Insight

Apapa gridlock: Monster riding on security agents, govt officials’ greed

Truckers and port users are currently bearing the brunt of structural failure and inefficiency of the electronic call-up system launched in February 2021 to decongest the port access roads, BAYO AKOMOALFE reports

Three months after it was introduced by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the electronic call up system (Eto App) launched on February 27, 2021 is currently bogged down by many challenges as the gridlock still persists with no one to take responsibility. The Eto App is responsible for the scheduling, entry and exit of all trucks doing business at the ports. The trucks are required to park at the approved truck parks until they are called up into the port.

However, despite the presence of the traffic management team set up by the Lagos State government to work with NPA to free the port access roads, a long line of trucks blocking the roads and bridges at Ijora and Tin Can has become the order of the day, hindering free movement into the Lagos Port Complex and Tin Can Island Port Complex.

In fact, things are fast getting worse than when the Presidential Task Team was manning the roads. After the launch of the app, the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo- Olu, vowed to fight, name and shame saboteurs of the electronic call up system.

For instance, the governor said that his administration would bring to book the saboteurs, be they corporate organisations, police officers, government officers, trying to frustrate the government’s effort to tackle the seemingly intractable Apapa gridlock. Regardless of Sanwo-Olu’s threat, the system has finally collapsed as gridlock has fully returned to the port access roads.

On February 27, 2021, the then NPA Managing Director (MD), Hadiza Bala Usman, launched the e-call up system and also designated some truck parks for the port-bound trucks where they are expected to wait until they are called to move to the port. A week after the launch, the implementation of the electronic truck call up system was fraught with several irregularities as stakeholders complained that several committees of task force raised to address the situation became a new avenue to enrich certain individuals through sharp practices and other illegal activities on the port access roads.

A shipper, Mr. George Akintayo, explained that since then the gridlock has become a nightmare for him. According to him, he is upset about going to work every day. He said: “Coming from Mile 2 to Warehouse Road to my place of work on a motorcycle every day is very dangerous and difficult, especially when trucks are lined up with no space for even the motorcycle to pass.

“I get down from the motorcycle and trek to another spot just to pass the gridlock and continue with my journey to the office.” Akintayo added that the gridlock has affected business activities negatively and made life unbearable for the residents. Also, a truck driver, Segun Badmus, said that he did not believe the electronic call up system would solve the gridlock.

Badmus stressed that NPA and the Lagos State traffic management team have been playing the usual blame game since the resurgence of the traffic chaos, while commuters and port operations continue to bear the brunt of their inefficiency.

The trucker alleged that there is a conspiracy among the people deployed to tackle the challenges posed by gridlock. Also, findings show that those who had been benefiting from old order on the road for over a decade would not allow the electronic app to function. According to a cargo consolidator, who is the Chairman of Sceptre Consult, Mr. Jayeola Ogamode, the issue of extortion cannot be eradicated even at the new parks. He alleged that some powerful individuals are behind the sudden reappearance of trucks on the road despite NPA and Lagos State government’s warning, most especially the Mile 2-Tin Can Port Road axis.

Ogamode said that the government should roll out stiff penalties for truckers and its officials who abuse the e-call up system. He said: “The presence of oil tankers and tank farms will continue to frustrate the implementation of the electronic platform.

This group will go to any length to oppose any policy that will affect their private business. “Apart from this, some security operatives including the Lagos State Traffic Management (LASTMA) officials, who have served on the road, are still neck-deep in the affairs of the roads. They engage thugs to extort money from truckers on the road.

In some cases, these security operatives collect money to escort truck drivers to the port gates. Up till today nobody has been punished for various infractions and sharp practices surrounding the return of gridlock on the port roads.’’ Trouble started in less than two weeks after the introduction of the electronic call-up system, when some truck drivers were caught with counterfeited e-call up slips cloned to by-pass officials mandated with the responsibility of enforcing the electronic call up.

The NPA’s electronic call up system is powered by a web application called: “Eto” but investigations show that it was hacked by unscrupulous agents and drivers, leading to chaos in the first three days of its implementation. Worried by the development, NPA said in a tweet: “We are currently investigating some cases where truck drivers were caught with counterfeit e-call up slips in order to by-pass security and officials saddled with the responsibility but we are on top of the situation. We will beat them to their game.”

The authority explained in a directive to agents, freight forwarders and truckers that it has become mandatory to obtain their tickets only when they arrive at a holding bay. It added that all flatbeds drivers from Ikeja industrial area and the environs must be serviced from either JOF Truck Park, Oregun or Foru Truck Park, Ojota, while those from Amuwo, Apapa and environs shall be serviced from H and C Logistics Trading Enterprise, Amuwo-Odofin and Army Truck Park, Mile 2.

In addition, the directive stressed that all flatbeds from the Army Truck Park and H and C Logistics will serve the Tin-Can corridor only, while trucks with Terminal Delivery Order (TDO) shall be serviced by Anet Construction Park and Bomarah Park. It added that all export containers shall be serviced from the Foru Truck Park, Ojota. “Special BAU shall service all categories of trucks coming from the hinterland. Hog-Amazon shall service all categories of trucks approaching from Ajah-Epe axis.

All fish trucks shall continue the way they operate at the moment. Reefer containers shall be accommodated by a truck park. Shipping lines holding bays as pre-gates shall go to the ports directly. “All RoRo barges’ movements are approved through Lagferry Jetty at Mile 2 and landing points at Standard Flour Mills and GMT jetties at Creek Road, Apapa. All movements shall be batched and sequenced by TTP,” it added. The directive stressed that “Eto” tickets would only be generated to all agents and truckers on physical presence of the truck in the parks and confirmed by the operator, saying that agents and truckers are advised to hold extra funds to prevent delays in truck parks leading to additional charges.

The authority added that it would checkmate the forgery of the e-call up tickets by the stakeholders. Meanwhile, the Congregation of Registered Freight Forwarding Practitioners of Nigeria (CREFFPON) has described the costs attached to the e-call up system for trucks in which the operators are asked to pay N10,000 for using the platform and additional N30,000 for each transport company as worrisome. CREFFPON explained that truckers have been forced to raise their charges which importers must pay to have their goods delivered. It said: “NPA’s truck transit park and the e-truck call up system is a modernised extortion tool via ICT application.”

However, the Vice-President of the National Association of Roads Transport Owners (NARTO), Dry Cargo Section, Mr. Abdullahi Mohammed, stressed the need by the authority to register more parks to accommodate more trucks. According to him, the existing parks can only accommodate 3,000 trucks out of the 7,000 registered by NPA. A haulage operator, Hakeem Adeleye, said both the NPA and the Eto stink.

He alleged that the creation totally violates the Public Procurement Act. According to him, those who won the bid neither bid nor emerged preferred bidders. He said: “They didn’t bid for Eto and they didn’t bid for the Truck Transit Park.

Yet, they emerged as bid winners.” Adeleye alleged that when the advert for Eto was published in October, 2018, the idea was that the preferred bidders would begin operation by August 2019. According to him, those who finally hijacked the TTP and the Eto presently, were not even in the picture. Presently, the organisation of Eto is uniquely crewed in a way that enables the authority to collect the money, while the Lagos State government does all the job. Also, the Chairman, Skelas Group of Companies and former National President of the Association of Nigerian Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu, explained that whatever challenges Eto is facing cannot be divorced from lack of consultation and sensitisation by the NPA. He accused the authority of failing to call for dialogue before embarking on Eto. CONTINUED FROM PAGE 23 “I will suggest that we scrap the common user roads surrounding the terminals in Lagos ports.

Scrap it entirely, it’s not necessary. All terminals should have their exits and their entries facing the expressway. Terminals should have private access and exit roads. You will be surprised how soon all these issues of clogging will disappear,” Shittu said. He explained that whenever relevant departments of government failed to carry stakeholders along in addressing sensitive industry challenges such as Eto, such neglect will always produce fault lines which will slow down implementation of projects. Shittu added that important projects like the electronic call up system should enjoy robust dialogue, consultation and sensitisation from stakeholders.

He said: “Our style in this country is that people who are in positions of power just assume they can force anything on you and then allow the system to take care of it. Right from the time of port concession, the disagreement I had with the former Managing Director of NPA, Chief Adebayo Sarumi, who was one of my mentors in the maritime industry, and Ojo Maduekwe, was the system of concession they wanted to impose on Nigeria.

The then NPA MD, Usman, warned that any truck which had not been called up, but was found on the road in Apapa would be impounded. She said that all shipping companies must have their own holding bays for empty containers. Similarly, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, had mandated the NPA to punish truckers who failed to comply with government’s directives when the rail end of the Apapa Port spur line was completed. Amaechi directed the management of NPA to ensure that the trucks are moved out and that only registered trucks conveying goods imported or to be exported should be allowed into the ports. The Lagos State Governor, Sanwo-Olu, had promised that the state government would not stop at anything to ensure that anybody who tried to retract and take government back to where it was coming on the gridlock in Apapa would be dealt with . He said: “We will bring them to the public court for them to see that we are serious. We cannot allow the recklessness and carelessness that our citizens have gone through.

Obviously, what we are doing now is that we have taken the unscrupulous people who have been benefiting from the gridlock out; we have taken whatever it is they are earning from them and we know they will want to fight back.” A trucker and a chieftain of the haulage industry alleged that the current e-call up system, popularly called Eto, has actually transformed into a mere money collection venture, where an initial N10,000 per truck transaction has percolated into N30,000 truck’s single entry business.

Meanwhile, the Acting Managing Director of NPA, Mohammed Bello- Koko, has assured port users that the authority would speedily resolve all teething challenges against the smooth implementation of the electronic call up system for trucks doing business at the port. The NPA General Manager (GM), Corporate and Strategic Communications, Mr. Olaseni Alakija, said the acting MD, Bello-Koko, made the pledge while interacting with truck owners and drivers during his visit to the Lilypond Terminal in Ijora for a firsthand assessment of the IT physical infrastructure built for the e-call up system.

The NPA MD said the visit would enable him to re-evaluate the performance of the truck call up system three months after it was deployed and also engage directly with the service users to appreciate their concerns and those bottlenecks arising from their subscription of the traffic management platform. Bello-Koko added that all teething issues arising from the truck call up system would be addressed progressively. He also promised that both the online scheduling process and truck transit arrangement would be finetuned to check against manipulation and other related irregularities.

“We will ensure that the entire process is fully automated and secured to prevent counterfeiting, while priority will be given to export cargoes in line with the economic diversification agenda of the Federal Government,” he said. Furthermore, Bello-Koko promised that the NPA would sustain the implementation of the minimum standard of trucks operating in the ports.

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