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Truck menace in Lagos: Unending search for workable solutions

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Stakeholders Beam Searchlight On New Policies To Tackle Challenge

Commuting in Lagos State especially along the port access roads has become nightmarish. The problem of traffic gridlock on the roads caused by dilapidation, indiscriminate parking of trucks and inefficiency in ports operations has defied many solutions thrown at it in recent times, thereby leaving residents with sordid tales of woe.

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As part of efforts to find a solution to the problem, the Presidency had on May 22, 2019, inaugurated a Presidential Task Team on the Restoration of Law and Order (PTT-RLO) in Apapa Port to clear up the gridlock in the area and its environs. The task team, which had Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as Chairman and former Lagos State Commissioner for Transportation, Kayode Opeifa as Vice Chairman, had two weeks to accomplish the assignment.

However, when they commenced work, they discovered that the assignment in their hands was not an easy one. But they showed commitment and perseverance. Instead of two weeks, they worked till December last year when the Presidency disbanded the team following allegations of extortion and other corrupt practices against them by some ports stakeholders. While announcing the disbandment of the team, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Transportation, Dr. Magdalene Ajani, had said a new task team would be reconstituted to manage the traffic.

Nevertheless, during an unplanned fact-finding visit to Apapa on December 28, 2020, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said the state would take over traffic management from the Presidential Taskforce Team in order to restore sanity to the Apapa area. Earlier this year, the state also announced plans to implement its extant traffic law restricting the movement of trucks and other long vehicles to night operations and dedicated routes. This is as the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) said it would float an electronic version of its call-up system, assuring that it would help to clear the protracted traffic around Apapa ports and decongest the terminals of bulk cargoes.

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How do key ports stakeholders perceive these policies? What are their chances of success? The Guardian’s SULEIMAN SALAU dissects the issues in this report.

As maritime stakeholders await the commencement of the electronic call-up system called Eto, which is expected to bring sanity to port access roads, The Guardian gathered that the scheme would be confronted with several prevailing factors, which might jeopardise the programme if urgent actions are not taken.

However, there are indications that truck drivers might not comply with the night movement directive of the Lagos State government owing to infrastructure deficit and cumbersome port processes, among others.

Movements in and out of the nation’s busiest ports in Lagos have been a herculean task as a result of the dilapidated roads and unruly attitude of the truck drivers who always park indiscriminately on the road. For the past 10 years, this menace has deeply affected the nation’s import and export activities. Hundreds of heavy-duty trucks remain stuck on roads as they wait to get access into the Apapa and Tin Can Island ports. The situation has led to cargo congestion, which is almost crippling operations at the port. This has compelled some shipping lines to divert Nigeria-bound cargoes to neighbouring ports in Cotonou and Cote D’ Ivoire, while others slam surcharges on Nigerian-bound cargoes. As port congestion worsens, the cost of shipping containers is reported to have risen by 600 per cent.

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With the lingering traffic logjam, about 60 per cent of the properties in Apapa (port community) have been vacated, while property prices in the area are now down by about 50 per cent. It was gathered that about 70 per cent of buildings on major connecting roads in the port community such as Liverpool Road, Creek Road, Wharf Road, Point Road, Child Avenue, North Avenue and others have estate agents’ boards indicating that they are for let, lease or sale. This demonstrates the impact of the situation on real estate investments and other businesses located around the ports. In monetary terms, the situation is reportedly costing the country N140 billion weekly while it has also led to the loss of goods and human lives. The environment is also paying the price as detritus, including excreta, are dumped indiscriminately.

Irked by the severe implications, the Lagos State government has announced plans to restrict the movement of trucks and trailers from the hours of 9 pm to 6 am.

The state Commissioner for Transport, Frederic Oladeinde, during a recent meeting with stakeholders, said the policy, which would become effective in April 2021, was geared towards curbing road accidents in the state.

According to him, it was essential that trucks were restricted to certain routes in Lagos.

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“Containerised trailers can no longer travel during the day. It has to be within the ambit of 9 pm and 6 am. We will also be enforcing the capacity limit of 45,000 litres to tankers.

“Any tanker that carries more than 45,000 litres will be confiscated. We will be restricting containerised trucks to specific routes. They will be regulated via a scheme to ensure drivers are competent and of good character,” the commissioner said.

While advising truck owners to acquire better vehicles for their business, he said the state government would not hesitate to impound vehicles that fail to adhere to the policy.

An engineer from the Ministry of Transport, Abdulhafis Toriola, also explained that trucks with more than six wheels would be affected by the new policy.

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Toriola said trucks would be restricted to Tollgate-Alapere- Ogudu- Gbagada- Oshodi-Apapa expressway to connect to Apapa port.

He also said trucks entering Lagos through the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway would be expected to link the Oshodi interchange into Apapa expressway, while those coming from the Lagos-Badagry Expressway would be routed to the Mile 2 interchange to link Apapa.

“Trucks cannot go from Costain to Surulere, Funsho Williams and Ikorodu road anymore. However, trucks that are six wheels and below can go that route,” he said.

The Guardian learnt that several factors would have to be sorted out for the Eto programme to succeed as well as the smooth implementation of the restriction of movement of trucks.

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To the Secretary, Road Transport Employers Association, TinCan/Apapa/Kirikiri Chapel, Godwin Ikeji, “this is not the first time the regulation of night movement will come up.”

He explained: “The first time it came up, it died naturally. Now, they have come up with it again; let’s see if they will maintain the designated roads. They should understand that the port is 24 hours operation and everybody working there does 24 hours operation. We are waiting to see if it is possible. The containers cannot even plan their journey towards the night, because there is no waiting area in the port for them to stay till night.

“Where will they stay? Does the government have any parking space for them to stay till night? You want somebody to plan his journey towards the night, if a vehicle has loaded and wants to wait at the apron where it loaded, where will the next vehicle that may want to load go?

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“I have recommended that we should have virtual parks whereby the truck can park anywhere in the state and the Eto platform will still cover it. When it is called upon, it moves from wherever it is. It may not come from their official Eto park, because the Eto does not have enough parking space to service the trucks. The trucks are so many, so they should create a central data bank from where they would be releasing the trucks and it would be transparent to everybody wherever you are.”

Ikeji noted that private parking spaces cost so much that if someone parks a truck there and fails to move it for two weeks, the owner would be in serious debt.

“I don’t know the mandate of that Traffic Management Enforcement Team created by Lagos State government, but from what they told us yesterday, they have a mandate, which is very much unconcerned with the plight of truckers in the maritime industry. Their concern is just about trucks on the road; they don’t bother to know what is causing the problem and then fix it. They have not started operations; they are planning to start on the 27th of this month, but they have started awareness.

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“As I am talking to you the petroleum tankers have taken over 90 per cent of the road, and if a container has a call-up and it is queuing behind them while the road is not moving, what will be the fate of that container truck? I don’t know if their mandate did not cover the tanker trucks. We had an elaborate discussion with them yesterday and they saw a lot of loopholes, which they need to bridge,” he stated.

On the latching of containers, Ikeji noted: “We don’t have issues with that one. It is a security matter. Nobody will oppose the latching of containers. When you say latching, we have what is called twist locks, which is used in holding the four corners of a container and it is safer. But when you go to the Road Safety Corps they will tell you to use a belt, which cannot even hold one-ton cargo. Which one is safer? Is this not eye service? Truckers are after reality,” he said.

President of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Remi Odugbemi, in a communiqué after an executive meeting of the association, said the group was rejecting the imposition of the task force by both state and federal governments as a solution to the traffic menace.

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Odugbemi, who disclosed the formation of a Maritime Stakeholders Forum, an umbrella body of critical stakeholders in the sector for the promotion and protection of interests of members, noted that AMATO unanimously supports the adoption of NPA/TTP Eto automation system.

Odugbemi stated: “NPA/TTP should recognise and carry along all garages in implementing the Eto automation system.

“Pending the commencement of TTP electronic automation system, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) should spread the ongoing manual call-up arrangement across garages.”

He also called for the formation of the Maritime Stakeholders Surveillance Committee to assess and take positions on the adverse effects of any government traffic policies on the maritime industry.

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The group also called for a downward review of shipping demurrage on empty containers.

Eto is the electronic truck call-up system designed for the management of truck movement and access to and from the Lagos Ports Complex and the Tin Can Island Ports, Apapa, Lagos.

Under the scheme, all trucks doing business at the ports would be required to park at the approved truck parks until they are called up into the ports through the Eto app.

The Eto application would be responsible for the scheduling, entry and exit of all trucks into the ports with effect from February 27, 2021.

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All transporters, truck owners and truck drivers are required to download the Eto App from Google play store or sign up at http://eto.ttp.com.ng before the commencement date to enable them to register accordingly.

Meanwhile, the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority, Hadiza Bala Usman, has assured port users that the irresponsible parking of trucks on the port access roads would soon be a thing of the past.

Bala Usman, who spoke after leading a stakeholders’ facility assessment audit of the Truck Transit Park (TTP) at Lilypond, Ijora, Lagos, said the truck electronic call-up system would put an end to the perennial logjam caused by articulated trucks within the port corridor.

She stressed that “it is critical we put an end to the intractable Apapa traffic to restore sanity to cargo operations at our ports in Lagos.”

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Bala Usman stated that the web application (Eto) would enthrone transparency and orderliness to truck movement as scheduling would be done automatically on first-come, first-served basis.

She commended TTP Ltd for the renovations carried out at the Lilypond Truck Transit Park facility.

Chief Operating Officer, TTP Ltd (managers of the scheme), Temidayo Adeboye, gave assurance to truck owners and drivers that there would be quality service delivery at the facility.

To restore sanity to ports access roads, the Lagos State government had constituted a Traffic Management Enforcement Team to resolve Apapa gridlock and the Nigerian Ports Authority Security Team identified seven parks as holding bay for trucks around the metropolis.

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The Committee Chairman, Oluwatoyin Fayinka, said the seven parks were located at Ojota, Obanikoro, Oregun, Olowotedo-Ibafo, Amuwo-Odofin, Orile-Iganmu and Okorisan-Lekki/Epe.

The Special Team is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring zero tolerance to traffic offenders and a seamless traffic management system in and around Apapa.

Fayinka explained that the team had been able to design a road map and the strategy to be adopted.

“We are in discussion with the various stakeholders – the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Terminal Operators and Association of Trucks Union on the best way to do business around Apapa Ports without the breakdown of law and order.

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“Part of the discussions held with the Truck Owners Association operating around Apapa was that each company should acquire park terminals for their fleet of trucks to serve as holding bay pending when they will be called up for loading.

“NPA is already ramping up the call-up system that will ensure that trucks that are not yet called for loading do not hang around the ports constituting obstructions to traffic,” he said.

He expressed displeasure at the situation of the ports with its attendant traffic gridlock, lamenting that it has paralysed many businesses around Apapa corridor with extension to other parts of the state.

Fayinka affirmed that the NPA’s call up system would help greatly in reducing traffic gridlock around Apapa.

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“Full enforcement will commence soon after due consultation with all stakeholders. The bridges around Apapa corridor, which have been turned into parking lots for trucks, were not designed to carry the weight of the trailers for a long period of time.

“The heavy-duty trucks being parked along the bridge leading into the ports will damage the bridge over time and cause a collapse which would be catastrophic to the state and its residents,” Fayinka said.

A member of the Traffic Management Enforcement Team, Shola Giwa, said getting rid of stationary vehicles on the bridges and roads within a short period of time would only be achieved with the cooperation of the NPA.

Giwa asked the NPA to make the call-up system accessible to the chairman of the team to enable effective enforcement of the new directives for articulated trucks and tankers.

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He said that it would also provide a synergy that would bring a lasting solution to the gridlock in Apapa.

The General Manager, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, Jide Oduyoye, who is also a member of the team, charged the NPA to turn away trucks and tankers that were not roadworthy.

He said that they should allow the traffic laws of the state-run its course on deviant companies by embracing transparency in solving the gridlock at the ports.

The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Transportation, Kamar Olowoshago, stated that the Smart City vision of the state could only be actualised if all stakeholders retrace their steps by taking responsibility for the damages done on Apapa and channeling efforts and commitment to tackling the gridlock immediately.

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