Traffic has worsened in Apapa and its environs following the disruption of the electronic call-up system (ETO) introduced about two months ago by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) with the support of the Lagos State Government to ensure free flow of vehicular movements.
THISDAY's investigation showed that security agents, who were said to have frustrated all efforts to restore sanity to the port city, have cashed in on the situation to extort articulated vehicles' drivers.
Even the efforts of a presidential task team failed with tales of corruption trailing its assignment.
However, following the return of sanity to the roads in Apapa last month as a result of the Electronic Call-up System, the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, had vowed to expose the cabal behind the Apapa gridlock if they did not desist from sabotaging the government's efforts at ensuring a free flow of traffic.
He had said: "What we are doing now is taking away unscrupulous persons benefiting from the gridlock. Whatever they are earning, whatever they are taking, whatever they are gaining, we are taking it away from them. We know they will fight back, but I am saying it clearly that we are ready for them. We will fight anyone who tries to return us to the past experience in Apapa. We will name and shame them, and bring them to the public court to show our seriousness. We will no longer condone the recklessness and impunity that our people have experienced before now."
But barely four weeks after the Electronic Call-up system cleared the gridlock the chaos has returned as truckers who park indiscriminately along the port access roads, impede the free flow of traffic.
Experts and stakeholders told THISDAY that the failure of government policies, entrenched interest and security agencies, who have made an industry out of the crisis will never allow any effort to solve the crisis work.
THISDAY gathered that some NPA security personnel, LASTMA operatives, and policemen have spent over five years in Apapa, as the gridlock has made the Apapa area the most lucrative beat.
Operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) have also aggravated the traffic crisis by blocking the roads to inspect consignments that have been cleared at the port by their colleagues.
The NCS operatives are permanently stationed at Area B and Mile 2 where they carry out an inspection on the highways.
The Chief Operating Officer of Trucks Transit Park (TTP) Limited, vendors of the ETO, Mr. Dayo Adeboye, told THISDAY yesterday that security agents and those profiting from the crisis were the major challenge to the electronic call-up system.
According to him, they decided to sabotage the process because the electronic call-up system did not allow them to extort money from the transporters.
He said: "So, what they have resolved to do is that they will make life difficult during the day and extort money at night when there is nobody to stop them from extorting drivers. We also blame the truck drivers because they offer bribes because they want to beat the system.
"They cannot continue to accuse the security agencies because there has to be a willing giver for there to be a receiver. The transporters too are not helping matters they should stop offering bribes to beat the system."
On the decision to exclude factory-bound trucks and petroleum takers from inception, he said the decision was a strategy to avoid gang-up against the initiative.
"It was a strategy; when we started, we knew that we could not take the entire traffic in Apapa at once. We also had the extortion cartel in mind. We knew that if we tried to stop all the money these people were collecting, they would make sure nothing ever worked for us. So, we decided to start with port-bound trucks, which are 50 per cent of the traffic. Our plan was to move to oil and gas drivers after that and then factory-bound truckers.
"The oil and gas are in two divisions, you have the major marketers and the independent marketers. The major marketers are six and they control half of the volume of petroleum tankers. Now, the major marketers if you look at the way they are structured, they came onboard onto ETO very easily because they have truck parks and electronic gating system in their premises," he added.
But the independent marketers have tank farms all over the place without facilities and parking space.
He said, independent marketers were to be integrated after they put in place their facilities and structured plan.
He said many manufacturers within the Apapa zone had approached him to join the platform so they could have a legal way to enter Apapa.
On the way forward, he said the NPA should discuss with the Lagos State Government to onboard other trailer drivers.
"We have cleared the road in Apapa and the tankers have now taken over and they are not structured. So, you find out that many more vessels are coming to the area like Aiteo and NIPCO to come and deliver their cargo and leaving the Tincan Island area and that has pushed oil and gas traffic. Government has to do two things: Decongest Mile 2 to Sunrise along Apapa- Oshodi; dislodge the activities of area boys on that road and dislodge tanker drivers that use the road for parking.
"Secondly, they have to have the tanker drivers start with a structured approach into Apapa as well. NPA cannot clear the road for tanker drivers to start doing unstructured business there.
"The challenge now is the road construction going on has eliminated one-half of the bridge, so, we are only using one-half of the bridge to work now. The ongoing road construction and the activities of the tanker drivers make the road impassable. All the traffic is now diverted to the Apapa side and you have the pressure of traffic on that side. Right now, Apapa is taking more than the traffic it can handle," he stated.
Vice President of the National Association of Licensed Customs Agents (ANALCA), Dr. Kayode Farinto, also told THISDAY that the security agencies would never allow any effort to solve the Apapa gridlock to work and urged the government to adopt the intermodal port system.
He also called on the federal government to open up the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway that is 80 per cent completed.
He said: "What is happening is that at night, the road construction company will use heavy blocks to barricade the road and will only open it for any truck who gives N20,000 to the security agencies. From Tincan Island Port to Mile 2 along Apapa Oshodi road they are there extorting truckers. They constitute a nuisance along that corridor and if they are taken out, it will solve the problem to some extent.
"The government has to relocate all the tank farms in Apapa; if that is not done, there is no miracle that we can have. We will continue to have gridlock in Apapa. The residents of Apapa are crying daily."
Farinto added that the only solution to the crisis was for the government to embrace the intermodal port system.
He said the barges that were only recently introduced to reduce the pressure on the road have been balkanised by entrenched interests.
"If you want to move cargo via barges now, it is expensive and frustrating. If you bring in the best experts in the whole world to come and manage Apapa traffic, that expert will be disgraced in under one week. Look at the beautiful idea brought in by NPA to solve the problem. The electronic call-up would have worked if not for the human factor. There are people who believe it is their right to make money from the chaos. We have officers in Area B who claimed to have been posted directly from the Office of the Inspector-General of Police and there is a specific amount they collect from each truck each day. And they collect the money openly before everybody - very glaring," he stated.
The National President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), the umbrella body of customs agents in Nigeria, Mr. Lucky Amiwero, blamed the Apapa congestion on the wrong concession that was done by the federal government and the sighting of tank farms around the port.
He said before the concession, there were holding bays inside the ports for trucks to park, adding that those holding bays have now been converted to private use.
"Before the concession there were holding bays and truck parks inside the port. In Apapa port, the holding bays are inside the port; at Lilly Pond, the holding bay is under the bridge; at Tincan Island Port, the holding bay is at the front of the port; at Kirikiri jetty, the holding bay is at the front of the jetty but all these were later converted to terminals.
"In the entire holding bay, the importers and customs agents pay the fees. The ports were concessioned without a law backing them. That was where the problem started. As a member of several government committees and I warned this would happen. By law government warehouses are supposed to be inside all the ports but where are the warehouses? The government hurriedly gave out the place without law. What they did was lease agreement and not concession and by the provisions of the NPA Act, they only had five years for the lease not the 30 years in the concession," he added.
According to him, the situation in Apapa is a disorganised system without any law and procedure.
He stated that the essence of having a port regulator was to guide against the chaos in Apapa, adding that this is not provided for in the concession.
He advocated a separate access road or exit for factory-bound trucks and relocation of petroleum tank farms from Apapa.
He said the absence of law backing the concession made it impossible to regulate the terminal operators and shipping companies whom he alleged played a major role in the crisis.
A maritime analyst, Dr. Bolaji Akinola, told THISDAY that the solution to the Apapa conundrum is to take cargo off the road and embrace the intermodal port system.
He said: "The trucks that go to Apapa are not only port-bound trucks and I think this is where the electronic call-up system arrangement missed it because the focus of the electronic call-up was on the port-bound trucks, especially container trucks that were going to drop empties, export containers, or pick up imports. There are three distinct categories of trucks that go into Apapa every day.
"You have the port-bound trucks; you also have the factories' trucks, which are a sizeable number. They are the trucks that go to the factories located around Apapa-Dangote Sugar, Flower Mills, Honey Well, and BUA, and many more. And we have the petroleum tankers that go to load petroleum products. Don't forget almost the totalities of the petroleum products consumed in Nigeria today are imported. Based on the recent research, the port-bound trucks constitute only about 60 per cent of the total, and the other 40 per cent is made up of factory trucks and petroleum tankers or tank farm-bound trucks.
"When the electronic call-up system was created, it meant to provide call up for port-bound trucks."
The electronic call-up, he added, did not factor in the trucks doing business at the factories, which are over 1,000 trucks per day and also the tankers that go to the tank farms and jetties to pick up products.
He put the number of petroleum tankers going to the port daily at over 2,000.
He described the security agents who made the crisis a cash cow as opportunists, saying that it is the failure of the system that gave them the opportunity.
He called for more truck parks to be created, adding that the eight created by the NPA are not enough for even the port trucks.
"They must create sufficient truck parks that will hold a minimum of 7,000 trucks. That will handle the port, factory, and petroleum trucks coming to Apapa. And all of them must be on the electronic call-up platform and go to the port when it is their turn to do so. However, that will be the short-term approach.
"Another approach will be to constantly shuffle the security agents and port officials that control traffic in Apapa. When you leave these officials there for too long, they understand the system and how lucrative their posting can be and then deliberately create problems to bring back chaos to make money," he stated.