Maritime Reality Check: Master mariner seeks R&D for solutions to Apapa gridlock
The Apapa port city has continued to suffer perennial traffic gridlock as tailbacks of queues by container-laden trucks take over almost every available space.
Of course, vicinities of the ports, including Costain, Ijora, Kirikiri are not spared of the chocking presence of the trucks as the drivers look for just anywhere to occupy, pending when they are able to find their way into the port.
Beyond the back and forth and blame trading by different stakeholders – operators and regulators, there seem not to be a solution to the problem yet.
In this chat – #MaritimeRealityCheck, Captain Tajudeen Alao, the President of the Nigerian Association of Master Mariners, talks on the importance and need for tackling the Apapa traffic gridlock through a dedicated Research and Development (R&D) approach, as is done in ideal situations. He believes that researching to develop a dedicated system and reviewing the system for effectiveness is critical to sustaining a system that would work.
What in your views is responsible for the perennial traffic gridlock in Apapa?
We have realised that traffic within the Apapa – Mile 2 axis is one way traffic, because there is no access between Apapa, Tin-Can and Ibafo. There is no through traffic. So, those coming into Apapa from Orile-Costain- Ijora, often go back through the same route, there is no alternative access.
The rate at which cargoes come into the port is more than the rate that cargo is evacuated. So within the Port, they will continue to have more cargo on the quay apron calling for evacuation, because there is no through traffic. With restricting the number of vehicles that come, the e-call up system is going to reduce the flow of traffic coming for evacuation from Apapa. But, on the contrary, the reverse is the case.
Now, is there any research that ships are delayed outside? Ships are not delayed, more cargoes are being dropped on the queue and they are not being evacuated. That is the problem of what we are seeing today.
What about the electronic call-up system for trucks?
The electronic call-up system is excellent. If you don’t have business in the port immediately, you don’t have to come there. Like 20 years, 15 years ago, it was made mandatory for every tank farm owner to have holding bay outside Lagos, but there is no such thing for trucks. The National Theatre –Ijora axis has a place that was supposed to be used for trucks, but up till today nothing has been done, the place was not developed and you now accuse the truck owners of refusing to make use of the place.
All of a sudden, we saw them develop Tin-Can Island, demolishing so many places and cemented the floor. Are they using the place today? And the people going there are supposed to come from Apapa axis as well, not from Mile 2- Ibafo axis. You see that they have taken over the road in as well in Liverpool and Tin Can, because movement is from Apapa end alone, nothing from Ibafo to Mile 2. It is a one way business and coming into Apapa from that axis is from Second Rainbow, down to Berger, it is one way, no two ways.
Who should provide truck parks?
If you invite me to your house, you will provide a seat for me; I will not come there with one. The person who designed the Port should have envisaged that. So, it is the responsibility of the NPA, which they did in that axis. But for the other axis from the National Theatre –Ijora, they asked the people to go and develop the place. Where will they get money from? It is the responsibility of the Government to provide all these facilities, and lease it out to individual people to use their discretion, there would be chaos all over the place. Every driver looks for where to put their head, under the bridge somewhere.
This does not speak well of us. Some of the people are frustrated because where they are coming from is far. The cost of doing business has gone up because a truck that normally took N45,000 to move cargo within Lagos now costs about N500,000 –N600,000 because the kickbacks alone is over N200,000. In fact, I support the clearing agent who said they should allow them to offload container outside the gate and move on, so that smaller vehicles will come and move the goods, rather than doing so with the trucks.
What about concerns of causing more chaos at the port gate?
It will not. How long does it take to offload one container and load into small trucks and gone? And that container is dropped back in the port. We are talking of a queue to come and pick a container, take it out and then to bring that same container back to the ports. Can you see, that once it is cleared, offloaded and then returned once the container drops there. Time is not even on your side to take the container out and back, because most of the containers are grouped, only the industrial ones that go to the factory to discharge.
What options should be considered for possible solution?
We did not plan and so ended up with ad hoc! And we are not also reviewing to see if it is working. You see, if you plan and review, you will see if it is working. Where is the Research Department of the NPA in this? Shippers’ Council is doing its own because the minister said they should. The NPA is trying solutions outside the port limit, because there is chaos all over the place. No! There must be a central point, where research and review is done. When an ad hoc solution is in place and we think it is permanent, no. It is just a solution that must have a timeline to see how it works.
Now, Lagos State Government is coming to do roads and see how to sanitize the place. But they were never carried along when the tank farms were being built. Today, the state will have to take the risk even though they never had a place to be a part of the planning. So, where is the control centre? Also, access out of Onne, Warri is becoming the same, with long queues of tankers. And other vehicles have to contend with them for access.