While Nigerians continue to agonise over the seeming incapacitation of the governments – both federal and the state – to tackle the nightmare that the traffic has become, some experts say, because it is a ‘man-made chaos’, its solution lies in thinking out of the box.
Access to Ports
Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief early last month when the Presidential Taskforce on resolving the traffic gridlock swung into action. Their smile has since gone ashen, as the status quo on the road has returned.
Access to the two Lagos ports remained virtually non-existent. Road and rail transit to and from the ports remained comatose.
This was despite the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Ms Hadiza Bala Usman’s efforts to collaborate with the private sector to salvage the situation.
One way that could help the situation, the experts argued, by bringing in consultants. They held that a consultant would help ease the traffic.
One of such expert is Mr Tunde Olaosun, Chief Executive Officer Hermonfield Limited. An insider who had worked with APM Terminal and EML Terminals before going into private practice as a logistics automation consultant, Olaosun said understanding the inner workings of the ports was central to resolving the gridlock and other attendant crises that have continued to fester at the ports since it was concessioned in 2006.
For him, the Apapa and the Tin can Island ports’gridlock would continue and may grow worse, if the government continues to listen to the wrong people.
Apart from adding to the cost of doing business, the gridlock has made the ports unattractive, and continued to ridicule Nigeria and Lagos as the preferred economic hub not only in the West African sub-region, but also in Africa.
Olaosun like other concerned stakeholders contended that the crisis was compounded by the fallouts of the concessioning and the removal of regulatory powers from the ports landlord – the Nigerian Ports Authority – and the lack of appropriate regulation to enforce standards and discipline at the ports.
He said: “The ports at inception was designed as a multi-purpose port that was intended to be run by one operator, but ever since the concessioning, Apapa now plays host to five terminal operators sharing one gate.
“Being a multi-purpose ports, there are different types of truck requirements.The truck requirement for a bulk terminal is different from a container or general cargo terminal. However, the need of every terminal varies, and based on the concession agreement, each of the terminals is supposed to submit to the NPA, 24 hours ahead, their truck requirements for proper traffic management.”
Experts blamed the gridlock on some issues, among them access control and insider round tripping in the port as a result of activities in the port area.
Speaking on access control, stakeholders said four of the five operators at Apapa port share one access gate. There are the APM Terminal, EML Consortium, Green View, Apapa Bulk Terminal. While the last has its own access gate, the thers use one.
They contended if the gridlock continued unchecked, it would pose a threat to food security, because the movement in the port is diverse. “As you see import containers trying to gain acess to the ports, so also are exports containers. Some trucks laden with exports have been stranded in the queue for over eight weeks. What margin would be left for a farmer into export business, especially if he had to borrow from banks? When they cannot pay, the banks go after them, get them jailed, thereby preventing them from farming.The problem would be compounded with poor import inflow, which may lead to food shortage and scarcity.”
According to the stakeholders, while the Federal Government concentrates on fixing the roads and opening the rail access to the ports, which would improve freight movement, one of the key solutions to the Apapa problem is the setting up of marshalling yards from where trucks movements could be controlled.
Olaosun believed that rather than build a truck park, which the Lagos State government is doing, it should have utilised any of the existing parks, owned by operators as a marshalling yard, from where trucks, through a call up system, could move into the state for transition to holding bays, which should be within the ports from where they would easily move to ships for loading.
For him, a marshalling yard that controls movements in and out of the yard would provide more funds for the government than providing a truck park, which would in a short time become a junk yard.
According to him, the regulation is for truck operators to have holding bays for the smooth running of their operations.That is why the state government should not compete with operators in the provision of holding bays, but to control the fluidity of movement within the state enroute the port.
Olaosun said, based on what is on ground in the state, Lagos could be making N27 billion every six months.‘Partner Multinationals’“Coca Cola, Guinness, and so on, have truck parks which they are not using regularly. All that is needed to be done is have an MoU with them, put an automation in place that would address the scheduling system at the ports.”He believed if the government listened to experts, resolving the traffic situation would not be easy.Patrick Adenusi, a maritime operator, said the ports can feed the nation, if activities in and around them are properly structured and regulations strictly enforced.He said serial abuse of privileges and powers were the bane of effective operationalisation of the ports, adding that if bottlenecks to strict enforcement of the regulations were in place and leakages blocked, more revenue would stream in for the country.Corroborating this assertion, Olaosun disclosed that just for streamlining the rate of demurrage alone, Nigeria could be saving about $50 billion yearly, adding that in 2013, APM Terminals’ profit outstripped the nation’s budget.According to him, the solution remains putting the right committee in place.“If this is done, within six months, giving the information at the disposal of such a committee, they should be able to resolve the crisis because they would know the areas to check, where to look at, regulations to check, and areas to beef up.” ‘Encourage patronage of ICDs’He said the government should encourage the patronage of Inland Container Depots (ICDs) by ensuring strict compliance to the rules that has hitherto shut them out of business. He claimed that the big terminal operators have formed a cartel and are creaming off the country as a result of planlessness over the years.If the ICDs are functional, if you take your containers from them, you are bound to return them, thus removing between 70 and 85 percent of trucks, which are on the roads trying to gain access the ports just to return empty containers to the ports.Experts said no shipping firm would voluntarily agree to operate a holding bay to avoid what they call double handling charges, which means paying port duties for handing cargoes from their ships and other handling charges, which importers pay in dollars to operators.Stakeholders canvassed the appointment of a neutal regulator for the ports to sanitise the ports and ensure that all operators are beaten to line.Olaosun observed that this had been difficult to adopt because operators were owned by former leaders by the government.“Soon, these terminal operators would no longer enjoy the cover that gives them these unfettered privileges, because these men are aging and are losing their edge. Soon, they would no longer be able to prevent the change that is gathering steam in the maritime sector,”he added.