Motorists’ pain, corrupt security agents, govt officials’ gain
Failure by government and shipping companies operating in Nigeria to provide holding bays for empty containers and trucks become a major blight to workers and businessmen in Lagos as Iganmu, Ijora, Eko and other bridges become permanent parks and homes to other nefarious activities among the drivers and security operatives, BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
The Apapa gridlock, which has extended to other parts of Lagos, has become a strong heart-breaking issue to residents and people doing business at Lagos ports.
For over five years, hundreds of trucks loading at the two main ports have completely turned the bridges to permanent parks, thereby impeding smooth movement of vehicles and loss of man hour.
Some of the affected bridges under the great burden of immobile articulated vehicles and trucks laden with empty containers and export goods include Abalti Barracks, Oju Elegba, Stadium, Iponri, Ijora, Iganmu, Coconuts, Liver Pool, Eko and Carter Bridges. This is owing to prolonged and recurring traffic jam and bad state of roads leading to Apapa ports and tank farms.
It was learnt that BUA, Standard Flour Mills, Dangote Group, Flour Mills of Nigeria, Honey Well and Crown Flour Mills, operating at the industrial areas of Lagos and Tincan Island ports own 70 per cent of the trucks.
Investigations showed that the trucks stay between three and six weeks on the queue due before they could get to their destinations in the ports owing to the inability of the shipping companies to provide holding bays and failure of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to enforce the call up system to regulate the movement of the trucks to the port terminals.
Lagos State government had in 2018 sent 1,984 trucks with empty containers away from bridges to the few available bonded terminals in the state to ease the gridlock but the effort was futile as they resurfaced a week later.
Some shipping lines were accused of refusing to provide functional empty container holding bays, while security operatives were blamed for failure to enforce the law despite government’s warnings and sanction.
Worried by the embarrassment to government, the NPA was forced to suspend Maersk Line, Cosco Shipping, APS and Lansal for 10 days because of their reluctance to provide holding bays for the empty containers.
When it first started about seven years ago, the heart-rending potholes on Apapa roads were first linked to the traffic congestion.
However, after the Wharf Road axis of the Lagos port was rehabilitated in 2018 by AG Dangote Construction Company Limited, the perennial gridlock at Ijora axis of the road refuses to disappear after spending N4.34 billion jointly funded by the NPA, AG Dangote Construction Company Limited and Flour Mills of Nigeria.
Tracing the root of the gridlock, the Africa Communication Manager of Maersk, Augustine Fischer, said the volume of cargoes coming into the country had increased from about 35 million metric tons in 2006 to more than 80 million metric tons this year.
It was learnt that two seaports, Lagos and Tincan ports, handle more than 60 per cent of goods imported into the country.
Nevertheless, Fischer also said in Lagos that the poor condition of the roads in Apapa area had remained a major blight on port operations in the country.
He noted that the ports had increased in efficiency and capacity but their access roads had deteriorated progressively since they were built.
Because of this, Fischer explained that cargoes which should ordinarily exit the port within three days after discharge from the ship linger in the port for as long as 21 days, waiting for trucks.
Also, it was learnt that the problem has increased dwell time of ships at the seaports.
The Managing Director of Scepter Consult, Jayeola Ayodele, explained that in the past, before the ports were concessioned, there were trucks holding bays inside the port but shortly after the concession trouble started when the terminal operators drove the trailers away in their concession areas.
He explained that this was the genesis of the gridlock, saying that the port access roads could not suck the volume of trucks going into the port terminals.
However, the Chairman of the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN), Princess Vicky Haastrup, said government should be blamed for neglecting the sector.
According to her, it takes a vessel 35 days to offload its consignments at the port because of government bad policies.
Haastrup recalled that ENL Consortium terminal handled about 17 ships in a month at Lagos Port before the problem of traffic gridlock.
Now, according to her, the terminal handles an average of three ships per month.
She explained that in the past, ships that would take only five days to discharge their cargoes stayed at the terminal for between 30 days and 35 days.
The STOAN boss said that the menacing Apapa gridlock was a monumental national disgrace, saying that some companies and residents in Apapa had relocated out of frustration.
Haastrup said that the terminal operators were operating under harsh business environment despite the huge investments they invested to develop the ports.
She said: “The situation in Apapa particularly as it relates to access to the port is a monumental national disgrace. How can a sector that has such huge potentials and that generates billions of naira for government be left in a deplorable condition? Government is looking for oil but we have a sector that has the capacity to give you all the revenue you need, yet the sector is suffering?”
Speaking on the devastating effect on trucks queuing on the bridges hosting about 3,000 trucks, structural engineers have warned that some bridges in the state were at the risk of collapse owing to heavy weight of parked heavy-duty trailers/trucks.
The engineers said the bridges were not originally designed to host heavy static vehicles.
According to the immediate past President of NIStructE, Oreoluwa Fadayomi, long stay on the bridges by stationary vehicles would have negative impacts on the facility.
He said: “These include deterioration, bridge-fatigue, damage or even collapse. Moreover, there is no money anywhere now to build these kinds of solid structures again. Bridges are made so that vehicles keep moving.
“We are sitting on a keg of gunpowder because the bridges are weakening daily as tankers, trucks and articulated vehicles park on them due to traffic congestion.”
Also, the former President, Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers, Mr. Victor Oyenuga, said that most of the flyovers in Lagos had heavy load already, pointing out that additional stationary loads on the bridges could lead to their collapse.
He explained that trucks were not expected to park on the bridges.
The Federal Controller of Works for Lagos, Mr. Adedamola Kuti, an engineer, explained that the expansion joints of some of the bridges were weak.
Kuti knocked truck drivers and motorists converting the bridges to parking space, saying that the bridges were not designed for dead loads.
He said: “We don’t want trailers to park on the bridges. The bridges were designed for moving vehicles. Security personnel must not allow this.”
However, the NPA Assistant General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications Division, Issa Suwaid, blamed the shipping lines for the shortcomings.
He explained that they had either failed to utilise their holding bays at all or do not have adequate capacity to handle the volume of containers that they were handling.
Suwaid added that some of the companies had been found to import a larger number of containers than empty containers exported, thereby making the country a dumping ground for empties.
The assistant general manager noted that this conduct had contributed to the persistent congestion around the Lagos Port Complex and the Tin Can Island Port, spreading to other parts of the Lagos metropolis.
According to Suwaid, truck drivers who have no immediate business at the ports now use the opportunity to park their trucks on the bridges.
However, it was learnt that security operatives, who supposed to enforce the law, have been exploiting the system to make illegal money.
New Telegraph further learnt that both the truck owners and drivers were forced to cough out huge amount of money to enable them to stay or jump the queue.
According to a trucker, simply identified as Kabiru, the drivers pay huge amount of money to stay on the bridge in order to meet up empty containers surcharges by the shipping lines that own the boxes.
According to Kabiru, they pay between N20,000 and N50,000 to stay on the bridge, saying that anyone who refused to cough out the money would be subjected to various punishments.
He said: “In some cases, the security operatives may burst one of your tyres, which is far more than the amount.”
Also, the trucker noted that the amount goes up for those who want express service to the port, saying that drivers or truck owners pay over N100,000 to the security personnel who will police the truck to the port.
Speaking on their welfare, Kabiru explained that some of truck drivers sent their “motor boys” to buy food that would take them for the day at the foot of the bridge whenever there were no food vendors hawking around.
According to him, some of the drivers cook on the bridge to reduce daily expenses on feeding.
He added: “We defecate inside nylon and drop the excreta on the ground from the bridge. We buy water from cyclists to bathe at least three times in a weak. It depends on individual’s capacity.”
A driver, Mr. Ussah Peter, said some of the truckers residing in Lagos usually find ways of going home to eat and bathe.
Peter explained that his motor boy would remain behind to move the truck forward whenever there was space.
He said: “On my way I have to bring his food and water and other necessary things like drugs which could ease tension.”
Confirming the claims, the Lagos State Vice Chairman (Dry Cargo) Sector of the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), Mohammed Inuwa Abdullahi, explained that almost 4,500 and 5,000 trucks use the bridges on a daily basis because of the tank farms, companies in the ports and terminals.
Abdullahi explained that it was not easy to give the accurate statistics of the number of trucks staying on the Eko, Apapa and other bridges because they were not permanently static there.
He added: “If you count about 3,700 today you may count more or less than the previous figure the next day.
“However, we can look at influx of trucks going into the Apapa port terminals such as AP Moller Terminal, ENL Consortium, Greenview Nigeria Development Limited (GNDL), Apapa Bulk terminal Limited (ABTL), Eko Support and one oil depot, Flour Mills of Nigeria and Standard Flour Mills. Each of the terminals has the capacity to load 150 trucks daily. When you add the terminals in Tincan Island Port, the companies operating there and the tank farms around the ports you get about 4,000.”
According to Abdullahi, the truckers stay on the road for over six weeks before getting to Apapa ports.
He said: “They eat, defecate, and take their bath on the queue. If they have the opportunity of getting water within and sometimes for those drivers who base in Lagos, their wives or children come with food on the queue because some of them cannot leave the trucks.”
Abdullahi complained that the issue of parking on the bridges was not the best because of the protracted gridlock.
He said: “The bridges now serve as the shipping companies’ holding bays; it is from there they get their call up pass to enter the port.”
Abdullahi blamed the officials of the regulatory agencies for lacking the will to do the right thing on the bridge.
The NARTO vice chairman noted that truckers were now receiving call up pass from the bridge before they could be allowed to cross and access the port.
Nevertheless, he said: “If you don’t want to stay long on the bridge, you have to pay illegal money to the security operatives. Payment is in different categories. Those that can afford to bribe their ways pay between N100,000 and N120,000 to task force. and within two or three days they will load and others that are on the dedicated lane will remain there for between five and six weeks or more than that before getting to Apapa Port.”
Abdullahi noted that at the Tincan Island Port, there were five terminals – JosepDam, Tincan Island Container terminal (TICT), Ports & Cargo Handling Services Limited, Five Star Logistics and Port and Terminal Multi-services Limited (PTML) – without holding bays.
He added: “There are five industrial companies there alone. The BUA Sugar, Olam, Flour Mills, Honey Well and Crown Flour Mills apart from the oil depots and tank farms which are more than 50 within Apapa and its environs.”
Worried by the perpetual delay by security agents, who monitor the activities of truckers daily on the bridges, Huruna Adamu, a truck driver, complained that drivers were finding it difficult to move freely on the road without bribing the security officials.
According to him, Nigeria Navy, Police, NPA security operatives, officials of the Lagos State Transport Management Agency (LASTMA) and Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) are all making illegal money on the bridges and the port gate.
Adamu noted that nothing had changed despite the call up pass introduced by government.
He said: “What I think that has changed is when you get to Leventis axis of the road, you can drive to the port within five minutes. But on the bridge, we still spend between two weeks and a month here.”
Another truck driver, John Achimugu, said that extortion still persisted on the port road with impunity.
Achimugu said government was not sincere in compelling shipping lines to provide holding bays for empty containers.
According to him, there is no reason trucks should be lining up on the bridge with empty containers once they are not ready for export.
Achimugu said that the inability of some shipping company to provide depots for empty containers was a deliberate attempt not to incur additional cost.
He noted: “We are the people bearing the burden because we pay surcharges for bringing the containers late to the port.”
The trucker, however, commended the Federal Government for the rehabilitation of the road, saying that the road was fit for heavy-duty vehicles because of the quality of job and materials used in rebuilding the road.
Another truck driver, Aliyu Abdul, said the only way to free the bridge and Apapa Road was for government to impose stiff penalty on shipping companies and truckers without call up number to the port.
He said: “Both drivers and shipping lines must be sanctioned with heavy amount of money. This will bring sanity to the road.”
However, the Port Manager at the Lagos Port Complex, Hajia Aisha Ali-Ibrahim, said the management of the Lagos Port had inaugurated a seven-man anti-corruption standing committee to fight extortion and other forms of corrupt practices at the port.
Ali-Ibrahim explained that the committee had the mandate to work for 24 hours daily and operate as an independent entity.
She said that the inauguration of the committee was in line with the vision of the NPA Managing Director, Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman, to drive the Federal Government’s policy on the Ease of Doing Business at the port.
She noted that all truck drivers must respect the call-up system by parking at their respective truck parks until they were called up before driving into the port.
However, it was learnt that the presence of the committee has not improved corrupt practices at the ports, on the roads or on the bridges.
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