By Emma Nnadozie, Crime Editor and Godwin Oritse

Police operatives and their naval counterparts posted to Apapa Wharf are at war over the collection of tolls from truck drivers.    The situation is such that a clash of interest is imminent following alleged threats by naval operatives at the port to attack policemen posted to the main gate at the wharf.

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Vanguard gathered that trouble started after truck drivers who were paying the official rate of N25, 000, 00 to Ports Authorities before gaining entry into the wharf suddenly protested against further payment on the ground that they were paying N5, 000, 00 to the navy inside the Port.

Sources at the Port intimated Vanguard that initially, naval men were diligently helping in clearing traffic in the Ports but they later took advantage of it and, in connivance with some officials of Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, decided to force truck drivers to pay N5, 000.00 per vehicle inside the port.

According to sources, “what they do is to force truck drivers to pay N5, 000.00 after which they collect clearance papers before they are allowed inside the Port to load their vehicles and the payment takes place normally at night.    They have been doing this in exclusion of policemen posted at the main gate in the port and drivers who refused to comply would be beaten black and blue.  To this end, they also created an office inside the port where a top naval officer was in charge of the payments.”

This development, sources said, has placed both the police, Naval authorities and officials of Port authorities on a collision course to the extent that drivers would confront policemen posted to the main gate anytime they tried to control their movement.    The drivers were insisting that they should be given free access into the wharf because they had already paid to naval men inside the wharf.

The source alleged that a top naval officer once threatened to physically engage the police at the main gate for stopping vehicles from having free access into the wharf. “It has degenerated to the extent that drivers daily cause commotion at the main gate accusing the police of blocking their way with intent to extort whereas the problem was caused by both the navy and security men attached to the Nigerian Ports Authority. There is presently a cold war among all the security agencies at the port and it may soon degenerate into an open fracas, if care is not taken”, the source said

Vanguard learned that the situation got so bad that truck owners and drivers met with the Managing Director of the NPA, Ms Hadeza Bala Usman where she was told that the agency’s security personnel were involved in high level extortion.    At that meeting, the NPA boss was said to have been very angry at the fact that her staff were involved in such unwholesome practice and vowed to deal with whoever was caught.

When contacted for comments over the development, the Commissioner of Police in-charge of Port at Apapa, Celestine Okafor told Vanguard, “I am not aware that men of the Nigerian Navy are in control of traffic at the Wharf. However, I am aware that the Navy Commodore at the Wharf threatened to attack my men at the main gate.    Police are supposed to be at the gate and not the Navy.    That’s all I know.”

In his reaction, the President of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners, AMATO, Chief Remi Ogungbemi confirmed the high level of extortion by some security personnel attached to the port stating that the menace was orchestrated by officers of the Nigerian Police and security personnel of the Nigerian Ports Authority.

The AMATO president also said that the unscrupulous security men have taken advantage of the traffic situation to extort money from truck drivers who spend endless hours, days, and sometimes weeks on the road to gain entrance into the port to drop and pick up containers for delivery. “It is true extortion   going on but since the Nigerian Navy got involved in the management of the traffic situation, the rate of extortion has reduced drastically. They are capitalizing on the traffic situation to perpetuate the crime”.

Ogungbemi, however, suggested that an electronic call up system for trucks to come and load containers be put in place so as to ensure a free flow of traffic at all times adding that the    Nigerian Ports Authority was planning to build a truck terminal as a way to further ease the gridlock.

He said “There should be an electronic call up system for trucks coming to the ports, if this is done, it will free the Apapa area of traffic. NPA is planning a truck terminal and it is our hope that they will put a call up system in place.”

Effort to reach Mr. Mohammed Anas, General Manager Security at the NPA for comments was futile as calls to his phone line were not answered.

In his comment, the Commander, Nigerian Navy Ship Beeccroft, Commodore Okon Eyo said: “Navy used to be part of the security agencies in the port, but they have been removed from there for many years now. Since the democratic era Navy have not been there though they may have consignment that they want to clear too. So, as a corporate organization we have an agency that monitors our shipment in the port and does the work of clearing and forwarding strictly for the Navy, unless other armed forces approach and request that we assist.

“The issue of extortion is a problem. It is even better now because we have dismantled so many structures that supported that. Even though we are not there yet, we should commend ourselves with what we have achieved.    Civilians are also into extorting, many civilians are acting as errand boys for uniformed men because they benefit from it.

“However, we have made some arrests. I have arrested naval personnel, including impersonators. I have also arrested policemen, Army personnel, Immigration personnel and LASTMA operatives. I arrested all of them personally and my men also made some of the arrests.  It was something that they have been doing   a long while.”

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.