By Ray Ugochukwu
Angry port users may soon resort to self-help by forcefully occupying the premises of terminal operators and shipping companies as their own way of resolving the perennial stifling Apapa gridlock that appears to have defied solutions.
Indication to this emerged Thursday in Apapa, Lagos, at an event marking the Special Congress of The Powerful Pen Media Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Lagos State Council.
The event, which had as its theme “Apapa Traffic Gridlock and Skyrocketing Inflation in National Economy”, had in attendance freight forwarders, shippers, truckers and licensed customs agents.
Throwing the first salvo was a licensed customs agent and importer, Chief Boniface Okoye, Chairman and Managing Director of Bonntex Nigeria Limited and a frontline member of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA). He expressed frustration at the attitude of some port operatives that had failed to live by the terms of agreement they entered into with government before the port concession of 2006.
He particularly took a swipe at shipping companies and concessionaires for their failure to provide holding bays for empty containers, which he said constituted 35 per cent of the traffic crisis in Apapa. Okoye therefore called for a non-violent #EndSARS treatment for the establishments, saying that it was the only language they would understand to do the right thing.
Okoye also said that the measure had become necessary because all efforts to address the traffic situation in the past had been frustrated because the policy makers and implementers were the same set of people.
According to him, the people he termed cabals were the owners of the terminals, shipping companies and operators of the barges that had worsen the traffic situation not just in Apapa but its environs. It was for this reason, he said, a peaceful occupation of their premises, as was done in #EndSARS protest, would be the only solution.
Corroborating the suggestion, Alhai Abdullahi Inua, a National Executive Committee (NEC) member, Nigeria Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), said the absence of a holding bay was the major cause of the confusion in Apapa.
He suggested that licensed customs agents, freight forwarders and truckers should come together to address the problem by compelling the terminal operators and shipping companies to play by the rules.
In his own reaction, Alhaji Kazeem Isa Adua, who represented the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), asserted that Apapa traffic gridlock was man-made. According to him, those incharge knew what should be done but deliberately refused to do them.
He, for instance, wondered why some agencies of government would call for meetings to address the malaise only to invite stakeholders individually rather than bringing everybody on a roundtable to iron out issues.
Kazeem, who is the Tin Can Island Port chapter Chairman of his group, observed that presently Nigerian ports were the costliest in doing business in the whole world because of a lot of distortions in the system.
He alleged that a lot of artificial tollgates were usually placed on the ways of truckers leading to the current high cost of cargo delivery in and out of the ports. The immediate past Chairman of Apapa chapter boss of National Council, also noted that he had been part of series of meetings held to address the issue to no avail. As a result, he was of the opinion that the idea of an #EndSARS treatment to the recalcitrant operatives would be worthwhile.
All the participants admitted that a strong cabal made up of agents of those in power had hijacked the port system including traffic management; hence the crisis had remained intractable.
They lamented that middlemen sponsored by the cabal had taken over the business of trucking goods in and out of the ports, accusing them of being responsible for the present high cost of cargo delivery.
The aggrieved port users however advised that to avert the proposed #EndSARS treatment, port regulators like the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) should rise to the occasion by immediately sanctioning erring service providers.
It is their belief that if NPA rises up the concessionaires and shipping firms they would be forced to provide holding bays for containers; those creating artificial obstacles for personal gains would be prosecuted and the cabal dislodged.
Alhaji Kazeem Isa Adua (centre) at the forum