Mohammed Bello-Koko: Staying the course, restoring sanity to Apapa 

Mohammed Bello-Koko: Staying the course, restoring sanity in Apapa 
Acting Managing Director of NPA, Mohammed Bello Koko


The notorious Apapa traffic gridlock that has defied management strategies for over two decades may be on its last legs, going by the facts and figures now on ground. If some other important actions are taken, before the end 2022, the apparently intractable monster would have been completely caged. 

The electronic call-up system “Eto” that was introduced early this year by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to control the movement of trucks in and out of the ports appears to have started working, after the initial hiccups and resistance by those who wanted business to go on as usual.

At the moment, the Apapa-Wharf-Ijora axis is free of traffic, and evacuation of cargoes from Apapa Port has been eased. Motorists have also begun to experience smooth movement in and out of Apapa, thanks to the focused leadership of the Acting Managing Director of NPA, Mohammed Bello Koko.

The approach is simple but highly effective. Bello-Koko stayed focused. He understood the challenges and tackled them headlong by ensuring incremental deployment of the electronic call-up system. The strategy was to break the stranglehold of corrupt and entrenched interests on the port access roads. The result was a monumental reduction of the Apapa gridlock by as by over 80 per cent under four months of Bello-Koko’s leadership. 

Bello-Koko has assured that the same feat will be replicated on the Apapa-Oshodi axis as soon as work on the entire stretch of the Tin-Can Port highway is completed. Eto will be deployed along the Tin-Can Port corridor, and this will completely eliminate the perennial gridlock within Apapa.

How did NPA achieve the feat of eliminating gridlock on the Ijora-Apapa corridor?

Bello-Koko said as soon as he assumed office as the Acting Managing Director of NPA, he carried out a comprehensive review of the system and directed the system manager to immediately address all areas of deficiencies. He said the elimination of the grey areas and the infrastructure upgrade coupled with the support of the Lagos State Government and other stakeholders got the system working again. 

As part of efforts to kick-off the electronic call up system, a fully automated transit truck park was established, while 29 satellite parks were approved to ensure that trucks coming to do business in the port are properly profiled and verified before accessing the port. Out of the 29 parks, about eight have met the required standards, which include installation of bollards, CCTVs, automated gate systems and relevant IT equipment, he said.

Bello-Koko said apart from a few isolated cases, where some truck drivers try to subvert the system by not adhering strictly to the truck manifest arrangement, the e-call up has been able to streamline cargo evacuation and truck movements, thereby bringing a level of sanity to the roads.

Another factor responsible for the elimination of the Apapa gridlock was the introduction of a new empty containers handling policy by Bello-Koko’s NPA. The policy compels shipping lines to ship out no less than 80 percent of the number of containers they ship in for every voyage, be it empty containers or export cargo.

The Acting NPA Managing Director said NPA discovered that the shipping companies had been storing their empty containers in Nigeria because it is cheaper for them, and had to introduce a new policy to checkmate this.

“Over time, we discovered that most shipping lines were storing their empty containers in Nigeria, which was cheaper for them, but we have introduced a policy whereby shipping companies must take back 80 percent of the laden containers they brought into the country from the stock of empties and export cargo. This has also reduced the number of trucks with empty containers waiting on the roads,” the port administrator said. 

What this meant in a lay man’s language is that if a vessel brings 100 containers into the country, such vessel must take back at least 80 containers, which must be among the empties and export containers, without which she would not be allowed to sail out of the ports.

NPA has also embarked on what Bello-Koko called ‘operation green’ through which all illegal structures and shanties on port access roads in Apapa are being cleared. This action has helped in eliminating bottlenecks and impediments to the free traffic flow.

Another factor that helped in the reduction of the traffic gridlock, according to Bello-Koko, is that NPA has fully embraced multimodal transportation by encouraging better use of barges and the rail line for the movement of laden and empty containers in and out of the ports. This he, said, has brought significant reduction in the cost of doing business at the ports.

The NPA boss disclosed that a total of 80,000 trucks have so far registered on the ‘eto’ platform, though only 16,000 trucks have met the minimum safety standards. This, he said, is an indication that more work is needed to enthrone safety and prevent accidents within the port area. 

He noted that there would be continuous improvement of eto, including the deployment of additional physical and IT infrastructure and granting of approval for more transit parks to cushion the excruciating pains of truckers. 

As part of measures to improve barge services to enhance movement of cargo out of the seaports, barge operators are now being guided by the revised standard operating procedures (SOP) developed by NPA, in order to ensure efficient and safe barge operations. Under the new revised procedures, owners of barges must comply with the new safety guidelines if they wish to do business at the port.

“When we approved the use of the barges, we soon discovered that many of them (operators) did not have radio communication equipment onboard and we directed them to install the equipment,” Bello-Koko said. 

He also said that the NPA management now insists that barges must be sea worthy in order to prevent breakdown at the middle of the channel, which would cause massive disruptions to shipping.

“We are also developing an electronic call-up system for the barges, just like what we have for the trucks on the roads so as to ensure that we streamline their operations. There is a department in the NPA charged with the responsibility,” he further disclosed, adding that NPA has received proposals for the deployment of very large self-propelled barges which is being studied by its PPP Unit. 

Without any doubt, Mohammed Bello-Koko has discharged himself creditably in the handling of the affairs of NPA and in tackling the Apapa gridlock that had hitherto defied solutions for more than two decades. What remains for the gridlock to completely disappear from all the ports corridors is the completion of road rehabilitation on the Apapa-Mile 2 axis, and the inclusion of petroleum products tankers in the eto platform. Observers are optimistic that the Apapa traffic gridlock will be completely eradicated if petroleum products tanker drivers are incorporated into the electronic call up system. 

Mohammed Bello-Koko’s strong leadership qualities has contributed significantly in reducing the cost of haulage of goods from Apapa from other parts of the country by more than sixty per cent. 

In specific terms, moving 20 foot container from Apapa to locations in Lagos, which used to cost between N750, 000 and N800, 000 now costs between N200,000 and N300,000, representing 62.5 percent decrease. Similarly, moving 40 foot container from Apapa to locations in Lagos, which used to cost between N1,500,000 to N1,600,000 now costs between N400,000 to N750,000, representing about 53.125 percent drop, while moving containers from Apapa Port to warehouses within Apapa that formerly cost between N200,000 to N300,000 has dropped to about N150,000. This reduction is haulage costs translates to significant savings to consignees, thereby driving down the cost of doing business at the nation’s seaports. 

The exploits by Mohammed Bello-Koko deserves commendation because taming the otherwise intractable Apapa gridlock is no mean feat.

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