“Operation Green”, a campaign launched by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to sanitise the corridors and surrounding of the ports, has recorded a huge success, its Managing Director, Alhaji Mohammed Bello-Koko, has said.
Bello-Koko told newsmen on Sunday in Lagos that the operation became necessary when NPA discovered that people had turned everywhere into trailer parks and markets.
“Others converted every available space for their businesses. So we had to act swiftly.
“What we did was to ensure that those areas are safe. Those are restricted areas actually; the Port itself and the surrounding areas are restricted areas, so we can’t allow those illegalities to go on.
“We are mandated to ensure that the Ports and its environments are secured. That operation was very successful; a lot of weapons and large quantities of drugs were discovered which were handed over to security agencies.
“All the illegal trailers parked there have also been cleared. What we are doing is to clear the area and ensure that unless you have a permit to have a business there, you shouldn’t be there.
“The Lagos State Government has been very cooperative. They are also making sure that the right security agencies are involved, so you find trucks moving around, towing away vehicles.
“We discovered a lot of vehicles that have been parked for so many years being used as storage for weapons, drugs and the rest along the corridor. Lagos State Government is taking possession; NPA is also taking possession of any land that has been illegally occupied but belongs to the authority.
We want to ensure that miscreants and other illegal businesses do not take over those places,” he said.
Bello-Koko commended the Lagos State Government for its massive support over the years.
“Traditionally, that relationship has been there. The two ports here account for over 70 per cent of the cargo coming in and going out of the country.
“So, because of national interest and also out of necessity, we have had very good relationship with Lagos State Government.
“When I was appointed, I ensured that that collaboration continued. I have had a meeting with the governor who has been very supportive in the implementation of ETO, clearing the roads and so on.
“There are also collaborations in terms of the Lagos State Government Transport Development Plan. We have met with a department in Lagos State Government along with the French Development Authority. So, we will keep collaborating with Lagos State Government.”
He also spoke on other partnerships toward strengthening the operations of the ports and meeting the mandate of the NPA.
“We have met with French Development Authorities who are more like private investors supported by the French Government.
“They are looking for areas of collaboration to improve investment and businesses in Africa. What we are looking for is investment in Port Development by some of these agencies.
“Our core areas of collaboration include Port infrastructure, Marine equipment which we all know are very expensive.
“We are also looking at the sharing of capacity development with some of the partners.
“The Minister for Transportation has also been working with NPA to ensure the renewal of ports here.
“Some of the ports here are getting to their end of life; some are over 80 years, so they need reconstruction which will run into hundreds of millions of dollars.
“So, there are discussions between NPA, the terminal operators and some of these development partners on how this can be structured with the right financial model.
“May be, I should also remind you that all the ports operating here are operating far beyond their built capacity. The size of these ports are not going to increase, we can only improve their capacity and that is what we are trying to do.
“The cities have caught up with the ports, so expansion at this point is impossible. The best we can do is to improve on the existing facilities,” he said.
Bello-Koko also said the agonising traffic gridlock on the Apapa road leading to the port has constituted a major headache to NPA.
He lamented that the traffic congestion problem had defied solutions “for more than 10 years now”.
With lots of trucks and other articulated vehicles always queueing to enter or come out of the Apapa port, the route is persistently chaotic with the heavy gridlock spanning several kilometres across Lagos.
“At NPA, we believe that priority needs to be given to our export cargo, but the major challenge for me is how to solve the gridlock in Apapa.
“One of the first executive actions I took when I was appointed was to visit the Tin Can Apapa corridor to ensure that the right things are done and the right infrastructure is deployed. We are getting there gradually.
“We have put in measures to minimise the congestion in and around the port. NPA was using manual manifest and call up system which was not very effective because of human interference.
“We have brought in ETO (electronic call-up system), to ensure smooth inward and outward movement of cargo from the port.
“The company, TTP was given Lilly ponds on when they should operate. The idea was to ensure that all trucks coming in are supposed to move from trailers parks to Lilly ponds then to the port.
“They were supposed to have deployed some physical and electronic infrastructure but that was not done. When I was appointed, I gave them ultimatum to ensure that those items are installed as quickly as possible.
“I can assure you today that there has been more deployment of assets by TTP.
“I also requested that we need to sit down and reappraise what they have achieved. Incidentally.
“ETO was 90 days old when I resumed. We did an analysis to see where we are, what has been achieved and we identified where the gaps were. So, what I did was to push for immediate implementation of the agreement between us and TTP.
“The idea of enforcement, whatever you come up with, there must be enforcement, so we liaised with the Lagos State Government to ensure that we have the right security operatives on ground.
“We have also collaborated with Lagos State Government through Lagos State Transport Management Agency (LASMA), which has brought a bit more sanity to the system.
“Because of our intense focus, there is already some improvement. There is better flow of traffic. But let me finally say that the major hindrance to ETO is the road.
“The Tin Can corridor is bad. We have had discussions with the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing to ensure that the construction company deploys its gadgets to start construction around that area.
“We have also complained about multiple checkpoints which we have tried to reduce because it is bringing a lot of extortions and creating a lot of traffic.
“The final issue is the stakeholders themselves; they need to buy into this. I keep saying that the worst of ETO is better than the best of the last system that we were using,” he said.
He said that NPA had met with stakeholders and agreed that any truck park that did not install CCTV, ensure proper convenience for vehicle owners and drivers and had no automated gate system should be delisted.
“The idea is for the truck parks to be dovetailed into the ETO system,” he declared.
He also spoke on other challenges at the port and agreed that some were caused by people out to sabotage NPA’s efforts.
“What we have observed is interference by government agencies and the stakeholders themselves.
“Rather than pay the ETO ticket, they find a way to bring in military men. You find out that at night, military men escort vehicles which is sabotage.
“The stakeholders themselves need to buy into the ETO system. We have had Town Hall meetings with stakeholders to let them understand that this is a system that we are not going to change.
“The world has gone automated, so we need to reduce human interference.”
The managing director also complained about the activities of touts generally referred to as “area boys”.
“They (area boys) are involved in extortion and find ways to divert these trucks. We discovered a building not far away from Apapa gate where one can get a number plate printed in less than 20 minutes.
“This number can be used to get an ETO ticket. We have told the security agencies; they have raided the building and investigations are ongoing. So, we are moving from the normal ETO that has digits to QR codes which are difficult to duplicate.
“There are also saboteurs even among our staff. We have had to issue queries to NPA staff involved and we are taking actions.
We have sent some home to allow for proper investigation. Others have been queried and some have been moved across ports.
“We have made it clear that we shall not tolerate saboteurs in the system no matter where they are coming from,” he said.
He emphasised that for the ETO system to work properly, there has to be multiple trailer parks.
“We advertised and people showed interest in providing the parks that NPA will use for the ETO.
“We gave them what was needed for them to qualify: uninterrupted power supply because of the CCTV and the automated systems, Internet access network, and Automated gate systems.
“Some of them have started while some of them have not. Those that have not deployed, we have given them a few more days but I think that in not more than 10 days, any park that does not meet those requirements, we will delist it and give others a chance.
“If the parks are not effective and don’t meet what we want, then the efficiency of ETO will also be affected. We have given them a couple of days after which we will delist any one of them that doesn’t meet the requirements.
“As at our last meeting, the decision is to give them maximum of two weeks,” he said.