‘ETO system has processed 1.2m port-bound trucks, reduced cargo turnaround time’
The Managing Director of Trucks Transit Parks (TTP) Limited, Jama Onwubuariri, operator of the electronic call-up system also known as ETO, in this interview with ADAKU ONYENUCHEYA, talks about the bottlenecks limiting the smooth flow of traffic into the ports despite measures to address the issue and the success recorded two years into the scheme implementation.
Truck Transit Park’s operation in the maritime sector is two years, what has been the success recorded?
One success of our operations is that two years ago, you would not have been able to take a tricycle to cross the Ijora Bridge. We have been able to free the bridge of static trucks. You may have seen some tankers on the road; they are currently not part of what we manage. We are majoring in container trucks that go into the ports. The trucks are 100 per cent part of the system that we are managing. To count the success of our operations in the maritime industry, I would say that freeing Surulere, Yaba, Costain and Ijora of static trailers is one key success that we can point to.
The second is that the travel time for commuters has also been reduced. I come from Lekki and if I were to come to Ijora in January 2021, I would budget about three hours. Today it took me about one and a half hours. The timing is because of Lekki to CMS traffic, not because of Ijora-Apapa traffic. The third success we have recorded is that the cost of carrying a 40ft container from Apapa to Ibadan has reduced from N1.6 million to about N600, 000 as of today. That is over 65 per cent reduction in the cost of moving cargoes.
We have also created employment for over 240 people directly. None of these people were employed in 2020. We have also created improved efficiency at the port. Before now, if somebody wants to come to the port to carry cargo, let’s say your container has landed and you are asked to come and carry it, you cannot say you will be there in three days, you will budget between two to three weeks for the truck to make it into the port. We improved the average turnaround time for port-bound trucks from two weeks to three days. So, the improved efficiency of port operations is something we have achieved.
We have also achieved certainty. Now, a terminal operator within the port can say we are expecting 15 trucks a day and they can be sure they will get the 15 trucks. They can say in this one week, we are going to handle 800 trucks and they will handle them. We have also generated revenue for the Federal and state governments. That also is a success we have achieved.
How has the ETO system achieved its objectives?
I think it has largely addressed the challenges. There are two key challenges, which we face at the moment. One challenge is enforcement. The government agencies that are supposed to make sure people comply are not fully doing what they ought to do, so, there are still complaints of extortion from drivers, they demand bribes from drivers to enable them to gain access. They collect bribes to allow some trucks to go ahead of others in the queue.
The second is the condition of the roads. You may have seen how the road was coming in here. The Government is expected to fix the roads so that they are motorable for these articulated vehicles to pass safely and speedily. Between Ijora and the ports, we have pockets of bad sections on the roads. Between the Apapa and Tin Can Island ports outward, we also have pockets of bad roads, which slow down the speed of these trucks getting to the ports and sometimes, lead to trucks falling or getting stuck, thereby creating artificial gridlock. These are the two key challenges we have at the moment and we hope that as the government takes steps to solve these challenges, it will enable us to achieve cost reduction.
How many trucks has TTP processed since the commencement of ETO?
Between February 27, last year, and this time, we have processed almost 1.6 million ports and non-port bound trucks such as the ports, warehouses and manufacturing facilities within the port area. For the port-bound trucks, the system has processed about 1.2 million. Whether the truck is carrying a container or what is called a flat bed or pocket truck, we have processed almost 1.6 million in two years.
How would you rate export under the ETO system? Has there been any improvement, and what are the challenges?
Before now, export trucks are particularly prone to extortion, this is because the law enforcement agents who were managing the road knew that you are in a hurry to take the goods into the port, because there is a timeline for you to bring it in so it doesn’t perish or damage and a ship is also waiting to carry that export cargo to where it is needed. So the export trucks usually become soft targets for the enforcement agents.
But as of today, export trucks are given priority to go into the port. Immediately a truck is identified as an export cargo, the system flags it as a priority access user. Immediately the trucks come in here at our parks at Lilypond, within two days, we send them to the ports. Now, why does it take two days? Between the time a truck leaves Lilypond to go into the port, it may take up to 12 hours for it to be processed within the port and go out. If there is a space created where the truck has been serviced and exited from the port, the new trucks will go into it. That is why there is that 48 hours timeline.
But that is a massive improvement to what it used to be where you had to wait for two weeks, sometimes three before that truck can make it into the port and sometimes the materials would have started getting damaged.
How many export containers has TTP processed under the ETO system?
We have processed 66,080 export bookings, but it is a moving target. Why I said it is a moving target is this, not all export cargoes come into the ports by road, some come in by barge. If they come in by barge without being on trucks, then it is not captured on ETO because ETO deals only with trucks. So, if an export cargo has been brought into the port through the badges without the trucks carrying them into the port, we will not have that statistics.
Extortion, which is one of the challenges the ETO system was created to address still thrives at the ports. Port users also claim that TTP charges are high on the ETO system. How true is this?
The ETO system pricing has not changed since we started. Some aspects of the pricing have been reduced since we started. Now the arrangement is that, if you go into a park that does not belong to you, you will pay the park owner because the person is providing you with a service.
So you pay us for a service. If you have your park, you don’t need to use another person’s park. You don’t pay anything. You can move from there to what is called a pre-gate. The arrangement is that a private park that is owned by you with your trucks, and then your trucks wait there until you are invited to the pre-gate, so, when your truck moves from your park to another park, you pay for its use. So, that cost is what has been agreed from 2020 and it has not changed. Even though our cost of operations has gone up since then, we kept the same price.
You can’t go straight into the port without coming to a facility like ours, because we need to make sure you are in a controlled environment and that when the port calls for you, you are ready to move. That is why these pre-gates are created. Anybody saying that ETO is charging them higher, the person will either be ignorant or is after playing with issues.
Maybe people do not want the inconvenience of opening an account or a profile for themselves because ETO is designed as a self-service, in which you don’t need to know anybody in our company, the port or policeman for you to move your trucks into the ports. It is designed so that, just as you can open an email address and send emails by simply logging in, that is the same way ETO was created. But some people will say they don’t want this trouble and then contact someone else to do it for them.
If you ask someone to come and do some job for you, you will pay the person, depending on the kind of relationship you have with the person. The person can tell you to give him N40, 000 to process it for you, but that is not our charge. The only thing we see is that somebody is making a booking and we don’t know how much it is that the person is being paid to make the booking. So, our price is the same.
Some other people pay, not just for the booking, but also pay to have his truck jump the queue. He asks for the amount to give to settle the law enforcement agents on the road so that, even though his truck is the 10th in the queue, it would be placed number one. So some do pay that way and collude with the enforcement agents on the roads to allow those trucks to jump the queue.
But what we have done is, there is a minimum number of hours from when you leave a pre-gate to when you can get into the ports. If you are shunting, it means you will get there faster than the time that has been allotted to you. So, it is intentional to make sure that there is no incentive for somebody to jump the queue. If you rush and get there you can’t enter because your waiting time has not expired. We are also working on an enhanced technology, which would ensure that if you are supposed to enter point A before you come to point B and you decide to go through a shorter cut when you reach B, the barrier will not let you in. The technology will be deployed very soon. Anybody, who, for any reason, was able to pass a step before getting into the port, won’t be able to do so.
What is the update on export-processing terminals?
There are a total of 10 export processing terminals that have been licensed by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and none of them is operational at the moment. They are still getting ready to start. There are a couple of bureaucratic protocols that need to be observed. For instance, they need to agree with the government agencies and the stakeholders on what it will cost. They also need to ensure infrastructure that is required for them to take off, such as having a weighbridge, inspection facility, offices for the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), among others are all in place. These are steps that these export processing terminals are currently taking and we know that they will be completed in good time.
Seven months after Minimum Safety Standards (MSS) scheme enforcement, how do trucks that do not meet the requirements still gain access to the ports?
There are a lot of social factors that affect the way things happen in Nigeria. We cannot be oblivious to those factors. For example, somebody pays N30 million to buy a truck and the person is subjected to different levels of extortion once the person gets to business. He will pay between N500 to N2,000 just to get into business. If the person is coming from the North or South-South, he will be paying a lot of money along the road to touts, local government taskforces and other elements that stop the truck to collect money from them. At the end of the day, before you can maintain your truck because your profit has been derailed, it will be difficult for you to buy new tires to ensure that your truck is in excellent condition.
Maintaining your brakes, going for periodic services, changing the oil in the truck, and making sure that your windshield, seat belts and other equipment within the vehicle are in top condition will be very difficult. So, looking at it from the point of view of the transporter, it is not easy for them to maintain their trucks the way we see trucks in other countries.
The second is, there are a lot of middlemen that are involved in almost every process that you see in Nigeria, especially the one that involves public services. These middlemen sort of act as a gate between the user of the service, who needs to go through certain processes and the person who is at the other end providing that public service. At times, because of this human interference, you may say that certain protocols are not duly observed.
However, in recent times, the Nigerian Ports Authority and the Lagos State government are taking concrete steps to ensure that trucks maintain certain standards before they can be allowed to operate on the road. There is a task force set up to actually go to the parks where these trucks are waiting and then physically check what conditions they are in.
We have also designed a digital checklist for trucks, which can be used to certify whether they are fit to be on the road and in the ports. So these are all ongoing conversations, but as I said at the beginning, we cannot ignore the social factors that sometimes impact the ability of the transporter to maintain his trucks in excellent condition. You also have the situation of the road that does not allow for the safe movement of trucks. Because of the truck’s nature they can tilt and fall, especially when they have unlatched cargo on them. If you have roads undulating and you have sections of the roads with potholes and other aspects of unevenness, it is going to affect the ability of the driver to control the truck. These are some of the issues.
What are the other solutions created by TTP?
We launched a product called ‘Tafiyah’ last February. What the Tafiyah app does is that it acts as a digital marketplace to provide an effective means for businesses to move cargo from one location to another, just like the e-hailing taxis platform. The platform shows the location, truck, price, truck number; phone number of the driver and you can conclude your transaction of carriage. That is a unique service, which we are still having customers come on board. It will help them reduce the time they wait from when they have a job to when they get a truck to carry it.
Users of other ports in the country, especially the eastern ports, are happy with the progress of the ETO system and are also calling for replication, have you considered taking your operations to those ports?
Our agreement with NPA is that this would be a pilot. With the success recorded, it can be extended to other ports in the country. It is a process.
Lekki deep seaport will be commencing operations fully by the end of the first quarter of this year. The issue of automating the movement of trucks in and out of the port by TTP, which was not welcomed by the promoters of the port, has been resolved, looking at the fact that there are fears of a replication of Apapa gridlock in the area?
As you know, Lekki port is a joint venture between some private port operators and the Lagos State government, so, we are discussing with them how the management of traffic on that side of town would be. It is an ongoing conversation.
You mentioned tankers as part of the challenges hindering the smooth progress of your operations, are you considering adding them to your operations?
Yes. It is part of the conversation we are having with the Lagos state government to add the tankers. As you know, the tanker drivers or owners and the tank farms are different sets of stakeholders. Managing these stakeholders and engaging with them as well as understanding their concerns and addressing them is a conversation that we have been going through for over a year. So, it is a simple way, but that plan is that they will be put into a call-up system just as the trailer/trucks.
Has TTP received cooperation from government agencies at the ports to ensure your operations are smooth?
Yes, port operators and port management have been extremely helpful. We can’t ask for better partners because they have been extremely cooperative.
The country’s maritime sector has been struggling to get its foot in the comity of maritime nations. About 75 of Nigerian-bound cargoes are diverted to neighbouring countries due to the challenges affecting the industry. How can this situation be addressed?
It is to make our roads easy to drive trucks and also make the process of entry of trucks coming from other countries easier. If a truck knows that these are the procedures and documents to present at the border post, and it takes five minutes to process and be in or out of Nigeria, as the case may be, you will have more traffic of containers coming into the country, which can then be trucked out of Nigeria to Niger, Chad, Benin Republic and other countries.
However, uncertainty is not good for business. If the person who has the cargo cannot give a guarantee his cargo would, within two days, be cleared out of the port and then it is taking three weeks to move that cargo out of the port, the person would rather go to a place where he feels the process is more straightforward.
Looking at the regulatory framework for cargo shipping and clearing, as well as the condition of the road together with the immigration and other requirements of transnational trucking, these are the factors that need to be addressed for Nigeria to become, again, the preferred destination for cargoes.