Ascribing ineptitude as the underlying factor to the woeful failure of this government to pull out the Lagos ports roads out of its perennial traffic conundrum may be wrong and misleading.
Perhaps, the appropriate word should be official corruption, which highlights all the theatre of play in all its clarity, amid the market place of official opaqueness; spanning six years. The failed Apapa ports road also defines in clear outlines, the lack of leadership capacity by the present and immediate past presidents, President Muhammaud Buhari and President Goodluck Jonathan, and their respective cabinets.
While the Jonathan administration could be said to have displayed high level indifference, the Buhari government which inherited the odious official intransigence, was itself entrapped by self imposed myopic tendencies, which manifested in wrong choices of workforce, and therefore, unable to match Buhari’s otherwise laudable campaign promises and talk for a positive change with action.
In place of affirmative action, the All Progressive Congress (APC) led federal government mapped out the Apapa ports traffic as a source of market opening where jobs are to be found for the boys. It stands to reason therefore, when analysts say that this government is not in hurry to fix the traffic snarl, for as long it takes to use its repairs to settle friends of government and party faithfuls .
After four years of failed presidential intervention by this government, the baton passed to a ministerial task force penultimate week. This was followed a week later by the APC led Lagos State Government formation of a special traffic management unit. Are these cycles or sequences mere coincidences?
Although industry stakeholders were in agreement that government has disappointed shamefully, they were nonetheless divided on the extent government has failed. While some believe that the challenge will be fixed with the right approach, others think that the government is caught between ineptitude and corruption, noting that the presidency has lost every modicum of integrity to correct the Lagos ports road anomalies.
It will be recalled that the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi penultimate week, inspected the Tin Can Island Port axis and the worsening traffic situation occasioned by blockades mounted by Hitech Construction Company, handling the repairs. This has effectively crippled cargo delivery system, especially at the Tin Can Island Port axis.
Amaechi was accompanied by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Transportation (FMOT), Dr. Magdalene Ajani; Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority, Hadiza Bala Usman and the Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers Council, Hassan Bello, embarked in the on the spot assessment, supposedly in effort to find solution to the gridlock.
The minister through Dr. Magdalene Ajani, announced the disbandment of the Kayode Opeifa Presidential Task Team on Apapa Gridlock, at a meeting with stakeholders later that day. Ajani also announced that the ministry was set to reconstitute a new traffic management team, as part of measures to address the gridlock.
She reportedly also directed Hitech Construction Company, the contractor handling the repair of the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, to reopen the road leading to the port from Mile 2 axis, to clear the gridlock; a directive the contractor is believed to have failed to comply with, one week after it was issued.
Stakeholders say that despite the purported disbandment of the presidential task force, its members and security operatives still mount toll points along the roads to extort various sums of money from truckers.
According to Emmanuel Onyeme , a Tin Can Island Port based clearing agent, nothing has changed since the disbandment of the presidential task force.
According to him, “Although they said they have disbanded the presidential task team, this same set of people are coming out in the night to carry out their normal shady deals. The traffic situation still remains the same.
“If the government said they have banned the presidential task force, let them open the road so that we have free movement. With the blockade on the road, how will the road be free? If you come to Tin Can today, the containers that are exiting are not more than five yet people are paying demurrages.
“Cost of transportation has remained the same. The cost of haulage form Tin Can to Ladipo is N1.7 million because there is no road and the whole place is blocked.”
Collaborating, Chairman, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Tin Can Island Chapter, Segun Oduntan, said nothing has changed since the minister’s visit.
“You need to see how importers and agents are crying, especially those who have goods that are trapped at the port with the high cost of demurrage. So what intervention has the minister made?
“The Minister’s visit has not changed anything because when they came for the inspection, they did not inform any stakeholder. We are the ones that can give the minister first hand information.” he said.
A security consultant and maritime business man, Dr. Segun Musa said government should do more to redeem its image.
“It is alright that the transportation minister came, even though much remained to be done by this government. His visit is an indication that someone is listening to our complaints and feeding the government back. It was overdue and thank God government has finally exited the POS machines causing the real traffic jam on our corridors.
“But we can only hope that the replacement would not see it as opportunity for self enrichment. We have suggested solutions to end the port traffic problem to government and we are hoping that one day government will see the reasons its efforts are failing and come and work with stakeholders to achieve lasting solutions.”
On his part, father of modern day customs brokerage in Nigeria, Prince Olayiwola Shittu, said he believe that the federal government is genuinely interested and committed to efforts to eliminate the unfortunate logjam.
“The road construction is the major obstacle right now. It’s like applying amputation to a flesh wound. Elsewhere, palliative works on alternate routes are created to allow movement of vehicles. Simultaneously, use of multimodal system of cargo evacuation should be encouraged.
“What in heaven sake stopped the use of barges? Yet PTML are successfully moving cargoes to mile 2 with barges, so also are some shipping agents doing same for their empty containers.
“I also think that cargo diversion may also be a serious consideration in order to reduce overstretched facilities in Lagos ports. We did this before during the Armada Cement crisis, at least until the road construction is actualised.”
Speaking on the issue, the National President of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Tony Nwabunike while lamenting that his members have suffered heavily under the ports gridlock, we enjoined stakeholders to give the federal government benefit of the doubt, and join hands to offer advices and information that will help government solve the problem.
He said, “Truly, the Apapa ports roads have become a national disappointment. Members of my association and other freight forwarders and clearing agents have passed through hell; we are talking about six to eight years problem and problems of insensitive extortion. It is very embarrassing.
“But I also think that this government have decided to change tactics, hence the new committee as announced by the honourable minister. We have hope that the problem will be fully resolved, don’t forget that shippers council have been going around, I am sure those shipping lines without holding bays, will be made to tow the path of business ethics and the rules of engagement.
“Let us keep our fingers crossed; we will get over these problems soon.”
Maritime resource person and former President of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Eugene Nweke, said setting up of task forces have never produce results. He noted that the task forces are indictment on the part of relevant ministries, departments and agencies of government, for failure to perform their statutory functions.
He further note that intervention organs including the new traffic management committee announced by the transportation minister and Lagos State Government, will not address the core challenge; and said that until and unless government desist from shifting responsibilities, the problem of Lagos ports traffic question will remain with us.
His words: “I pointed out in my paper presentation at the League of Maritime Editors annual lecture in 2019 that adhoc interventions are waste of scarce resources. The resort to set up of committee by whatever name are mere shifting of responsibility by an administrator.
“More than 85% of such committees never achieve their terms of reference. It has become administrative novel, where an administrator chooses to divert attention or suspend critical reoccurring issues that seem too challenging in nature.
“A committee is a deliberate act to shift attention from core responsibilities, a tactical suspension or even state of abandonment. If government begins to hold ministers, heads of agencies and department responsible for matters like this, things will change. Again, If government appoints professionals/experts to head our agencies, perhaps the present situation won’t be the same.
“This port traffic issues have been around for a long time. Cast your mind back to the various related committees that were set up in the past 20 years, and the several reports and recommendations proffered by such committees and transmuted to the authority; government did nothing with the reports.
Nweke put the blame of failure of the various task force committees on lack of integrity driven supervision. He lamented that the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo who recommended the appointment of the Opeifa led president task force failed to oversight the committee, a situation that led to vices like rent seeking through extortions.
He lamented that the Presidential Ease of Doing Business Committee established under the office of the Vice President, failed to drive expected changes in the national economy owing to lack of political will.
He express doubt over the ability of the new ministerial task force to turn the tide where the presidential team failed.
“The sacking of the presidential task team on the decongestion of the Lagos ports access road and the replacement with a ministerial task force portrays administrative confusion that is bedeviling the maritime industry as a whole. Is the ministry of transportation indirectly indicting its superior office, or self indictment on the part of the government?
“By now, I believe that the Vice President will be very disappointed with the presidential committee, but that’s not enough, going forward he should have capacity not to trust party faithfuls 100% when it comes to critical state assignment. This development clearly suggests one fact, that the office of the Vice President need to do more in effective oversight functions.”
Nweke argued that if Amaechi gets involved in oversight monitoring of the task force members, and to designate online complaints desks, with a stand by response team, the nation’s port economy will hit a rebound and the port gridlock will disappear.
“Most importantly, the integrity of the members of the committee depends on the minister’s willingness to monitor their activities, and designate online complaints desks, with a stand by response team. However, should this Committee also go the way of the previous, it won’t be surprising.”