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Lagos ports battle corruption amidst electronic call-up system

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In this piece, examines how operators can leverage advanced technology to boost the efficiency of the electronic call-up system and tackle the corruption that has characterised the platform

BEFORE the introduction of the electronic ca-up system, known as Eto, movement in and out of the port was nothing to write about. Port operators and residents of Apapa, Tincan, and its environs spent hours on the road before they could access their homes and offices due to gridlock on the port access roads. Many firms and residents were forced to relocate from Apapa because of the incessant gridlock.

The gridlock defied all known solutions that the government deployed to tackle the crisis. Port users, especially truck owners and drivers, had accused the various task force teams set up by the government at some point of high-handedness; bribery; corruption and sabotage.

The horrible traffic on the port access roads caused haulage costs to skyrocket, as importers abandoned their cargoes in the seaport due to the inability to move it out of the port due to the high haulage cost.

However, in a bid to tackle the challenge, the Nigeria Ports Authority, in February 2021, launched the electronic call-up system for trucks at the ports in Lagos.

The e-call-up system, managed by Truck Transit Park Limited, uses an app called Eto, through which truckers are expected to book turns to enter the ports.

The launch of the e-call-up system has reduced the traffic gridlock along the port roads and cut cargo dwell time, thereby, making the ports more competitive.

The Managing Director and co-founder of TTP, Jama Onwubuariri, at a stakeholders’ engagement last year, said that the platform had successfully facilitated 1.6 million articulated port-bound and non-port-bound trucks in two years.

Onwubuariri said that the platform had contributed significantly to a massive reduction in the cost of moving cargo out of the Apapa and Tin-Can Island ports by 65 per cent.

He further disclosed that the platform successfully reduced traffic around the port corridors, resulting in a significant improvement in the average turnaround time for port-bound trucks from an average of two weeks to just three days.

“We are proud to mark this milestone and to see the positive impact that our technology has had on the industry.

“Our commitment to delivering innovative solutions has allowed us to revolutionise how cargo is transported in and out of Lagos ports. We are confident that our continued growth and success would bring even greater benefits to the industry in the years to come,” Onwubuariri said.

Although the electronic call-up system has had some impacts on the evacuation of cargoes from the ports, it has been trailed with criticism. Some operators believed it had worsened the traffic crisis along the axis instead of addressing it.

Some truckers claimed the platform had been aiding corruption and extortion, as racketeers had hijacked it, making truckers call for the scrapping of the platform.

The National President of the Council for Maritime Truck Unions and Associations, Adeyinka Aroyewun, believed that the platform had shifted from problem-solving to revenue generation.

“This caused the handlers to neglect the real issues and place their premium on the volume of vehicles they were able to book. The cost of booking was varied several times to increase revenue.

“Proposed infrastructure, such as barriers at satellite and pre-gate parks even after garage owner payments were not adequately provided,” he stated.

Aroyewum complained that there are still garages without barriers, closed-circuit television, and other facilities for checks even after three years of the take-off.

He believed that the existing road infrastructure may not be adequate to handle the increasing number of vehicles on the road, adding that it had resulted in congestion and gridlock.

A trucker, Ifenayi Ekwunife, blamed the preferential treatment some truckers enjoyed for the failure of the platform to achieve the desired result.

“The idea of bringing in that call-up system was for the roads to be free. But when the roads are not free then the idea is defeated. The concept was for the terminal operators to demand trucks depending on what their capacity could take.

“Whatever their capacities could take would be given to them from those designated pre-gate. Everybody is flooding the area, that is why there is room for preferential treatment to certain people,” Ekwunife opined.

The Chief Executive Officer of LWL Concepts, Mr Lawal Wasiu, said corruption had made it difficult for the platform to function effectively.

“The call-up of a thing helped the port to have a free flow of consignments in and out of the port. Before any truck would be allowed inside the port, it must have a call-up system. It would enable the truck to enter the port.

“But because we are in Nigeria, I don’t know how corruption has been deeply rooted into our system.  Cabals in the transport system have bought these call-up systems,” he pointed out.

Wasiu accused cabals in the transport sector of hijacking the platform, thereby, affecting the cost of the call-up system.

“So, these cabals always buy the call-up. It is supposed to be when you have a terminal delivery order that the call-up can be given to you. And when they do that, they would ensure the site is not working.

“And when that happens, the transport fares would increase, imagine loading from Apapa to Fatai Atere, they would be charging us N700,000. Some people are collecting N1m to go to the Island because people are buying the call-up system from between N250,000 to N300,000 from these cabals,” he explained.

According to Wasiu, corruption has been deep-rooted in the system and it is not making the system move forward.

“The call-up system is a very good initiative because everyone knows that before now; a lot of people do not want to go to Apapa because of the nature of traffic there,” he said.

The government through some of its agencies had been making frantic efforts to tackle those challenges. One of the moves taken in recent times by the Federal Government through the Nigerian Ports Authority was the discovery and bursting of a fake electronic call-up syndicate.

A few weeks back, the NPA said it undertook an on-the-spot check of the MPS Pre-gate and discovered 249 fake vehicle plate numbers and 149 units of Minimum Safety Standard stickers.

The agency also said that further checks of the terminal led to the discovery of another 164 pieces of vehicle number plates and 133 pieces of MSS stickers that were not fixed on any truck in readiness to be deployed for proxy booking.

The Managing Director of NPA, Muhammed Bello-Koko while announcing the development in a statement, said that the fake number plates and MSS tickets were immediately confiscated and the terminal manager invited for questioning.

Meanwhile, in December, the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy, Adegboyega Oyetola, set up a committee to review the platform.

 “Every possible abuse of the system by humans should be x-rayed and solutions provided to ensure that is abuse-free. I have several suggestions on how I believe the system can be strengthened. But I want input from the stakeholders.

“This is why I have set up this committee to interfere with the service provider and other stakeholders in the industry to come up with the best way of dealing decisively with the saboteurs,” the minister said.

In the same vein, NPA through the TTP, a few weeks ago, had introduced e-tags for trucks wanting to access the port.

According to Ekwunife, if the call-up system is not fully automated with minimal human presence, it will not achieve its objectives.

“For that call-up to work, it must be fully automated. Anything less than that, it won’t work efficiently. For now, it is not fully automated. Because if it is fully automated, you won’t see trucks lining up on the road,” he noted.

He also called on NPA to license many other firms to manage the platform instead of allowing TTP to manage it alone.

“You would see a lot of trucks on the road going in without the call-up. It is a shame that the call-up has not been working very well.

“Besides, TTP shouldn’t have the monopoly of implementing that call-up system. Another company should be brought in so that there would be competition. So far, it is not working because you still see trucks blocking the roads, causing difficulty for other road users. And the port is congested as well, which leads to a high cost of doing business,”  Ekwunife posited.

More so, Wasiu stressed the need to flush corruption along the port access roads, to enable the call-up system to work efficiently and effectively.

“They need to flush these cabals buying the call-up system out of the system. NPA should make it in such a way that before you can go online to fill in the necessary details of the terminal delivery order and once approved, they should issue a directive for you to go and take your consignment.

“We are clamoring for this because all these expenses would still add to the prices the importer would sell goods and affect the general market. So, this is what we are soliciting.”

He urged the NPA to identify those aiding corruption in the sale of those call-ups.

 “The current call-up system relies on manual processes, which can be slow and inefficient. For example, drivers have to exit their trucks to input their codes to open the barrier at the parks and port gates. The lack of advanced technology has grossly limited the effectiveness of the current call-up system,” he stated.

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