Collect between N10, 000 and N20, 000 from eager truck drivers
Extortion begins from 7.00 p.m
Customs compound problem by checking loaded trucks at Otto Wolfe
This is the concluding part of this piece. Yesterday’s installment featured the excesses of the overzealous task force members which led to the brutalization of a Vanguard journalists and commuters.
By Udo Ibuot, Mike Ebonugwo, Emma Nnadozie, Olasunkanmi Akoni, Evelyn Usman & Bose Adelaja
ONE of the reasons that the gridlock on the Oshodi Apapa expressway may not abate has been uncovered. It is the exploitation of the gridlock and suffering of the truck drivers and commuters by task force officials for pecuniary reasons.
Vanguard investigations reveal that the task force officials have converted the sordid situation into a bribe taking venture. A number of check points have reportedly been set up from the Mile 2 Bridge for the task force officials to extort money from these desperate truck drivers.
A number of these extortion points have been identified from the Mile 2 Bridge. At these extortion points, Task Force officials collect between N10,000 and N15,000 from each truck driver to allow them to park around the area.
Otto Wolfe bus-stop, outward Apapa, is another point of extortion by these officials. As a result, they allow truck drivers to park illegally between Berger Suya and Otto Wolfe.
Berger Yard by UBA junction is another extortion point by these officials who are often clad in Military camouflage. Here they openly collect cash from truck drivers and position them on the adjoining streets. One of the avenues created by these officials is the only access road to Vanguard. On Wednesday, some Vanguard staff was prevented from driving out of this road by these trucks while the Task Force officials stationed at the junction looked on.
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Often, the entire bridge linking Berger Yard, Kirikiri Town and Wilmer are taken over by these truck drivers who are emboldened because of the token they pay to these Task Force members. Vanguard observed that as from 7.00pm, motorists plying the ever busy expressway are denied access, as these truck would have blocked the service lane which serves as the only access way. As if the untold sufferings faced by motorists on this route are not enough, Customs officers stop loaded trucks from the ports at Otto Wolfe, Mile Two Oke and Jakande bus-stops, to check their documents.
One of the drivers of the articulated vehicles, Musa Aliyu, who spoke to Vanguard, confided that the policemen attached to the area collect certain amount from them before allowing them to park on the road. He said, “We are helpless here. These policemen, (pointing finger to one of the police spots around Berger Yard), collect at least N20,000 to allow us park here (Vanguard Avenue) for quick access to the port for loading.
“Because we spend weeks waiting for consignments to load due to heavy influx, we have no alternative than to give money to minimize endless wait. We are also tired of this logjam, we honestly, not happy about it but must work for our sustenance on earth so that we do not resort to crime
Another truck driver, Umaru, was seen arguing with one of the task force officials, Wednesday, at Otto Wolfe. Umaru claimed he had paid an unspecified amount to the task force officials at Mile Two before he was allowed to pass. He became angry when was asked to make u-turn at Otto Wolfe, to join the queue.
Efforts to explain to the officials were rebuffed as the latter insisted he must make a u-turn. This caused another hitch at the junction, as Umaru also resisted the order.
When his colleagues gathered to know what the matter was, he spoke in Hausa dialect which was translated as “How would they tell me to go back after collecting money from me at Mile Two? I will remain here if I am not allowed to go. They should go and call whoever they want to call”.
Kehinde Aderibigbe, a truck driver said, yesterday, that unless strict measures were applied at all levels, the solution to the gridlock along Oshodi Apapa expressway will remain a mirage. He said “I have been here (Second Rainbow) for three days now because I do not have money to part with. If I had, I would have loaded.”
Information gathered from the truck drivers revealed that some of their colleagues who part with money were eager to load another round before returning the empty containers. One of them, Sanni said, “We are usually given some time to return the empty containers, each time we load at the port. For some drivers who may be lucky to offload their goods, they may get calls from businessmen to help them load some goods from the port. If these drivers still have much time before the designated time of returning the trucks, they would use the opportunity to run that business before finally taking the empty containers back.
“These are usually those who pay as much as N15,000 to N20,000 to have their trucks positioned close to the ports, while those of us who do not have business or whose time to return empty containers has not expired are left with no choice than to wait patiently on the queue”.
Sadly, despite several complaints made by Vanguard to head of the Task Force charged to find a lasting solution to the gridlock along the axis and other areas of Lagos, Rear Admiral Okon Eyo, no action had been taken as at time of this report.
Also, there has not been an official comment from Eyo on the attack on Vanguard’s staff by his men on Wednesday, or from the Army authorities.
Reasons for presence of trucks
While several reasons have been advanced to explain the invasion of the Apapa axis of the expressway by trucks, including tankers and trailers, those in positions of authority have continued to attribute the resulting gridlock to unnecessary checks and delays at the ports gates and the zeal by truck drivers to return empty containers to the ports.
Vanguard gathered that before any container loaded with goods leaves the port, an amount put at N1 million is deposited, to be refunded when empty containers are returned. However, a deadline of 48 hours is given to owners of the goods to return empty containers, failure of which N16,000 would be deducted per day, until the empty containers are eventually returned.
To beat the deadline, truck drivers queue up to take these containers back. Business men are usually at the receiving end, as it has been discovered that while on the queue, some of these truck drivers are hired to take goods from one point to another, particularly within the state. On arrival, they would lie to the owner of the first goods, who deposited the N1 million that they had been trapped in traffic.
Although concerned security agencies have deployed different means of clearing the trucks off the Oshodi expressway in particular, unfortunately, such efforts have not yielded the desired result. It is, however, noteworthy that the Nigerian Navy’s arrival to the scene produced significant changes, particularly on Malu road up to the Island end. Before now, trucks took over the entire axis, depriving naval personnel of free movement.
But when the commander of the Nigerian Navy Ship Beecroft, Commodore Okon Eyo assumed office, he took it upon himself to address the situation, particularly at the service end . To set the ball rolling, he held a meeting with the relevant stakeholders, which was characterized with accusation and counter-accusations on which agency’s doorsteps the blame should be. However, subsequent meetings produced appreciable results, especially between Marine-Beach-Boundary-to liverpool.
Investigation revealed that the Commodore Eyo led committee introduced a call card system where only trucks issued cards would be allowed entrance into the ports while others were turned back.
In a chat with Vanguard, some non-governmental organisations blamed the development on lack of supervision by appropriate bodies like the Nigerian Ports Authority and law enforcement agents which have relaxed enforcement of the law. Chief Remi Ogungbemi, President, Association of Maritime Truck Owners, AMATO, told Vanguard that one of the causes of the gridlock in Apapa is the fact that the original plan of the port has been tampered with as the designated places for trucks have been cancelled for reasons best known to the government while the truck drivers were chased to various uncomfortable locations.
Before now, these trucks moved through adjoining roads like Mba, Ajeromi and Old Ojo road, to link Apapa. Most times they parked on these roads making it impossible for other road users to ply. But residents who were at the receiving end, protested against these illegal parking. To put an end to it, these access roads have been barricaded with iron bars, thereby preventing trucks from passing through.
Vanguard observed, yesterday, that these barricades were mounted at Orege and Old Ojo road, in the densely populated Ajegunle area of Lagos. There was also no sight of a truck along the routes. Also, streets like Warehouse Crescent, among others, in Apapa were also mounted with these iron bars.
Vanguard’s investigation further revealed that these truck drivers still park on Lagos bridges, against earlier warning by Chairman of the Joint Task Force set up to address the gridlock, Rear Admiral Okon Eyo. These articulated vehicles were sighted in their number on Berger and Ijora bridges.
However, efforts to reach Rear Admiral Eyo on why the task force has failed to apply same magic wand that addressed the gridlock at Marine Beach and Ajegunle areas, failed as he was not on seat when Vanguard visited. Rather, Vanguard was informed that he personally led members of the Task Force to clear the traffic on some roads, ahead of President Muhammad Buhari’s planned visit to Lagos.