Alhaji Hassan Bello is the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers Council. He spoke to Daily Trust Saturday on a variety of issues, including free flow of traffic at key points of shipping, ports infrastructure in relation to transportation, and more. Excerpts:
Daily Trust: The Apapa gridlock is legendary. What are the palliative measures being taken on that?
Hassan Bello: Ninety per cent of cargo coming through the ports are all concentrated on the port of Apapa and Tin Can. Now, because of population growth and so many other things, the infrastructure was not adequate, because they were not expanded, neither were they increased to handle the traffic. But we have hope now that we have the task force chaired by the Vice President. It has really cleared Apapa, and there is free movement and free flow of traffic. This is due to the Nigerian Ports Authority, which has created a modern traffic system call-up system which is manual now, but we hope by August or September it will be electronic.
However, along the Oshodi/Tin Can axis, the road is bad and the Federal Government has awarded the contract, but there are a lot of impediments, especially with the raining season. But that too is being controlled. The Nigerian Ports Authority has also given the lily pond as a truck park. So, all the trucks will park there and they are called to the ports only when they are needed. NPA is on top of the situation and that is why we are having the ease of traffic. Now we have the short term, medium and long term. We are concentrating on the short term, but even this has to be complimented by the medium, otherwise we would go back to square one, but I don’t think that would happen. The cost of transportation has come down in Lagos now. It was previously inflated because of the chaos. So, these are the short-term things. The NPA, the task force and the Lagos State government have done very well. They are the key players. Lagos State government has shown tremendous goodwill in solving the problem of Apapa, so also the NPA and task force. Now, this is the short term. In the long and medium term, what we are trying to do is to create trailer parks and have a modern traffic system. We found out that every day there are 7,000 trucks in Apapa. As I have said many times, what is needed is about 2,000 trucks. You have to limit the access, and not have trucks wandering and creating traffic jam. There is also the private sector, Dangote Flour Mills. Again, NPA has contributed in doing the roads that gets traffic out of Apapa. So, this is the corporate social responsibility that should be encouraged. We must thank Dangote Flour Mills, and again NPA. NPA has gone beyond their statutory duties to solve the Apapa traffic issue. In the medium term, we need to institute that traffic management. It is just modern, and not rocket science. What we are saying is, if you don’t have business in Apapa, then you will not have access to it. The traffic must be staged. Our trailer park, opposite Tin Can, is also working now. This has relatively reduced traffic congestion. But we have to be really careful about Oshodi, Mile 2, Tin Can axis. It is really bad because one part of the road is a total failure. The contractor is trying, but because of the rain and other geographical and situational impediments, it’s bad. Medium term, we want to get the containers evacuated to dry port. We now have a train bringing containers to Kaduna dry port. This is another way of decongesting so the Kaduna man doesn’t have to go to Lagos with his rickety trailer. I’m happy to note the Nigerian Railway Corporation has made about five trips in the last one month or two. Activities in Kaduna has picked up, not only on import but more particularly on export. This is also medium term. By the time we sign an agreement in August with the dry port in Ibadan, it will mean that more goods will be taken there without being examined at the port. This will reduce congestion. The ports in Tin Can and Apapa are being linked with the rail. This is significant because rail takes most of the volume, instead of the trailer. It is faster and cheaper. This is also fundamental. We predominantly do that on road and we have a new system of evacuating cargo, so why won’t we have problems? Now we have the rail doing the inland transport using the waterways to take cargo. So, the approach is not only road. If you have the rail, road, then you have the inland waterways and the pipeline so that wet cargo or petroleum cargo is pumped outside Apapa. So, this Apapa problem will disappear. Again, long term, a new port at Lekki. Nigerian Ports Authority, China Harbour, and Lagos State government are building the Lekki Port. This will also solve the problem because the Lekki Port is a natural harbour and a deep-water port capable of taking large ships. This would mean that the Apapa problem would naturally disappear. Then planning is important. We should plan even with the new port. Our population grows at 2.5% every year, so we should know and anticipate what is going to happen. I think the traffic in Apapa will be a thing of the past.
Daily Trust: Let’s look at the acceptance level of the freight rates approved by Shippers Council. How is it?
Bello: It is okay, but one thing is, these freight rates are not fixed. They are what is called indicative rates. We have worked with the unions and transport owners to come up with the indicative rates. The reason being that investors overseas must have certainty and predictability about transport rates. So, what we do is to develop caps. If you want to transport goods from Minna to Port Harcourt, this is the indicated rate so they would plan. Otherwise, we can’t leave things the way they are. Everybody has indicative rates. They are sometimes determined by demand and supply, economic laws. All the same, we need to have those rates that plans will be based on. It is nothing new, and I am happy that they are gaining general acceptability. Investors and transporters have agonised over the lack of such rates. That is what Shippers Council is doing, but we are not fixing the rates.
DT: Is the proposed truck transit park getting desired traction or interest?
Bello: Yes, there is tremendous interest. As a matter of fact, two are going to be advertised in Enugu and Lokoja. There has been international interest in the transit parks and we hope for investments. That is another significant contribution to the efficiency of transport system. If we have a sluggish transport system, we would have a sluggish economy. But if it is modern and efficient, the economy will grow. Right now, the cost of transportation hovers around 30% to 40% of the cost of production when it should be less. If we have higher transportation cost, it would also affect inflation. We want the transport cost to reduce so Nigeria can compete in the world economy, especially with the trade agreement that is going to be operating very soon. We need a modern and efficient transport system. The truck transit park is modern and technology driven. It will solve the problem of environmental degradation. It means there will be fast delivery of cargo. We can’t have someone spending ten days to get to Kano. Shippers Council will track what is happening and we will know where every trailer is. I call on investors to invest in this noble and profitable project of the truck transit park.
Source : Daily Trust News