MEMBERS of the Seaport Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN) have challenged the new Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi to find permanent solution to the perennial traffic gridlock along ports’ access roads in Lagos State.
Speaking through its Chairman, Princess (Dr) Vicky Haastrup the association also advised the Minister to work harmoniously with the National Assembly, especially the Senate Committee on Marine Transport, as well the relevant House Committees to ensure that the ports and harbour bill is passed into law.
Haastrup explained that the Port and Harbour Bill has been in the National Assembly for years “with each successive legislative assembly failing to pass it into law”.
Haastrup said: “The bill is at various stages of passage in the lower and upper chamber of the National Assembly in the seventh assembly.
“However, it was not passed into law until the lawmakers ended their session. You are aware that the bill, which has provisions for various aspects of port operations, especially the roles and responsibilities of key players in the nation’s seaports, also suffered the same fate in the sixth assembly. You will agree with me that the maritime industry is suffering because of its non-passage.
“That is why I want Mr. President and the Minister of Transport to work hard to ensure that the Port and Harbour Bill is promptly passed into law.
“I strongly believe that if the Minister of Transport and the relevant committees in the legislative arm of government work closely, the passage of the bill into law would no longer suffer any delay”.
She described the Apapa gridlock and poor state of the port access roads as a shame, adding that “ I have no doubt in my mind that the building of holding bay or parking lot will help to decongest the port access roads. It will also ease the traffic snarl in Apapa and its environs”.
According to Haastrup. it is not the responsibility of Terminal Operators to provide loading bays to trucks coming inside the port to do business. “That is the responsibility of the truck owners. They are in business to make money. All the truck owners should come together and provide a loading bay for their trucks. They should provide the loading bay for their trucks because it is not proper for them to use their business to hamper other business operators in the Apapa and its environs”.
Urging the Federal Government to show truck owners the way forward, Haastrup said: “What happened to the loading bay that is 95 per cent complete opposite Tin Can Island Port Complex? Why is the Federal Government not putting it into immediate use to solve the gridlock in Apapa?
Describing the idea of asking trucks and other articulated vehicles to move on only one lane of the road while other motorists move on the other lane as a temporary relief, Haastrup said it is tantamount to creating another problem in a bid to solve one.
She said: “Has the authority considered the implication of allowing those heavy duty trucks park for days in some cases for months on the bridges and the roads? Apart from the security implication, do the authorities take cognizance of the heavy weight of these vehicles on the bridges linking the roads to Apapa? Have they taken a look at these bridges and the roads?
“Some of these roads and bridges were constructed over 50 years ago. They were not constructed to carry stationary weight for long hours, not to talk of days or weeks. Some of them already have cracks. When last did structural engineers and other professionals carry out thorough checks and studies of these bridges? If they have done so, what are the measures put in place in the short, medium and long term to implement the recommendations made by these professionals? I hope we are not waiting for one of these bridges to cave in one of these days before something is done.
The STAON boss also used the opportunity to call on the Federal Government to review its import policies on rice and vehicles.
Haastrup said the call has become necessary, noting that the policies were fuelling smuggling into Nigeria.
Haastrup, who spoke on sundry issues, said: “There is no need to place any restrictions on the importation of rice into the country as it does not make any economic sense to do so.
“It is common knowledge that neighbouring countries such as the Republic of Benin and Togo rather than Nigeria are the ones benefitting from the restrictions on the importation of rice into the country.
“Since local rice producers cannot meet the present demand for rice consumption which is 1.7 million metric tons per annum, it makes no sense to restrict the importation of the commodity.
“I agree that we must look inwards as a nation but it has to be properly planned. It has to be gradual so that we do not lose the revenue accruing from import duty on rice to the ports located in our neighbouring countries.
“As I speak to you, all the rice imported into the Republic of Benin and Togo end up in the Nigerian market as a result of the porosity of our borders. Even if we keep security operatives at the land borders 24 hours, smugglers will still bring in the rice into Nigeria through the numerous illegal routes all over the place.