By Steve Agbota, [email protected] 08033302331
Late 2020, Managing Director of the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman, in a national television programme said plans were in top gear to float an electronic call-up system in January 2021, which is expected to clear the protracted traffic around Apapa ports and decongest the terminals of bulk cargoes.
She said the bad roads make truck drivers hang around the ports lobbying for cargo lifting, adding that there must be e-call up where the trucks parks are linked to the port locations, so that each truck can only start going to the port if it is called upon. She added that the authority was working with the Lagos State government to create truck parks at designated areas in a bid to further tackle protracted traffic on port access roads.
However, as stakeholders expect the much needed e-call up system to be deployed before the end of the month, they said for the system to be successful, it should not turn to corruption avenue and be transparent, efficient, creditable and consistent.
Daily Sun learnt that the scheme, which would be financed by a private company, Trucks Transit Parks Limited under a public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement with the NPA expected to cost about N7 billion to deploy. When fully operational, the electronic call-up system will save Nigeria a whopping N140 billion weekly economic loss and another $10 billion yearly loss of agro products
Up until now, the NPA has operated a manual call-up system for freight trucks and cargo trailers. The manual call-up system involves the allocation of parking lots to loaded trucks by security agencies in charge of traffic control.
As a result of the heavy involvement of human agents, the manual system has been marred by cases of bribery, extortion and favouritism on the part of the Task Force mandated to oversee the call-up procedure.
Many truck operators decried the corrupt practices by port officials handling the manual call-up, which has failed to address the issue of congestion and vehicle traffic on roads linking to the ports.
The electronic call-up system to be deployed by the NPA; if efficient and consistent, it could decongest the ports and by extension, road traffic in ports access areas. One of the major problems the e-call up would solve is the pre-allocation of trucks to designated parking spaces.
Meanwhile, freight trucks have to be linked to the tech-enabled system, and drivers would have been allotted a parking section before being granted access into the port, which means that trucks not connected to the e-call up system would be denied entry into the ports and it would also reduce the number of trucks on ground per park, as well as open up more parking spaces to incoming trailers.
Added to this, the e-call up system would help shorten the waiting time for cargo trucks to be cleared. The issue of overtime cargoes has been a constant concern as it has encouraged cargo pilferage and excessive charges.
When trucks are quickly assigned parking lots, it reduces the turnaround time for shipments to be unloaded and cleared.
Speaking with Daily Sun, former member, Presidential Task Force for the Reform of Nigeria Customs and member Presidential Committee on Port Problems, Lucky Amewiro, said that e-call up system is being handle and designed by NPA, adding that by provision of the law, NPA is the one to handle the e-call up system; they might incorporate other stakeholders to make it work.
“If you look at the law, under section 32 of the NPA Act, NPA is the one that allow managing the port access roads and all the rest. So trucks going into the port are by the provisions of the Act that managed by NPA. No other person has power to do that.
“The NPA has the powers to do things for the e-call up system. They are the people provide the e-call up system.
“But my concern is that, the e-call up system is not going to be a corrupt thing. It should be a thing that must not be corrupt. It should be transparent so that it can be successful. The problem we are having is not the e-call up, the problem we are having are man errors in the port,” he added.
He said the government must have the political will to appoint committees of professionals to reorganise that place so that all those things should be out of the port.
“What we have there are just people who are using the port to make money. So the e-call up system, if it is not prone to corruption, then there should be something that must be devise to assist trying to reduce trailers on the highways. And the e-call up system is all about picking containers from the trailer parks not the holding bay.
“NPA should design the e-call up system whereby you have trailer park and holding bay. The e-call up system should call people from the trailer park to the holding bay so that they can access the port. But the port didn’t have holding bay that is the problem. All these things are designed by the people who sell out the ports to foreigners,” he said.
However, he expressed fear that if the e-call up system is not properly handled, it is going to worsen the situation. He said there is need for a proper check up by looking at what NPA wants to do with e-call up system.
“It is not just NPA coming with e-call up system. If is going to be transparent, they must sit down and work. The terminals are working on the cargo, NPA is supposed to involved in the roads and all the rest. By law, NPA is the one that has right to do the e-call up system.
“But what we are saying, they should do it with transparently, honestly and it should have creditability and it must be consistent because NPA should know that anytime from now, our country will be open for free trade in all the whole Africa states under the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
“We have a lot of challenges. It is not all about going there to look for money, we must be able to put ourselves down and make things to work. The e-call up system cannot solve the problem if we don’t have people who are transparent, efficient, creditable and consistent,” he said.
Meanwhile, Secretary of the Board of Trustees (BOT) of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Taiye Oyeniyi said that NPA electronic call up system might not work because the port system has been bastardised with corruption.
He stated that NPA officials who have better knowledge of the nation’s port operations should be allowed to drive the project, rather concessioning it out to private firms.
“This is the 5th time that the government would be introducing such idea at the nation’s port, which eventually failed. For instance, look at the manual call up system operated at the lillypond Terminal Ijora and the process was hijacked and turned into money making venture for some few individuals.”
According to him, the NPA officials should be allowed to manage the system because the owners of the port, saying the people they are bringing to manage the call up system now are ignorant.