Steve Agbota, [email protected]
The mystery behind the Apapa gridlock is yet to be unraveled as the lockdown on seems to defy all solutions despite recurrent efforts of government and stakeholders to make the trucks vacate access road to the nation’s two seaports.
For years, the road has become inseparable from interminable traffic jam. The dogged gridlock on the ports access roads in Apapa has made cargo evacuation from the ports so difficult that trucks spend up to six weeks to get into the ports and takes another six weeks to come out.
The traffic jam on that access roads have become so problematic that most companies and business concerns that operate along the Apapa highway have either relocated or shut down.
Stakeholders and experts at different fora have blamed the unending situation on poor transport infrastructure such as poor access roads, lack of effective rail system for ease of cargo evacuation, holding bays among others, which are affecting the economic performance and competitiveness of the ports. This is why some percentage of Nigerian bounded cargoes is diverted to the neigbouring countries.
The situation is also compounded by the concentration of tank farms in the Apapa axis, thus attracting large numbers of petrol tankers that shove with container-bearing trucks on the road. This is usually result to congestion in the ports.
As the gridlock continues and efforts to find permanent solution ongoing, industry watchers believe that the new mode of moving and evacuating cargoes through the use of barges and tugboats should be given serious attentions and supports.
Already, some barge operators have been given license to operate on the Nigerian waters in order to move and evacuate cargo via barges. The concerns stakeholders urged the both the Federal and State governments to ensure that the licensed operators are complying with the International best practice.
Daily Sun learnt that operators have moved almost 100,000 containers in the past one year from the ports via barges. Information obtained by our reporter shows that some government regulators at the port; Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Inland Waterways (NIWA), Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) AND Nigerian Maritime Safety and Administration (NIMASA) have been drumming support for the use of barges to move and evacuate cargo as the means to encourage intermodal transportation in cargo evacuation.
To support the course, recently, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), with AP Moller Capital to adopt barges as part of the plans to relief importers of the Apapa gridlock.
The Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority Hadiza Bala Usman, who confirmed this during a meeting with a team from APM Capital, said the problem of Apapa access road seems intractable because of decade long decadence, which was caused by multiplicity of problems.
Usman recalled that NPA had made several efforts including contributing N1.8 billion to rehabilitate the road at a time as well also coming up with “call up system”, which would soon be upgraded to be electronically operated.
She gave assurance that NPA would continue to consult with stakeholders across all levels, since the provision of infrastructure is crucial for sustainable ports operations.
Speaking with Daily Sun, the President of Barge Operators Association of Nigeria, and Chief Executive Officer Connect Rail Service, Mr. Edeme Kelikume said that the government must look into inland waterways as a mode of sustainable transportation for the country.
He said currently, about 200 to 500 containers are moved averagely on a daily basis, adding that over 100,000 containers have been ferried in the last one year.
Speaking on the challenges facing barge operators, he said they have been confronted with the issues of illegal operators, which he said the association is collaborating with government agencies and stakeholders to drive enforcement of professional operators in the waterways.
He added: “Access to finance is the major constraint for most businesses. The banks are begin to understand the nature of the business. We also have issues of access to the right skills and NIMASA is providing support in that direction. But there is still a big gap. The industry has grown sporadically over the past couple of months. That is a big concern. We also have safety and security issues, which is challenging.”
On moving the industry forward, he said there is need to engage in continuous advocacy. He added that the association has been engaging with the various arms of Government consistently.
He stated: “We are planning to have stakeholder’s workshop where we will bring stakeholders and operators to discuss issues of illegal operators and how to sanitize the emergency business and to ensure maritime transportation is safe and sustainable.”
He said the barge operators are working very hard to ensure that the services of barge operators are spread to all tentacles of the country. He noted that on the long run, the association expect to see capacity locally, more investments and more competence in the sector.
“We expect more consolidation we expect governments to look into inland waterways as a mode of sustainable transportation for the country, especially for heavy cargo.
“We expect the government to start working on the dredging of the upper Niger so that we can extend this barge movement we are doing in Lagos up all the way down to Lokoja where Northern bound traffic can originate and terminate from, he said.
He said all the licensed barge operators currently operating on the nation’s waters are covered with insurance, adding thatsafety and security measure has been put in place by barge operators, NPA, NIWA and by all stakeholders especially to ensure zero accident.