The ease of doing business in all Lagos ports has not achieved its purpose as envisaged by the Federal Government. In this interview with BAYO AKOMOLAFE, Managing Director of GeeGee Global Nigeria Limited, Mohammed Abdullahi, says the problems in the port industry would continue to linger due to corruption
What is your take on logistic business in the maritime industry?
Logistic business is under-developed in Nigeria, especially in the maritime sector. It is the vehicle to grow the port industry but the Federal Government has given no serious attention to it. For instance, since the adoption of the landlord port model in 2006, which paved the way for private sector participation in port management, giant steps have not been taken by the government in the provision of enabling environment for logistic business. The major mode of transportation after about 11 years of the port concession programme is road. I think, with the situation on ground, the best thing for the government is to urgently address the factors affecting the maritime industry. The only mode of transportation is gradually collapsing. The way things are going, the mode of transportation will not meet the demand in terms of distribution of cargoes. In the practice of logistics, lead time is given in the cargo delivery to the consignees but it is no longer the same here in the Nigerian port. It takes six weeks to deliver consignments to owners within Lagos alone not to talk of other parts of the country. The consequence of this development is that the logistics of exiting and receiving cargoes at the port have been crippled.
What are the challenges encountered by truck owners in the port industry?
The challenges are numerous. Extortion, multiple taxation and damages on trucks on the queue when rushing to access the port are just the few challenges affecting the truck owners. The security operatives are exploiting the long queue and the various illegal rules to exploit truck drivers. Nowadays, it is difficult for drivers to enter the port without the call up pass. In some cases, if you don’t want to stay long on the bridge, you need to bribe your way. The extortion is in different categories. It is between N100, 000 and N120,000 to security agents and within two or three days they will pass you but the cost will be shifted to cargo owners and consumers If not, you will remain there for between five and six weeks before getting to Apapa Port. Other problem is the poor condition of the road. The Apapa –Oshodi express road from Mile 2 axis to creek road has damaged a lot of trucks. Consignees have lost their cargoes while some vehicles have been completely knocked off the road.
Is Nigeris doing well in the transport industry when compared with other West African countries?
Nigeria is far backward when compared with other countries. Go to our neighboring countries -Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana. Their governments have created enabling environment for the transport industry in terms of funds, good road network and truck parks, which are all managed by the private individuals, transport unions and associations. The countries are not better than Nigeria but they are doing well. In fact, they depend on us (Nigeria) to survive. However, we thank God that this present government has started making some rehabilitation and construction of roads, rebuilding the rail tracks, inland depots and river ports. We only pray for continuity and sustainability.
What are the challenges of lifting cargoes at the port?
Multiple checking points along the port corridors is one of the challenges we are facing. Motorist and truck drivers stay on the roads for hours, leading to huge loss of man-hours. On the port road, there is constant system breakdown and long traffic bottle neck. Also, to lift cargoes inside the port terminal is another problem because of long queue arising from inefficient handling equipment and when you are coming out of the ports, you experience the same queue because of multiple checks inside the port by the various security operatives. All these are happening in a bid to extort money. I can tell you that some people are benefiting from the rot, that is why the system is not working.
How has National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) contributed to transport development in Nigeria?
The National Association of Road Transport Owners is contributing very much to the development of transport and economic of Nigeria. As you know, be it at the sea, air or rail transportation, it is the road transport that will evacuate the cargoes to the final destination. For over 30 years, when our rail system had completely failed, the entire modes of transportation depend on road by using trucks and other vehicles in the distributing of petroleum products, general cargoes, finished products and movement of passengers nationwide. In term of employment, we have contributed immensely to the economy of the country. We are next to government in job creation. As you are aware, without transportation, the economy cannot grow. This is why we are the backbone to the development of the country’s economy.
Why is the cost of moving containers out of the port expensive and what is the solution?
The cost of moving containers is expensive more especially when the demand for trucks is very high. For instance, trucker charges N450, 000 to N500,000 to move a 40-feet container from the port to Alaba because of the congestion at the port. Also, the expenses of returning empty containers due to lack of holding bays by the shipping lines are just a few of the factors contributing to the high cost. If the demand for the trucks is coming down, the cost will also drop drastically. I think the only temporary solution is for government to provide temporary holding bays for empty containers pending the time the shipping lines, which have no functional holding bays would get their own. Government can use both the Lylipond and Brawal terminals as temporary holding bays. I am sure that If that could be done, the port roads will be free of gridlock. At the holding bays, shipping lines will have control of the trucks and the movement of their empty boxes to ports after getting approval from the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) through call- up list. The good thing now is that the railway is working gradually to support the road. Those containers from Lylipond terminal can be transferred by rail to the APMoller Terminal at Lagos Port. Also, barges can be used to move in the boxes from Brawal terminal to Tincan Island Port and Lagos Port. Some shipping lines with holding bays that have been filled to brim can also decongest their empty containers but enforcement is the problem. Once the security operatives is able to enforce the movement of containers to holding bay, the cost of shipping containers out of the port will be cheaper because the road will be free.
Why it is difficult for government, shipping companies and terminal operators to provide holding bays for trucks and empty containers?
The issue is corruption; there is nothing difficult there. The people saddled with the responsibility of making industry functional are corrupt. Instead of implementing government policy, they prefer to exploit the system to make illegal money. An importer with his consignment is expected to move his cargoes to the warehouse where he would distribute them to the market or consumers; but in a situation where you brought your consignment and you don’t have where to warehouse them and you now decided to send them all to the market, then what will you expect than to jampack the market?
This is the situation of the shipping lines in Nigeria. They shipped in their containers into the country and they don’t have where to warehouse them or control the movement of those boxes back into the port and final destinations.
The global standard is for the shipping lines to have their holding bays outside the port where they would stack empty containers but the government regulatory agency that is suppose to monitor and enforce the law allowed them to manipulate the system, thereby creating ways for impunity. This is why hundreds of trucks are on the bridges in Lagos.
They have also gone beyond that by turning the express ways and roads inside some communities to their holding bays. Iganmu, Ajegunle and some part of Surulere have been littered with trucks laden with empty containers belonging to these shipping lines. Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has given them ultimatum and even threatened them with sanctions but they have not shown any seriousness in providing the holding bays just because some people are benefiting from the system.
The truck drivers are not to be blamed because they are not the owners of those containers. If government officials can shun corrupt practices by enforcing the law with stiff penalty, everybody will sit up and there will be sanity in the industry.
You know the present NPA, MD Hadiza Bala Usman, inherited this problem from her predecessors and she is doing everything possible to make the industry work. The same with the Federal Taskforce Chairman, Real Admiral Eyo, who is always on the roads trying to see to the end of the mess, but some cabals who have no interest of the country have been creating obstacle to truncate their efforts. Let me tell you, the beneficiaries of the traffic gridlock are beside the corner sabotaging the efforts of government.
Unless government does the right thing, the system will continue to linger and this is one of the reasons the ease of doing business in the industry has never worked.
How much do you think the transport industry can generate if all the potential are well harnessed?
There a lot of potential in the Nigerian transport industry. Today the transportation industry is one of the largest producers of labour. It can generate over 10million labour and $4billion as revenue annually because it is the trucks that will carry all the cargoes in the port to their destinations. Apart from this, we can generate as much as N300billion annually from Chad and Niger because they are landlocked countries, which depend on Nigeria and other countries to import and export their cargoes.
There will be a lot of business activities if all the potential and adequate infrastructure as well as ease of doing business in transport are provided. There will also be cost reduction in transportation of goods.
In what ways are truck owners facing the challenge of extortion on the roads?
Theextortionistoomuch- almostallthesecurityagenciesareinvolved. Majorityof them are not even on duty or in the service again. Some of the security operatives have been arrested but after a while, you see another differentfaceontheportroadmaking illegalmoney.
The truck owners are losing huge amount of money to the traffic gridlock, extortion, corruptpracticesandallkindsof theftontheroads. Imagine a situation where you load one trip in a month as against eight or 10 trips for local operators and one trip for those operating up north or East for six weeks or more.
Many of our members have had serious challenges of their trucks involved in accidents when trying to access the ports or exiting due to the state of theroads. Manyhavealsolosttheir investments. Thank God for the interventions of the NPA MD Hadiza Bala Usman, AG Dangote and the Nigerian Flour Mills for the construction of the Wharf road from Leventis Bridge to the Lagos Port gate. The Tincan- Oshodi- Oworonsoki express way that was flagged off by the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatude Raji Fashola would soon commence.
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