*Extortion Tolls Increase
*40 Vessels Stranded
*Transport Ministry Lack Political Will to Address Malaise
As activities in the nation’s seaports increase in the wake of the Yuletide, the port access road to Nigeria’s second busiest port, Tin Can Island Port Complex (TCIP), Apapa, Lagos have worsen.
Apart from the increase in the number of artificial toll points erected by security operatives and some government agencies in the guise of security checks and monitoring, there is also a steady rise in the number of vessels waiting endlessly to berth at TCIP.
Impeccable sources told our correspondent that the Federal Ministry of Transportation which has its corporate headquarters in Dipcharima House, Abuja is not bereft of measures to address the issues at stake but lacks the political will to implement them to a logical conclusion no matter whose ox is gored.
Maritime Bits checks revealed no fewer than 40 vessels calling at TCIP are presently stranded at anchorage as a result of dearth of space to discharge their cargoes at its terminals.
It was also gathered that cargo evacuation from TCIP has been hampered by multiple toll points mounted by security operatives including men of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Security Department, Nigeria Police Force, Nigerian Army and officials of the Presidential Task Team on Apapa gridlock.
The officials, who were posted to the area to manage traffic, now extort various sums of money ranging from N100,000 to N250,000 from truck operators before they are allowed into TCIP.
The situation has led to heavy backlog of cargoes in the port thereby constraining the discharge of more cargoes from vessels arriving in the port.
Several importers, clearing agents and truck owners have expressed concerns over worsening gridlock along the port access road at the TCIP, accusing officials of NPA Security Department, Police and the Presidential Task Team on Apapa gridlock, who were deployed to manage traffic in the area, of massive extortion.
In spite of denials, the stakeholders alleged that in addition to the poor condition of the port access roads, extortion by security and traffic control officials remain the major cause of the unending gridlock along the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway.
Recent reports have exposed a well-organised racket of security officials at TCIP who extort between N70,000 and N200,000 per truck before such trucks are allowed into the port.
Some truck drivers who expressed deep frustration over the development specifically accused officials of the NPA Security Department, Police and the Presidential Task Team on Apapa gridlock of demanding huge sums of money as bribes from them before their trucks are granted access into the port.
The situation, it was gathered, has negatively affected port operation as cargo delivery has been considerably slowed down. It has also led to a sudden rise in haulage and shipping cost, thereby fuelling inflation in the country.
A truck owner and an executive member of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Sanni Bala, said that the security agents including the Presidential Task Team on Apapa gridlock demand huge sums of money ranging from N70,000 to N200,000 depending on the “bargaining power” of the truck driver in order to be allowed into the port.
His words: “The issue of unlawful extortion by NPA security officials, police and the Presidential Task Team along Apapa and Tin Can Port road axis has become a daily occurrence and an institutionalised phenomenon that is taking a serious toll on the income of truck owners and exacerbating the plight of motorists on that axis. The issue of traffic on the access road is artificial and caused by human factor because without the traffic, there is no how they can extort people, so they have to create the traffic by delaying truckers.
“They collect ranging from N70,000 to N200, 000 and as a result, many truckers have been left with nothing to take home and maintain their trucks and yet the Lagos State Government will be complaining of rickety trucks on the roads whereas it is the outcome of the extortion by Police and others and they have refused to vacate the roads.”
The Chairman of AMATO, Chief Remi Ogungbemi in his comments, corroborated the position of Bala saying, “What is happening at Tin Can is a situation of the more you look, the less you see. Business is still going on as usual and the Task Team has refused to leave because they are benefiting from the chaos. They have formed a cartel and if you are not in that group, they will not pass your truck no matter who you are.”
A clearing agent operating at the Tin Can Island Port, Ojo Akintoye, said there are more than four road blocks between Tin Can Island Port First and Second Gates set up by the Presidential Task Team, Police and NPA officials where each truck is expected to part with money before being allowed passage into the port.
“The extortion by NPA and other security agencies who claim to be controlling traffic on the road is the cause of the impediment we are experiencing daily along the port access road. From First Gate to Second Gate, we have about four road blocks mounted by the security agents and the trucks must part with money before they can move. As we speak, we pay between N1.1 million and N1.2 million per truck as against N100,000 to move our containers out of the port. The cheapest truck you can get to hire is N1 million. We have never experienced it this way before”, Akintoye added.
On his part, the National Vice President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Kayode Farinto called for the disbandment of the Presidential Task Team, which he said has become “a money-making machine”.
Farinto alleged that clearing agents lose an average of N300 million weekly to illegal collection by NPA security officials, Police and members of the Presidential Task Team just as he pointed out that to enter the port, truck operators pay as high as N280,000 to security operatives on the road.
He decried the absence of an electronic call-up system, saying that the manual call up system being used by NPA was fuelling corruption in TCIP and elsewhere.
According to the ANLCA National Vice President, it is high time the NPA began the electronic call-up system. The manual call-up system is full of anomalies and it is encouraging corruption and it looks as if the government is not even ready to stop corruption.
It is on record that in February, the House of Representatives resolved to investigate extortion of truck drivers in Apapa by security operatives.
The resolution of the lower chamber of the National Assembly was made after lawmakers identified extortion by security officials as being a major factor responsible for the traffic challenges as operatives delayed the movement of trucks drivers who refused to cooperate with them.
The decision of the National Assembly was sequel to a resolution consequent upon a motion titled “Urgent Need to Investigate the unwarranted Extortion of Truck Operators and other Port users by Law Enforcement Agents at Apapa Port”, moved by Olusola Fatoba from Ekiti State.
Giving an insight into his motion, Fatoba said truck operators pay as high as N200,000 to N300,000 to gain access into the port just as he pointed out that the House is worried that law enforcement agents that are supposed to maintain law and order at the port have now formed a “cartel” in cahoots with unscrupulous port officials, extorting money ranging from N200,000 to N300,000 per truck to gain entrance into the port, to load or offload containers.
According to him, the ugly trend had been going on unabated for years, but became worse after naval officers were removed from the operations, as the sum of N60,000 to N100,000 was extorted when the naval officers were in charge of the operation.
The legislator alleged that as a result of the activities of law enforcement agents in Apapa, “a truck may spend up to two months before gaining access into the terminal which is causing a lot of hardships and huge increase in the cost of doing business which may inevitably lead to unrest and breakdown of law and order by the frustrated and oppressed truck operators”.
The Managing Director of Port & Cargo Handling Services, John Jenkins also added his voice to the malaise in TCIP saying that there was a near total collapse of cargo delivery along the Mile 2/Tin Can Island port access road.
His words: “Transfer of containers by road is almost not in existence because the road is blocked and you can’t get containers out. The problem is the road. If the problem of the road is solved, the problem inside the port will be solved. Before we never had block stack containers because the cargo used to move freely but not anymore now.
“There are in excess of 40 vessels at anchorage. At Port and Cargo, we could only bring seven alongside now. Last month, we kept one of the MSC vessels there for four days because they could not discharge and this month, we have kept vessels for more than two days already because we do not know where to put the containers. I have worked in this port industry all my life; I have never seen roads like this. We could form a palliative solution. We are not happy; we got people losing their means of livelihood everyday because of the poor condition of the road.”
As the countdown to the Yuletide begins, the tales of woes on the activities of the cartel in TCIP seem to have no end as the Federal Government seemed to be at its wit end in finding a lasting solution to the ills plaguing the seaports situated in Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre in recent times.