The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, has promised that the federal government would decentralise the ports to ease the gridlock at Apapa Lagos State, adding that he would personally pursue the approval for the roads leading in and out of the Apapa area.
The vice president added that the federal government has entered into talks with a new contractor for the refurbishment of the narrow gauge rail, which would take some of the containers out of the port area, adding that an earlier arrangement with General Electric (GE) did not yield result.
Osinbajo, who, stated these at the stakeholders meeting held at Western Naval Command, Apapa, noted that the government was taking steps to address the security situation preventing the proper usage of the six ports around the country, in order to ease the traffic gridlock in Lagos.
Also, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, alleged that concessionaires, that is the terminal operators, were not sticking to the terms of agreement, threatening that he might be forced to go back to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and ask for a revocation of the agreement.
In a bid to find lasting solution to the perennial traffic snarl that besieges Apapa and its environs, the stakeholders met in Lagos yesterday to brainstorm on workable solutions.
Stakeholders present were the Ministry of Works and Housing, Ministry of Transportation, PTML, Apapa Residents Association, Nigerian Ports Authority, National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas (NUPENG) workers, APMT, Lagos State Government, Nigerian Navy, the police and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), among several others.
The vice president in his speech said the federal government has no excuse in the current traffic situation bedeviling Apapa and its environs.
Touching on the issue of bad roads, which was cited by stakeholders as the major cause of the traffic snarl, he said plans had been put in place to ameliorate the situation.
He said the major reason the six ports around the country are presently not used to their full capacity was because of security challenges.
Presently, he said a maritime security arrangement has been approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), adding that soon security arrangement would be in place to enable the ports become fully functional.
On the repairs of the Apapa road he said the government was working hard to get approval for the repair and rehabilitation of the roads, particularly the Apapa-Oshodi expressway and other roads around the Liverpool, and the Tin Can Island port area.
He said the approval for the rehabilitation of Apapa/Oshodi expressway, which had hitherto being delayed would be secured within two weeks.
Osinbajo said the government has no excuse not to repair the roads in Apapa and that no excuse for its deplorable state is tenable considering the huge revenue being realised from that area.
He said: “We have a responsibility to ensure things work properly. We are working hard to get approvals to do all the roads, especially Oshodi-Apapa expressway and Mile 2 to Liverpool. We are trying to look at the immediate steps that could be taken to speed up the process.
“We will get all approvals within two weeks to do the work. We know the state of the road especially Coconut, TinCan Island, Warehouse, Leventis and Creek Road.
“Also, the government has entered into talks with a new contractor for the refurbishment of the narrow gauge rail, which would take some of these containers out of port area.
“There was an earlier arrangement with General Electric (GE) but that did not yield result. So we have started consultations with another company and they are coming in for negotiations.”
Also speaking, the Lagos State Governor, Akinwumni Ambode, said the Apapa situation is a national emergency that needs immediate solutions before the long term solutions.
On the approval to kick-start construction, he said: “I was once a civil servant and I know how we push things if we want result.”
As one of the immediate solutions to the crisis, he called on the relevant agencies to open up the additional two gates leading in and out of the ports.
He said: “From intelligence gathered, Customs only operates on one gate and there are three gates at the port.
“This is making us not have good inflow and outflow. Allowing trucks to operate from the three gates will create efficiency in operation.
“This issue is not within my jurisdiction; so, I will plead with the NPA, Ministry of Transportation and Customs to do something about that.”
On the burning issue of tank farms in residential areas Ambode said: “There is also need to talk to the Minster of Petroleum Resources to review why there are 86 tank farms within Apapa and they have proceeded to approve another eight at Ijegun.
“These are residential areas. Where are things like these done? It means there is a problem somewhere. How did we get to a stage where a residential axis is compounded with tank farms, ignoring the essential national security challenges that might arise from it?
“We need to relocate these tank farms to border towns and ensure our pipelines are working. With this, products can be moved from Atlas Cove to other places.
“Moreover, most of these tank farms do not have holding bays, do they? You cannot have six to eight outlets and tankers will be parking on or under bridges. How much do you pay in tax that you will now be inconveniencing others?”
Addressing the stakeholders, the Minister of Transportation, Amaechi, said concessionaires, that is the terminal operators, were not sticking to the terms of agreement.
He said he might be forced to go back to the FEC and ask for a revocation of the agreement.
Amaechi also wondered why importers are not using the six other ports across the country as much as Lagos port is being used, adding that if importers send their goods to other ports, it will go a long way to decongest the roads leading in and out of Apapa.
He said: “Concessionaires not sticking to terms of agreement. We might have to go back to FEC to ask for a revoke of the concessions.”
On the solution to traffic crisis he said: “The solution to this crisis is technology. We have had stakeholder meetings. We have discovered that a similar problem was experienced in Iraq and Jordan but it was fixed with technology.
“Also, all Nigerians cannot import through one place. We have six ports across the country, so, if all of the imports come through Lagos, that certainly will not work.
“We cannot have these kinds of trucks we see on the road coming to the sea port. We need to discipline the terminal operators because they are unto themselves.”
The Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hajia Bala Usman, addressed the issue of non- compliance by shipping companies, idle tankers and trailers littering the road and the illegal empty container repositioning fee On the three shipping companies that were suspended from operating in Nigeria, she said: “The antedant disregard by shipping companies to patronise holding bays cannot be tolerated.
“Shipping companies are not above the law in Nigeria, and they must act in accordance with the law.
“We have sanctioned three shipping companies, which are among the largest operating in Nigeria. We withdrew their licences for 10 days.
“Upon the review of their 10 days suspension, it was extended to additional five days. Presently, they do not have vantage services within Nigeria. They do not have holding bays.
“Again, we have noted the concerns about empty containers. What we need to do is ensure that the same volume of containers that come into the country go out.
“Shipping companies have over the years, made Nigeria a dumping ground. They have also instituted a fee whereby, every importer is rushing into the port to drop their containers or risk losing their money.
“Shipping companies are refusing the operationalisation of holding bays. Ordinarily, when you import goods, the empty containers should be returned to the holding bays of the shipping companies. It is their responsibility to move it from the bays to the port.
“The shipping companies are not above the law. We will keep sanctioning them until they comply and operationalise their business.
“Also, another issue is the additional empty container repositioning fee. It is not acceptable. The vice president has written to us demanding clarity and we have cleared that nobody should pay for empty container repositioning.
“What we need to do is to define a location and day, possibly Saturdays and Sundays, where empty containers are moved into the port locations in preparation for them to be taken out to the vessels.
“The Nigerian Government and its people will not continue to absorb the cost of your none operationalisation of holding bays.”
On the issue of idle drivers who litter the road looking for business she said: “About 60 per cent of the trailers on our roads are empty or hawking. They come out without having any business and hope to secure one.
“So, NPA is working on licencing trailer parks. In fact, only trailers from such parks can come into the port. We have received four proposals on that, and we are working in collaboration with Lagos State Government on it. The trailers would be at the parks and only come out when called upon.
“Then, truck owners association must ensure compliance of their members because any truck found idle on the road would be impounded and the association dealt with.
Federal Ministry of Works should accelerate all procurement processes. This is a national emergency and should be treated as such.”
Other stakeholders who contributed blamed the terminal operators for the problems being experienced, calling on the government to review the operations of the concessionaires.