Chief Micheal Ajayi is the General Manager, Western Ports of Nigerian Port Authority (NPA). In this interview with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY’s Shulammite ‘Foyeku, he speaks on the NPA’s plan to implement minimum standard for trucks operating at the seaports.
How realistic is the implementation of minimum standard of trucks by NPA?
It is realistic because I am part of the driving process and I don’t tolerate failure. So it behooves on me to ensure its effective implementation. May be it was the strategy that was the problem when it was first introduced in 2014 but I have strategized on ways of getting it implemented and ensuring it does not fail. As it were, the truck owners have already been paying. I have a long list of fleet owners that have paid already, so that shows it is realistic. In 2014, it is possible they had a situation whereby nobody paid but now they have paid, so it is realistic.
While some of the truck owners have welcomed the idea of minimum standard, some are opposed to the fee of N10, 000 attached to its registration. What exactly is this money for?
The N10, 000 is vehicle entry permit. Registration is free and certification/inspection of the trucks is free. So after you have done all that and you have met the minimum standard that is when you now proceed to the final stage of making payment and getting sticker. The sticker is just to say you have conformed to our minimum standard and you have paid your money, so you can enter the port anytime you like.
We made it very clear to them and we discussed it with them even before implementation. So whichever group or persons is going against it now are just being mischievous. Before we announced it, they are aware of the N10, 000 right from time. We held dialogue with them one on one and as a group, so they are quite educated and aware of our concern on this issue of minimum standard. So it should not be seen as another form of extortion. The money paid is going to the Treasury Single Account (TSA) of government; it is not coming to the pocket of anybody so it means we don’t even have access to the money. For example if you go to FAAN or NACHO, they have vehicle entry permit issued out and each time you approach or enter into their premises, you have to pay some amount of money so we are just doing the same thing and in all port locations in Nigeria, there is no truck that enters into the port without making payment.
If you park overnight you will pay so it is not strange. It is only in Lagos area that you find some of these truckers saying that they are not ready to pay and maybe because of the fact that the payment is joined to certification that is where they have problem. Some of them have rickety vehicles and they know that they will not pass the minimum standard test so they are just using the issue of payment of N10, 000 to obfuscate the whole matter as a cover up. They charge between N80,000 to N100,000 per trip depending on the length or the size of the container. But in making this money, some of them never thought of using some amount of money to maintain this truck. Now the die is cast and you are now asked to present your vehicle for certification to enable you get clearance to enter the port but in doing so, you must also pay N10, 000 after the certification.
The N10, 000 is however not a guarantee which is being paid as an insurance to extortion. That because you paid N10,000 somebody else will not extort you, it’s no. But in our normal course of duty, we are to prevent extortion; it is part of my duty to ensure that there is no extortion within the port. So the issue of N10,000 is separate, it is entry permit.
The change mantra of government includes eradication of poverty at all levels and we are committed irrevocably to ensuring its implementation. So what they are trying to do is to use the payment as an excuse that it is too much. Some of them even raise the issue that there is low volume of cargo at the port now but the question is how about when we had high volume, they still wouldn’t pay. So that is the situation. They cannot eat their cake and have it. This is the right time we believe we are going to implement it in NPA and get it done. We are tired of trucks falling down killing people and destroying the property of their customers.
What is NPA doing to address the allegation of extortion leveled against some security officials at the port?
If they are talking about extortion inside the port, they raised the issue at one of the meetings we held with them and we immediately constituted a taskforce to be inaugurated by the Managing Director of NPA but unfortunately, they have not brought themselves forward for the inauguration and we cannot force them. The taskforce is to raise alarm. Whenever anybody presses the alarm button that will trigger off the committee to work; to go to the point of action and get the culprit to face the music. But we cannot clap with one hand. We need their cooperation to do that. I am not a truck owner going to the port so I will not see who is getting what from anybody. They are the ones at the centre of the whole issue so they are the ones that will see those collecting this money. So if they notice anybody collecting such money, it is there duty to report to us and that is the essence of the committee. But they are not prepared for it.
They are just recalcitrant and being stubborn about making payment for the entry permit. If you look at the amount we are talking of here, it is just N27 per day. That is the cheapest you find anywhere in the world as entry permit to do business in the port and it allows you multiple entry as many times as you want. So for the independent fleet owners that enter the port as many times as they could feel it is for their convenience. If we now say they should pay N500 before they enter, it will mean for 20 entries, they would have clocked the N10, 000 but we don’t want that kind of situation.
So it is cheaper and for us. It is transparent and it is easier to collect and it is eliminating fraud because you are not paying to an individual but to government account. So for us, it is easier for us to administer, so there is no extortion in this. For those in the port, we have constituted a taskforce and if you ask them, they will tell you, they don’t want the person to lose his job. But I am not a wizard to know who collects what as bribe. So my appeal to them is to key into this programme that we are doing now to work together jointly to ensure that we stop extortion anywhere whether along the port access road or wherever in the port area. But as far as I am concerned as the General Manager of Western Port, there is no single reported case of extortion brought to my knowledge or notice that I will not take action against. For the independent fleet owners, they are serious and they are ready to trigger the alarm button anytime, so we are ready to work together with them.
Will the task force you talked about include members of the truck owners associations?
If they are ready to key in, it will include them. They are also part of the stakeholders.
Why was the deadline for registration of trucks extended?
At the meeting we held with them which was at their instance, they made pleas to us that we should grant them extension of two weeks to enable them fix their trucks and the NPA Managing Director being a listening man considered their appeal and approved that extension to enable them put their trucks in order.
How many trucks have NPA registered so far?
We have registered up to 2,000 now. In fact there is a single company having over 1,000. In Flour Mills, we have over 900 that have registered. So we have registered quite a number. The response is good. Those who are stubborn are those having one or two trucks or they don’t even have trucks at all or have rickety trucks that they know they cannot even present.Those are the ones making noise. That is why the next thing they feel they could do is create confusion and benefit from confusion. If they are so sure that their truck is in order, why don’t they just bring it out?
What would be your message to those protesting against the N10,000 vehicle entry permit?
I want to appeal to them to be law abiding. This is democracy. You are allowed to express yourself but not to disrupt port operation because all the security agencies are standing by. Those that have conformed and have been certified and paid their money have a legitimate right to enter the port and do business. So any group or any individual attempting to stop them, his act will be tantamount to disturbance of public peace and that person or group when arrested will be made to face the wrath of the law. There is no compromise on that. If any person is still leaving in the illusion that we are not going to implement it, he is daydreaming. So it is better for them to key in and conform so that we can move forward.
For us this year,the Managing Director has declared zero tolerance to accident in the port and access road and we are conforming to that; that is why we came up with this programme. We want all commuters and road users to have no fear in driving their car when they are passing by a laden truck. So we are appealing to them to conform but anyone that is stubborn and fails to conform, the long arm of the law is there to catch him.
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