Chief Michael Kayode Ajayi has served in various capacities at the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). He was Port Manager of Tin Can Island Port, General Manager Administration and General Manager Public Affairs.
A Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Management and Grand Patron of Lagos Referees Association, Ajayi was appointed General Manager Western Ports of NPA in June 2015.
In this interview with Jite Eriabie, he speaks on the menacing Apapa gridlock and what how NPA is doing to address the situation.
How has Apapa gridlock affected the port operations?
It is of course obvious the gridlock has affected the fortune of all the ports in Apapa and the corridor; not only the ports even the residents. So definitely, affecting it negatively will imply that we have not been able to achieve our fundamental objectives of the year. The quick turnaround time or the cargo dwell time is being affected because of the facts that the trucks are not able to make the rounds, the turnaround time for the trucks have dropped. Some of them used to make two, three runs in a day but it has dropped to one because most of them will stay on the queue and in traffic for a very long time and that has affected the drivers. Some of them; they sleep off or get tired and by the time they start loading, accidents could occur.
Has it also affected NPA service delivery to customers?
No. It has not affected our service delivery. Our service delivery is still as usual, we don’t handle cargo anymore; they are handled by terminal operators. Definitely, the gridlock has affected everybody, even Customs revenue collection has reduced.
Is there any way this issue can be tackled, what is NPA doing to fix the port access road?
NPA has always been coming out to assist, in the area of providing some palliatives. Currently, the Liverpool/Creek road is being repaired by NPA. And when you talk of access road you have to break it in two, there is a highway leading to the ports either from Tin Can-Apapa-Oshodi axis or from Wharf Road to the port. Then you now have the access way, very close to the port where you can come in, so they are two.
For the one very close to the port; we have always been doing the road. Currently, the one in Tin Can is being done to make it very strong. A long-lasting solution is being brought to that road. But the federal highway is beyond our jurisdiction, it falls under the purview of the Federal Ministry of Works so even for us to do it, we must seek the permission of the Federal Ministry of Works and that of Tin Can has just been given but because of the procurement processes; NPA has not been able to do that.
But on assumption of duty at this end, I found out that the only way we could quickly provide a strong palliative is for us to look inward. So we quickly organised the terminal operators to assist because they too benefit from the good state of the road. If there is no gridlock, they too can make more profit so it is also affecting their fortune. They should not leave it to government alone. They need to come out and support the government at this moment because things are in a strange manner; it is not what anybody is enjoying including the government. Revenue has dwindled considerately. For the sake of their own interest, they need to assist government. So we appealed to them and they came out and we constituted a team of engineers, each representing the terminals and they trekked the entire length of the road, assessed it and we came to a conclusion that the best thing is to isolate those very bad spots and do them. They invited contractors and picked one; after that we decided to do some apportionment to divide the total cost of doing the palliative amongst the stakeholders with NPA also contributing. We were at that stage when another company said they are willing to that of Area B; that is, Wharf Road to the gate of Apapa wharf. That is still on. We believe that if we could do the road, at least one factor responsible for the gridlock will be isolated.
But when you are talking in general terms, the proliferation of tank farms along the port areas or the Apapa corridor has been unhelpful in this matter. You have so many trucks and these trucks are heading to Lagos. We have a refinery in Kaduna, which is shut down, the refinery in Warri is shut down, the refinery in Port Harcourt shut down. So the entire trucks are heading to Lagos with Lagos supplying petroleum products to the whole country. That is an anomalous situation. So you should expect the worse to happen on the Apapa corridor. The ports and the Apapa area were not created for that kind of reception from these trucks. At times you see them queuing from here to as far as Ojuelegba bridge. There is need for the federal government to take a census and assessment of these bridges – the effectiveness and strength of these bridges – because my fear is that one day one of these bridges may collapse and the whole of Apapa corridor will be in serious situation.
Apart from petroleum, the maritime industry supplies the highest amount of revenue to the government; it is the second revenue earner to the government – not agriculture. So if this happens then you can expect the worse for our economy. So this is the right time for government to look at it critically and assess the strength of these bridges because most of the time with these heavy tankers; they stay dead on the bridges and if you are walking on the bridge you see the bridges vibrating and these bridges were not created for that.
They are supposed to be mobile but now you see them lying there permanently
The proliferation of these tank farms has been unhelpful in solving Apapa gridlock. We have been working round the clock. We have toured these tank farms to appeal to them to adopt a call up system. You look at the quantum of trucks you can load and invite them for loading, and you don’t allow them come and mess up the road. If you look at Folawiyo and Lister Oil, the tanker drivers took a whole highway which is unspeakable in any country in the world. For some days, I have been with Mr. Oscar Ibru, the vice president of the Ibru Group and we were quite impressed that he woke up six o’ clock to control the traffic of trucks entering his terminal and cleared a whole highway. We expect owners of other tank farms to take a cue from Mr. Oscar Ibru. We hope that one day, if the roads are done- that is a factor – and if we have a way of dispersing the tank farms elsewhere or relocating them elsewhere, that would also reduce the gridlock.
What is NPA doing to ensure that only trucks that are roadworthy enter the port?
All along, we have tried to enforce minimum standards and roadworthiness of these trucks. We called a meeting a few days ago with all the truckers association, the NARTO, the AMATO, the RTEAN, JCOST and the independent fleet owners. We brought them to a meeting and we also talked to them on the need to put their vehicles in order. To this end, our safety unit with effect from February 1 will be assessing all the trucks and certifying them fit to enter the port. So we are using first of February to the end of February to sensitise them. We are giving them fliers, we are educating them and we have written all of them and given them the specification and what we want in each of the trucks to pass the acid test and they have pledged that they are going to do that. So if we are able to enforce that, I think the rate of accidents on the highway will be reduced by the truckers and besides we also intend to begin to enforce it as from March 1. We have also appealed to the terminal operators too that in case there is anyone that slips through our eagle eyes, they too should set up another system of not loading those trucks that they have identified as not being fit to carry any cargo.
What are these minimum standards?
One, the twist locks that ensures the stability of the containers on your truck must be in order. If the twist locks are not in order, any cargo will fall off the truck, so the twist locks must be in order. The brake system must be functional. The horn, the tyres must be one hundred percent in order and they must have spare tyres. The springs must be in order. We are going to check the exhaust system to ensure it is in conformity with the minimum standard of emission. Along the line, we will be checking the sensibility of the drivers entering the port. We don’t want a situation where the drivers take “paraga” before they can operate. They will be asked to take a breath test for alcohol. Those are the things we are putting in place now to ensure that there is safety. We have also educated and informed their leaders to find a way of sanctioning their drivers apart from enlightening them, on how to maintain minimum standards in the usage of their trucks.
How about the much talked about call-up system?
Yes. We are also looking into the call-up system. There is a recent proposal by a company to establish a call-up system and we at NPA are looking at it. They have demonstrated it on a projector. We hope that by the time the system is in place, the pressure of truckers loitering around Apapa will be reduced. Some of them just hang around looking for customers. We did a survey and discovered that on a daily basis, there were about thirty to forty trucks inside Apapa not doing anything but expecting customers. But the port has limitation. We cannot go beyond our territorial jurisdiction. We cannot go inside Apapa otherwise we will also face legal charges. As far as we are concerned, we would expect the Lagos State Government and the Apapa Local Government to compliment us on that, to ensure that no vehicle is loitering around Apapa because the road network is a system. If you block the system, it snowballs into the other. So if Apapa is free, then there will be no gridlock.
What is the duration of this campaign?
We intend to start the campaign from first of February but it is going to be a continuous one because the vehicles may not reach the standards for the rest of the year because vehicles as we know it; as you use them, they break down often. We are going to ensure that they constantly check their vehicles because you know without doing that the vehicle won’t enter the port.
As the General Manager overseeing port operations in the western part of the country, can you tell us how port operations fared in 2015 especially in face of the socio-political environment occasioned by the general election and change of government?
We are yet to assess the impact to enable me give you the figures. I cannot give you figures now. Whatever I hear, it is still hearsay but for us to be able to speak to the public about that, there is need for us to look at the figures. We need to draw the graph to see where it is rising, where it was stable and where it was dropping. Then we begin to analyze the causes. We are just starting the year and that is the next item we are doing; we are compiling our statistics. As soon as we do that, it is always put in the public domain.
What is the outlook for this year?
We are hoping that things will be good. This is a government of change. As soon as the budget is in place and implemented, the international community can read our budget, the importers and exporters will begin to work in line with the government. We are very hopeful that the year is going to be good and there is no need for anybody to be pessimistic. Nigeria will be great and good this year.
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