Chief Remi Ogungbemi is the Chairman, Association of Maritime Truck Owners. In this interview with Abolanle Oluwatola, he speaks on the challenges of the electronic call-up system introduced by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the way forward.
What really is the problem with the electronic call-up system for trucks at the Lagos ports?
I am one of those who believe in the electronic call-up system because the infrastructure and environment we had could no longer accommodate the volume of activities that was done in the port hence the need for it. Formerly, it wasn’t like that but now the goods coming to the ports are increasing, business activities were increasing, population is increasing, vehicular movement is increasing, while the infrastructure i.e the road remains the same without any improvement. I believe so much in using the modern technology to organize the transport system.
I will say the electronic call-up system has some teething challenges or problems and it will continue to improve and get better. The stakeholders including Nigerian Ports Authority, Police and LASTMA have been there for years and while we started using the electronic call-up system, they were watching to see how they will benefit from it. Once they discovered it, they started putting themselves forward and the system started having problems. Also, there is much human interference in the electronic call-up system. Anyways, where we are now is far better than where we started from and I must confirm to you now that within a week to this time, it will change. I believe it will keep improving to the point that before any truck can leave its park, it must have received the information that it is its turn to come either by text message, whatsapp or email message.
In fact all the trucks that you see on the road, their drivers are usually tired for being so long on the road for like a week of two before being told to come into the port. They hardly eat, sleep and take their baths. That is why you see them acting with aggression most of the time. The drivers are operating under a hostile environment. That is why we are trying to see how we can work towards achieving an enabling environment where they can relax before coming out to drive.
You mentioned the human factor; how do you think this can be brought under control?
I feel that a holistic approach should be employed to solve a problem. As I speak now, we have started noticing some positive changes because the Truck Transit Park (TTP) has started putting what we call manifest on the platform for people to see when they will be called into the port. We are still working on it and I know it is not over until it is over. The eto system is alien to us and we will continue to learn and we will get accustomed to it. Security personnel have been on ground since the era of Navy so they know what they benefit from the truckers. Now that the eto system came, they were studying it in the area they can come in so that they can start benefiting from it, so during the first two weeks it was introduced, it worked perfectly but after the security personnel returned, it started having problems.
How has the failure of the call-up system affected truck drivers and owners?
I must say that it is unfortunate because there are some out there wearing government uniform and pretending to maintain orderliness whereas they don’t even work for the government and what they are looking for is what they can benefit for their own personal interest. Imagine a situation where you see several checkpoints before you get to the port. I call it tollgate because money is being collected at these points. This is because the uniform personnel has seen truckers as their oil well that they can exploit and as their ATM cards. Until all these hindrances are removed, then we can say that we are getting it right.
What has your group done to call the recalcitrant officials to order?
We have called those in authority, written a letter to Governor Sanwo-Olu to see how to curb the activities of the Lagos State officials that disrupt truckers on the road. They feed on truckers at night. They arrest truckers, drive the trucks to their stations, book the vehicle as being towed and then demand for exorbitant monies from the truckers as a ransom before such trucks can be released. They are really compounding the problems of truck owners. That is why you see that the trucks are old. The money that is supposed to be used for maintaining the trucks have been taken by security operatives. They use government machinery to tarnish the image of the government.
Government set up a committee known as ‘Removal of Abandoned Vehicles’ which means they are to tow vehicles that have been abandoned but while the driver is right inside the vehicle, they will drive them out and tow the truck to their station. The government should look into this. The police should also reduce the amount of checkpoints on the road. That is the area where this electronic call-up system will work well. We would not need humans to check the goods anymore; the machine will do that. If you have your paper correct, the boom will open for you and vice versa.
So how are truckers coping with this kind of extortion?
A lot of them are leaving already because those that have ten trucks can hardly manage two because they spend more than they are gaining. The business is no longer as lucrative as it had been.
What is your view on the condition of the port access roads?
People in authority castigate truckers a lot but we have roads that are being rehabilitated for about eight years now without conclusion Tin Can access road is not motorable at all and this affects the trucks too. Bad roads spoil trucks. Rickety road will bring about rickety cars. Imagine a N20million worth of truck with container falling on the road; the truck can never be the same again. However, the authorities want the truck to be standard. How can they be when the roads they are plying are not standard? So the problems are many.
As much as we push everything to the government, I know there are some things individuals can do to alleviate the challenges. What are some of these?
I agree with you. In as much as we are willing, we also need an enabling environment especially in the area of modern and befitting truck terminal. We as truck owners have been trying to get a land that we will develop ourselves which will serve as a truck park but going by the land use decree of 1978, the issuing of lands lies with the government so if this can be done, we would look for a bank to help us in building it and gracious enough, Governor Sanwo-Olu has given us a place at Orile. The immediate past governor, Governor Ambode came to launch the expansion of Orile Truck Park so we have told Governor Sanwo-Olu to allow us to develop the space ourselves.
We are tired of parking on the road and constituting a nuisance to the environment. It is not in the interest of the truck owners that their trucks should be on the road for long but it is the situation we found ourselves in. It is an aberration. I also see it as part of maladministration because the people that built the port originally created place where trucks could park but suddenly, the authorities chased us out of the place and the place had been taken over by other business activities. Let me say that we are highly impressed with what Nigerian Shippers Council is doing to create a modern truck terminal where drivers can rest, shower and sleep before going on the road so if the state governor gives us the go ahead, we can start something on the land with the help of banks.
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