The electronic call-up system for truck movement in and out of the Lagos ports promised by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), finally came into existence on February 27, 2021. It was, indeed, a historic day for the port industry. Ever since the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) disclosed that it was going to launch e-call up system for trucks as a way of solving the notorious Apapa gridlock, there had been high hope and expectations among all the stakeholders.
Many had, in fact, canvassed for the use of an electronic platform as the ultimate solution in solving the hydra-headed Apapa ports access roads gridlock. This confidence on an electronic system cannot be said to be misplaced considering the role information and communication technology has been playing in solving human problems and modern day challenges.
The NPA electronic call-up system which is powered by a web application called “Eto” is expected to put an end to the Apapa roads nightmare caused by articulated trucks and corrupt security and traffic control officials. By so doing, the App will help restore sanity to cargo operations at the Lagos ports. Hence, there was widespread optimism concerning what the new e-call up system would achieve.
But just one week after the introduction of the electronic call-up system the optimism is beginning to wane as doubts and pessimism are gradually creeping in. Many observers are beginning to ask if this was not going to end as one the numerous measures taken in the past to address the intractable gridlock, which appeared to work at the beginning only for things to go back to normal after a few days.
One recalls that a few days after the launch of the e-call up system on February 27, Apapa roads were incredibly free of traffic gridlock. The numerous trucks that littered the access roads and bridges were gone, and the roads were free to the extent that road users could not believe their eyes.
The disappearance of the trucks was apparently in compliance with the directive by NPA and the Lagos State government to truck drivers to vacate the roads on or before the February 27 date as part of an agreement reached at a stakeholders meeting which included NPA, the LASG, truck operators, the police and other stakeholders.
According to the directive by 12.00 noon on Feb. 27, all trucks in and around the ports access roads were expected to have vacated the roads while articulated vehicles were prevented from entering Apapa and its environs by 4pm on Feb. 26. This agreement was strictly enforced leading to the clearance of the roads and the sanity that appeared to have returned to the port access roads.
Unfortunately, the whole thing appeared like a flash in the pan. At the moment many trucks are back on the roads, and the gridlock appears to have returned with remarkable vengeance. Even the Western Avenue-Ijora-Wharf Road axis where one could count only few trucks at the commencement of the new call up system is again choked with numerous trucks that could not have passed through the electronic call-up system.
Since we believe that the new e-call up system must be made to work, it is pertinent, at this juncture, to examine why the Eto App may not work as expected or why the traffic gridlock will persist despite the deployment of the e-call up system which had earlier been touted as the ultimate solution.
Top on the list of the mitigating factors is the continued bad shape of the access roads. The reconstruction work on the Tin Can/Mile 2 axis and Liverpool junction has been very slow. In fact, the pace of work on the road has not been encouraging, as one expected that the road rehabilitation work would have been completed before the introduction of the Eto App. The contractor handling the construction work should be made to expedite action on the road to ensure quick completion without further delay.
Coupled with the bad access roads are inadequate truck transit parks. The Truck Transit Park (TTP) at Lilypond, Ijora and the one at Tin Can and the few others provided by NPA and the Lagos State government are not enough to take the numerous trucks off the road. In addition to providing more transit parks especially near the port areas, shipping companies which do not have functional holding bays for return of empty containers should be compelled to have them.
Another factor that might inhibit the working of the new call up system is lack attitudinal change by truck operators and all those who have been the beneficiaries of the chaotic system. The truckers unions have pledged their support and willingness to make the Eto App work. But this pledge must be demonstrated in action and should not be seen as mere lip service.
The NPA and the Lagos State government should ensure total elimination of human interference in the new call-up system. This is to ensure that extortion, favouritism, corruption and bribery which had sustained the Apapa gridlock are consigned to the dustbin of history. To ensure this is achieved, security agencies and so-called traffic control officials should not continue to be part of the system. All their road blocks and shades on the bridges like the ones still standing on the Ijora-Wharf Road corridor should be dismantled. Their continued presence on the bridges and the access roads can no longer be justified as they have no role in the new scheme.
The Lagos State government and NPA should continue to enforce the clearance of the trucks off the roads. They should be prepared this time to confront the behemoths and the untouchables that own most trucks that operate at the Apapa ports. All these extenuating factors must be addressed for the e-call system to achieve the desired result.
Considering that it is not only trucks that do business at the ports that are responsible for the Apapa gridlock, the Lagos State government and the Federal Government should equally address the presence of petroleum products tankers on the port access roads. Most of the numerous tank farms located along the port corridors do not have adequate holding bays for the tankers that do business with them. They should be compelled to provide them as part of the efforts to make the access roads free from obstacles.
While we commend the Lagos State government and NPA for the latest efforts to end the notorious Apapa gridlock, we urge them to leave no stone unturned to ensure the success of the efforts. The new scheme cannot afford to fail like the previous ones.
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