The Tincan Island Ports Manager, Bello Abubakar, has identified the challenges confronting his new administration at the port to be the inability of the authority to properly sanction foreign shipping companies.
Abubakar who has served at the Lagos Port Complex, the Tincan Port Complex and Kirikiri Lighter Terminal for spent 25 years before returning to Tincan Island Port Complex to take up the mantle of leadership as the Port Manager, said this much in an interview where he laid out plans that will see his tenure to a success.
What are you doing about the flood that has almost taken over the port access road?
The first week I came, I noticed the volume of water on the access road and normally, we went out to find out why the roads are flooded because it is an abnormal situation and we found out it was because of the construction ongoing on the high way.
The contractors have blocked six underground tunnels taking water from this corridor into the channel. We discovered that Hi-Tech blocked the channels.
We went to see them with our engineers and met with the representatives of the company and they identified that with us and they said it was done in the process of construction and the water can no longer move to the Lagoon and they promised to open and we have been mounting pressure on them to open these things. They are in the process of opening them but it will take a little time.
What is the management of Tincan Island Port Complex doing about the congestion in the port arena?
As for congestion on the access road, since we came in, we have been holding meetings with the officers we met on ground, that is, the Traffic Manager and Port Security Officer. They have been around and there are lots of issues involved.
First, the construction of the highway has diverted traffic to the access road. This is the only exit and entry point now. This common user area which is the port access road has found itself in the position where heavy traffic has been diverted from the highway.
So, most times, it needs continuous management and even before we came, the situation had been like that and the Traffic Manager and PSO have been up and doing.
Again, there are also other companies that operate along that road and you must have known, if you are familiar with the industry, that we are experiencing serious congestion because of the lockdown from the pandemic even though the industry has been working and there were new deliveries and the banks were not working and over that time, we had over 100 percent terminal occupancy in all the terminals and most of the terminals that have outlets outside like offdock, transfered to the offdock to enable vessels to discharge and some of the offdock are filled up to capacity.
It is a problem that we have to continuously be managing. Empty containers come here and there are no holding bays by shipping companies whereas all the shipping lines are supposed to have holding bays where these containers should go to.
It should be an arrangement where they are called when they are needed or when a vessel is about to load, but unfortunately, it is not so.
The terminals are filled with empty containers contending with import cargo which is the most important because you don’t want to keep the vessels waiting.
So, you create a space as much as possible for these vessels to discharge so that the vessel can sail. For a vessel to come in, discharge and leave is one of the factors to measure the efficiency of a port.
The terminal operators concentrate on that because of demurrage, attention is placed on making sure that ships discharge and go and most of the spaces that are supposed to be allocated to empty containers are taken over by import, it is not an ideal situation but a situation that needs to be managed.
Cargo congestion is inevitable because the number of containers coming in are more than the number of containers going out and the port is supposed to be a transit ground but here, they keep coming and exiting is slow.
Since you said the management of this port has been meeting with the contractors fixing the roads, what are the assurances that congestion will fizzle out soon?
There are assurances; we meet them often, we have their numbers and we call them always and I send people to check the extent of work done and they always brief me.
I expect constant engagement between the contractors and the NPA because we cannot close our ports because of road construction.
These things have to exist side by side, so we sit down and look at the challenges and what can be done to reduce the effect of this massive construction on our numerous stakeholders by creating other diversions.
Most times, they don’t carry us along in their decisions but when we hear that a section of the road has been closed, we run out and engage them in talking and impress on them that they cannot block the roads on our customers.
We need to synergise to make things work because we cannot say the construction will be completed in two or three weeks, it will certainly take time and we have been managing it.
Don’t you think it is necessary that the management of NPA meet with owners of private truck parks to bring down their costs because exorbitant fees are enough to scare truckers away from parking their trucks at parks?
I have noticed that myself at the gate of the truck park. We intend to regulate that. We are just coming in, we intend to take it up but I want you to have it at the back of your mind that the truck park was constructed by the Federal Ministry of Works, it is not under NPA and I understand that of recent, it has been concessioned out to a private operator who, of course, will have to make money out of it.
The issue of high cost is also what I intend to discuss with the Traffic Manager and the PSO with a view to escalating it to the management to see if it is reasonable or not, but I must tell you that we are yet to receive any complaint from stakeholders that the fee is too much and there are also appropriate channels of challenging port charges which is the Shippers’ Council, the economic regulator of this industry.
So, if our stakeholders have any complaint, they must have channeled it to Shippers’ Council.
In view of the persisting congestion, is it that Ports and Cargo lack enough handling equipment as alleged by stakeholders or NPA lacks enough manpower to curtail the traffic along the corridor?
The issue of inadequacy of personnel to man the access road, I don’t think it is true. It is a combined effort by several agencies; it is not restricted to NPA alone.
We have the port police, we have two DPOs here, we have an AIG, we have MOPOL. So, I don’t want to ascribe the present problem to inadequate manpower.
You can see how narrow the road is and there are over five terminals here and an industrial estate. Imagine the number of trucks that exit from each terminal everyday having to follow only one way out.
As for the issue of Port and Cargo, sincerely, I have not received complaint of shortage of handling equipment. I am just hearing it for the first time and we have always made our doors open to relevant stakeholders to complain.
With what we just heard now, if we investigate and find out that there is shortage of cargo handling equipment, we will take up the issue with them because that is our duty as regulators.
But in a situation where you receive more cargoes than the ones that exit, you must know that agents are not forthcoming as they used to.
I think it is a problem of space. We are experiencing serious congestion in all the terminals.
When you push trucks from Liverpool to Marine road and they come out at Ijora Bridge, they come here when they are not requested for.
The terminals have no space for these containers, they have not requested for them but somehow some security agents are pushing them especially at night.
You come here in the morning and discovered that the whole place is littered with trucks and this happens every morning and the Traffic Manager and Port Security Officer will have to go and control. We don’t have control over pushing of trucks in the night.
We have to be up and doing to mobilize security agents to open the road for containers exiting the port and the ones coming to work and this has to be done every morning.
We have been having series of meeting with a view to seeing whether we can stop the influx of containers from Ijora to this place unsolicited and the terminals cannot accommodate them and no vessel waiting to receive them and you see them littered all over the place.
Along the inner road, there are many scrap vehicles and cars abandoned on the road making the road narrower and constituting traffic. What is NPA doing in this regard?
I am very happy with this question because it was just recently that we all sat down including the DPO of Tincan Island Port, but unfortunately, the DPO of RoRo was unable to be with us. The Traffic Manager and the PSO, we all sat here and that was the subject of discussion and we have agreed to form a task team and I am sure the process is on and it was also concluded that we will X-ray the corridor holistically with the view of removing any vehicle on the access road that has no business being there.
The police have given us assurance on this. This administration is just looking at the problems one by one and proffering solutions but we are yet to get to the implementation level and we have been managing the traffic every day.
About five years ago, the presidential task force mandated shipping companies to acquire holding bays and NPA was assigned to monitor the development. But till you now, the holding bays are yet to be acquired and the trucks are still littered all over the place. What is the NPA doing about this?
For us to move these containers from the road, they must have functional holding bays but the management of holding bays is a bit expensive, that’s why a lot of the companies have been running away from it.
If you ask them to give you a list of their holding bays and you constitute committees to go and investigate the holding bays, they will submit the list but most of them are fictitious names.
You will be going round from one place to the other and some, you will never see and some are not accessible and a functional holding bay must be accessible.
They will just hurriedly acquire a piece of land somewhere and give you the address and by the time you go round the whole of Lagos looking for the place, you will discover that it is not accessible, the place is not equipped and some non-existent.
This report has been submitted to the management and I am sure they are working so that this is done. It is not easy to just sanction these foreign companies considering that maritime is a global business.
The only thing is to say you cannot operate unless you give us holding bay and this company already has a vessel coming on sea.
So, it is an issue that must be seriously managed. I am sure this management has the will and commitment that it is done.
What should the stakeholders in the industry be expecting from you?
They should expect a better port from me. Better management of access road, seriously eliminating corruption.