaths while the authorities look the other way.

The Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority had only made a feeble effort at ensuring that terminal operators and shipping companies provide holding bays for their trucks with most of the shippers calling her bluff.

But the trucks most of them travelling from Kano, Kaduna and Niger states and other parts of the country spend months on traffic to lift cargoes or return their empty containers to the ports due largely to anchoring spaces and the deplorable condition of the roads.

Thus, the drivers of the trucks now bath, defecate and sleep

in their vehicles for days. To add to their frustration, they are forced to bribe their way to the ports. The security agencies who accept these bribes promise to facilitate their way to the ports, but on every occasion they fail to take them to their ‘Promised land,’as the chaotic situation is no respecter of any driver, including those who tried to bribe their way through.

On July 6, this year, the drivers embarked on an indefinite strike to protest extortion and harsh operating environment. The strike, which lasted for two weeks was resolved without a concrete solution to their plight.

The President of Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Chief Remi Ogungbemi, confirmed that there are several urgent issues to protest about.

He disclosed that the problem was not only about lack of holding bays and truck terminals, but that there are other challenges and urgent problems facing truckers in the country. According to him, most policies reeled out by the NPA, Lagos State government, terminal operators and even shipping companies, contradict one another, pointing out that they have failed to address the problems over time, leaving the industry in shambles.

This, he said, has become increasingly difficult to operate in the country, especially in the face of decayed infrastructure, multiple and often conflicting regulations.

He added that the few holding bays provided by some terminal operators and shipping companies are filled up and there are no other places to drop empty containers.

One of the protesting drivers who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that following the introduction of the call-up system by NPA, they have been forced to remain on queue for two weeks only to be asked
by the Navy and Police to pay some money to be allowed into the ports.

“We are truck drivers who through our services add value to the import and export trade. But it is not our responsibility to provide the necessary infrastructure like container holding bays, truck terminals and good roads. The roads leading to Apapa ports are very bad and affect our vehicles negatively. Above all, we are faced with extortion. We have been pushed to the wall and we can no longer stomach it.”

Indeed, the Apapa Ports were designed to handle 30 metric tonnes of goods, but are currently overstretched to handle 80 metric tonnes of goods.

Though the vessel traffic peaked at 5,369 in 2013, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said that this declined to 4,025 in 2016.

Also construction engineers have raised the alarm of a looming danger as heavy-duty vehicles continue to stay on the bridges for days thereby exerting unnecessary weight on them.

READ ALSO: Otedola Bridge incident: Lagos restricts tankers to designated route

They disclosed that an empty 20-feet container weighs about 2,000 kilogrammes (kg) while a 40-feet container doubles the kilogrammes.

With an average truck weighing about 14,000kg, the total weight of 25 stationary trucks on a bridge is around 450,000kg, beside the weight of other vehicles, they said.

“If this is allowed to continue, in a short while, most of the bridges in Lagos will become death traps or collapse,” they said.

Meanwhile, a report by a leading maritime consulting firm revealed that more than half of the container trucks visiting Apapa, Lagos, on a daily basis have no immediate business to transact at the ports.

The report by a don of the Lagos Business School (LBS), Dr. Frank Ojadi, also stated that truckers that genuinely have businesses in Apapa Port spend an average turnaround time of two days.

“The report was prepared with the purpose of giving insight into the number of container trucks coming into Apapa Port in relation to the total number of trucks stationed on the Apapa roads.

“Two points were selected – the start of Creek Road at the tip of Liverpool Bridge and the start of Wharf Road near Area B – to collect information on trucks coming into Apapa.

It was observed that 44 per cent of the containers coming into the Apapa community through these access points are intended for transactions in Apapa Port, while 56 per cent do not have any form of transaction in the port.

“The data gathered were analysed to show the time and frequency taken from sighting to entry into the port,” he said.

However, most of the maritime and transport stakeholders believe that the solution to the Apapa gridlock was to compel the shipping lines to receive all empty containers at their empty depots.

The report, however, disagreed, stating that, “while the popular notion on the return of empty containers have no direct impact on port operations, the study supports the assumption that it may compound the Apapa gridlock. This is because more than 80 per cent of truckers drop off empties and pick up imports. This implies that the return of empty containers to the depots will add more trucks to the road when they have to return the empties to the terminal.”

Meanwhile, workers and businessmen in Lagos no longer observe official hours of resumption and closing because of the unfortunate traffic gridlock.

Already most businesses have been grounded, while workers’ frustrations have increased while residents now have serious health implications.

The local motorcycle popularly called Okada has become the common means of transportation, leading to several reports of accidents along the Apapa axis.

Although the Managing Director NPA, Ms Hadiza Bala Usman, had made a feeble attempt to discipline the shipping firms who have failed to provide holding bays for their trucks, the frustrated drivers are still running riot on the highways.

Recently, the NPA threatened to penalise the shipping companies and terminal operators that failed to provide holding bays for their trucks.

In a statement, the Assistant General Manager (AGM), Corporate and Strategic Communication of NPA, Isah Suwaid, cited the agreement, which was reached in November 2017 between the shipping companies, terminal operators and NPA.

According to the statement, the agreement compels all shipping companies and terminal operators to provide holding bays for their trucks and containers through the newly-adopted call-up system.

Almost the same week, Maerskline, a container firm, Cosco Shipping, ASP and Lansal were suspended from doing business for not providing holding bays for their trucks.

However, in lifting the ban on Monday, July 23, 2018, NPA gave the erring firms two weeks beginning from Friday July 20, 2018 to comply with four conditions to ensure sustainable relationship.

The conditions are that the affected companies must increase the capacity of their holding bays ranging from 1,800 twenty feet equivalent units (TEUs) to 7,500 TEUS; that the affected companies would sign off on the volume capacity of the holding bays verified at the end of the grace period and that at the expiration of the two weeks an inspection will be conducted to ascertain compliance and thereafter further sanctions will be applied on failure to meet the conditions.

As part of the solutions to arrest the ugly situation, the President of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Mr Increase Uche, suggested that shipping firms be stopped from dropping more cargoes so as not to compound the already crowded situation in the ports.

“As the government blocks them, investment will now be saved. As soon as cargoes are dropped, after three days at the terminal, rent and storage will start counting. After about five days, demurrage will set in from the shipping companies. So, allowing those cargoes to be dropped is not doing Nigeria any good,” he said.

He expressed concern over the worsening situation in Apapa, saying that it is not healthy.

“The situation in Apapa now gives every other person concern because the way businesses are conducted at the ports is not healthy. It is not helping the economy. The maritime sector as we all know is a gateway to the Nigerian economy. Why don’t we devise a strategy now and let those vessels that call at our ports in Lagos be stopped from dropping further cargoes because there is no way we can move the ones at the ports now.