By Simeon Mpamugoh
Piqued by the alleged indiscriminate manner the Removal of Abandoned Vehicle Committee (RAVC), Lagos State, tows trucks waiting to discharge empty containers at various depots within the state, stakeholders within the maritime space have petitioned the state government. In a petition addressed to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO) said it was upset at the outrageous bills slammed on its members’ empty trucks. The association tasked the governor to save the souls of its members against the provocative behaviour.
Signed by its president, Remi Ogungbemi, and made available to Daily Sun, AMATO, in the petition, recalled that, recently, members of the committee towed away some trucks that queued to drop empty containers at FANO bonded terminal in Amuwo Odofin and, thereafter, slammed the trucks owners with outrageous fines for the release of their trucks.
It noted that the trucks being towed by the committee around empty container depots were not abandoned as a result of mechanical fault or absence of drivers but were on a queue to drop empty containers and return to their garage or go back to the ports to load import cargoes.
Ogungbemi said: “Even if the trucks are obstructing traffic, towing should not be the solution. Rather, the Lagos State Transport Management Agency (LASTMA) can be deployed to manage movement of trucks within the empty container depots at the expense of owners of the depots.”
He observed that the major excuse generally given by the committee for the blanket towing of trucks around the bonded terminal was reportedly a petition it received from residents on the presence of trucks around the area.
“We all know that anywhere a bonded terminal is located, it must attract trucks that are coming to load or drop empty containers.
“They are necessary evil we cannot do without. Any depot government feels its operations are constituting nuisance to the free flow of traffic and lives of residents can be sealed off or relocated to remote areas where the movement of trucks would not constitute traffic nuisance, instead of the committee coming down to tow them.”
Meanwhile, the Maritime Stakeholders Forum (MSF) has decried the incessant inauguration of committees and task forces on the decongestion of the Apapa-Tin Can traffic gridlock, saying it was not the solution to the problem. It wondered why government always saw the deployment of security operatives as the solution to the traffic gridlock even when the same strategy had failed to resolve the problem in the past.
The group noted that when PTT was inaugurated to resolve traffic gridlock in Apapa/Tin Can road axis, it eventually led to the institutionalisation of bribery and extortion by those he termed cabals who worked in collaboration with the security operatives.
However, as part of efforts to find a lasting solution to the traffic problem on port access roads, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has appointed Truck Transit Park Limited to manage Lilypond Transit Park and introduced an automation system of admitting trucks seamlessly into the ports to eliminate traffic congestion.
The group said that it has equally come up with a Truck Scheduler System for seamless admission of trucks into the ports: “This is an adverse development. The authority does not know how to holistically resolve problems the way it should. The fact that government has the hammer does not mean every problem is a nail. There are problems whose solutions do not require the deployment of security operatives but a simple technological approach.
“Whether TTP ‘ETO’ system or TSS technologically automated truck call-up system, both could seamlessly admit trucks into the ports, petroleum tank farm depots and factories without trucks clogging the roads and bridges.
“Under this process, all trucks would be made to leave the roads/bridges for private garages while the terminals/NPA decide which container is ready for loading and which truck is on queue to leave its park to load at ports, factories and depots.
“Tags are also allocated to trucks that are approved by the system to make sure that only trucks with approved tags are allowed to move on the ports access roads without obstruction, in contrast to the manual system of passing trucks.
“The Federal Government should embrace the digital process of passing trucks into the ports in the interest of peace and traffic sanity. Human interference forms part of the root cause of traffic gridlock in the Apapa/Tin Can axis. ‘ETO’ and TSS are devised to replace analogue and all human encumbrances that are militating against free flow of traffic in Apapa and Tincan road axis.”
The national organizing secretary, Council of Maritime Truck Unions and Associations (COMTUA), Adeyinka Aroyewun, noted that the new task teams from Lagos State government and the Federal Ministry of Transportation for the same decongestion job were incomprehensible.
He said, “Apapa-Tin Can access road is a federal road and under the jurisdiction of the Federal Government. Even though the traffic affects Lagos State, it is not out of place if the state government is involved. But for the state government to say it is taking charge is a bit of a very tall dream. The disbanded PTT has Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) as members. And there is no time they were trying to regulate things around the port LASTMA was not involved. The state government’s involvement means they have an eye on the honey and it is another round to start extorting us, and that is what we frown at.”
Steering committee chairman, Logistics Practitioners Association of Nigeria (LPAN), Comrade Godwin Ikeji, in his view, alluded to the several committees and task forces that had been set up in the past on the Apapa gridlock.
“Before PTT, we had among others the one headed by Commander Okon Eyo, the commander of the Nigerian Navy Ship. They were set up as a result of empty containers being returned to the port, which seems to be the major cause of congestion of the port access roads.”
He noted that, sometimes, government would come up with good policies but one way or the other it was being distracted from proper execution.
“The aim of decongesting is always there but we find that, at a point when these committees come up, they are overturned by corruption and bad advise. PTT started well but somewhere along the line fraud became the order of the day and that led to the outcries by transporters, which caused its disbandment.”
Ikeji likened what was happening in Nigeria’s maritime sector to a conspiracy, and economic sabotage against Nigerian economy by foreign cabals and shipping magnates who had turned the trucks as their holding bay.
He blamed the intractable problem on Apapa-Tin Can port access roads to the Federal Government’s refusal to enforce sanctions on the shipping lines and terminal operators who owned the empty containers that constitute 99 per cent of the gridlock.
“In Nigeria, our exports cannot go out and the country is crying for exchange. So, there is need for government to apply a holistic measure and possibly give some executive mandate to the shipping lines. There should be monitoring from the IGP’s level on what the policemen are doing on our roads,” he said.
Following allegations of widespread corruption in the management of the chaotic traffic situation on Apapa access roads, the Federal Government last December disbanded Presidential Task Team on Apapa gridlock and Sanwo-Olu said the state would take over traffic management to restore sanity to the Apapa area.