*Says Nigeria’s seaports operating far above installed capacity
The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) is taking stringent measures to tackle unwholesome tendencies in maritime business to entrench confidence in the system, its Acting Managing Director, Mr. Mohammed Bello-Koko, has said.
He told newsmen on Sunday in Lagos that one of the measures was a general
redeployment of security officials that had stayed for a long time on their beats.
“What we have discovered is that there are security officials that have been working within the area we call the red zone, which is the Tin Can, Apapa area, for four, five or six years, and they are still there.
“We have requested that they should be posted out of that location and a new set of people that will actually and truly work for Nigeria taken there.
“We have had cases where we tried to establish proof of the people that were said to have been extorted because you need to have proof, but there is none.
“So, what we have now done is to look at how many checkpoints should be on the roads. We held a meeting with all the security agencies about three weeks ago and agreed to set up a team and identify how many checkpoints we should have along that corridor.
“If we identified six checkpoints, for instance, it means that when you wake the next day and you find 16 checkpoints, that means there are 10 illegal checkpoints.
“It was also agreed that it is only right that any of the security formations, be it LASTMA, Police, Army or NPA, that is posting security operatives to the checkpoints, should have the names of officers posted to each checkpoints.
“We believe that if we do that, and there is proof of extortion on a certain date, at a certain location, then we should be able to know the officers involved in it.
“But the interesting fact in all of this is that things have evolved now. You now have area boys they call ‘ECOMOG boys’, who do the collection for them.
“A few weeks ago, it was even more like a battle on who extorts at which location. They stand by the side and extort while others are by the side waiting to receive their share.
“Let me also state this clearly that we have had the cooperation of the Navy, Army, Police and everyone that is involved in this; they have made efforts to tackle every unwholesome tendency. Many actions were taken by the Navy and I thank them for that.
“I know that the Police also took action to reduce the vices, but sometimes you have errand officers that are off duty and they show up in uniforms with guns and perpetrate destructions.
“At the NPA, we have dealt with security men indicted over unwholesome tendencies. We are doing a lot and shall soon rid the ports of such vices,” he said.
Bello-Koko also spoke on the agonising Apapa gridlock and declared that the
deployment of infrastructure under the Electronic Call-Up system for trucks, had eliminated it by more than 80 per cent.
“The fact that the gridlock has reduced by 80 per cent is verifiable. In addition to the deployment of the Eto platform, we are currently promoting multi-modal transport systems through the use of barges for the movement of cargo in and out of the ports.
“From our observation, this development has tremendously reduced congestion at most terminals, thereby improving ports efficiency.
“The little remnants of the gridlock in some areas in Apapa are due to the very poor state of the Tin Can Port-Mile 2 corridor, which is under construction. When the road rehabilitation is completed, the little traffic you see now will be completely eliminated.
“Most of the road networks on the Tin Can, Cocoa Nut –Mile 2 axis are at various stages of reconstructions and so the eto infrastructure has not been deployed in that area,” he said.
Bello-Koko explained that as part of efforts to deploy the electronic call up system, about 27-29 truck transit parks were developed across Lagos State with the collaboration of relevant stakeholders, including the Lagos State Government.
“Of this figure, only about eight have fully deployed the eto infrastructure which includes automated gating systems and other Information Technology IT equipment.
“Apart from some of the challenges we enumerated earlier, which border on human interference, the e-call up has been able to streamline cargo evacuation and truck movements, thereby bringing a level of sanity to the roads in Apapa.
“The disappearance of the Apapa gridlock could be attributed partly to the new policy on empty containers which compels shipping lines to take at least 80 per cent of their empty containers.
“We monitor this to ensure that they take this number of containers before they sail away,” he said.
Bello-Koko also spoke on other seaports in the eastern part of the country and why importers were not utilising them to reduce pressure on those in Lagos.
“There are many other ports outside Lagos like the Calabar, Warri, Onne and Rivers Ports, but NPA cannot decide for consignees (importers) where they will take their cargoes to.
“We understand that about 70 per cent of the cargoes coming into Nigeria comes in through Lagos. There is a high concentration of industries in Lagos and Ogun.
“It is only most likely that any importer of any raw material that is going to those factories in Lagos or Ogun will actually bring them in through the Lagos Ports.
“But what we have done is to offer tariff incentives in those port locations so that it will encourage shipping lines and importers to patronise them.
“It has started working and we have seen a gradual increase in the tonnage and we are hoping there will be a jump but we are not seeing that jump yet,” he said.
The NPA acting managing director also disclosed that the two Lagos seaports located in Lekki and Tin Can Island were operating “far beyond their installed capacities”.
“What it simply means is that if they were built to handle 500,000 Twenty Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs), for instance, probably they are now handling about 700, 000 TEUs,” he told newsmen on Sunday in Lagos.
He said that the situation had led to massive congestion worsened by the fact that the city had caught up with the ports.
“There is no space to expand the ports. What we need to do is to improve on the activities in the ports, in terms of efficiency.
“In 2006, when NPA concessioned the terminals, there was a Development Plan between the NPA and the terminal operators and that development plan included both physical development and the deployment of equipment.
“The terminal operators have met those agreements and everything has evolved, but there is need for bigger and more efficient equipment, better Information Technology IT systems, and so on.
“We have seen an improvement in terms of efficiency; there is increase in efficiency. But there is room for more. We have observed system downtime in one or two of the terminals, especially the APM Terminals, which is one of the terminals.
“Whenever APM Terminal system is down, it causes a lot of backlog in terms of traffic.
“What we have done is to sit down with the terminal operators and tell them that they need to improve on their operations; we have Monitoring and Regulatory Department in the NPA, which has an index that, on a monthly basis, we look at the operations and grade them.
“We also sit with them at the end of the quarter to discuss their performance; we examine where they have done well and where they are lagging behind.
“We have also emphasised the need for better synergy between what the terminal operators are doing and the shipping lines, because some of them also have affiliated shipping lines working with them.
“To improve the operations within the ports, we came up with a policy that established empty container holding bays and we mandated all shipping lines to ensure that they have a holding bay outside the port premises for their empties.
“This is to ensure that importers, when they take away their cargo from the port to offload at their business premises or warehouse, do not bring the empty container into the port.
“Such containers should rather be taken into the holding bay.
“Second, we mandated that for every vessel that comes into Nigeria, when it is sailing out, it must take away at least 80 per cent of the containers it brought in, either as empty or as export cargo, because Nigeria was already being turned into a dumping ground for empty containers.
“To a large extent, that has worked because those empty containers have been removed. But we are ensuring that such is being monitored and efficiency has increased,” he said.
He also spoke on the electronic call up system, also called ‘Eto’, the policy deployed to check congestion at the ports.
“I have paid a visit to the main truck park itself which is located at the Lilly Pond Terminal, Ijora to see what is happening. I went round and I went into the ports. The idea was for me to have first-hand understanding on what the problem is.
“I met with Truck Transit Park (TTP), the firm that deployed ‘Eto’ system platform on behalf of the NPA, and we analysed what has been happening from February to May.
“We observed lapses one of which was the non-deployment of the electronic call up system – the Information Technology IT system – that should have been in place in some locations in the satellite truck parks.
“We also looked at the non-deployment of physical infrastructure such as the bollards, the automated gates, and we gave them ultimatum to deploy the infrastructure or lose the contracts.
“The essence of ‘Eto’ was actually to streamline the movement of cargo in and out of the ports, reduce human interference, and speed up the process of cargo delivery.
“As long as there is human interference, there would be delays, there would be extortion and so on. What we need to do is to work on the human interference, stealing of Eto tickets and so on.
“Very often, we have situations where a trucker is along the route and he has his Eto ticket and at the next bus stop, a security agent stops him to say let me see your Eto ticket and the Eto ticket number is 123456.
“The driver may probably be so many kilometres away; that number could be given to someone who could enter a certain building around Apapa and, probably in 15 to 20 minutes, get a plate number printed which could be used to get access into the port.
“Shortly after, the real owner of the number now shows up and his ticket has been used and that is why we have now requested that TTP should change this to QR code; when you have a QR code, we will be able to scan it and you go through,” he said.