How extortion, dilapidated roads worsen Apapa gridlock

By Godfrey Bivbere & Providence Adeyinka

THERE are indications that the problematic traffic bedevilling the port city of Apapa, Lagos and its environ is being fuelled by corruption with some stakeholders smiling to the bank daily even as the sector which is the second largest revenue contributor to the economy bleeds.

Investigation by Vanguard Maritime Report revealed that beneficiaries’ includes officials of government agencies at the ports, shipping companies, terminal operators, leadership of the truckers, security personnel and hoodlums.

Vanguard Maritime Report gathered that some officials of the agencies are bribed to turn a blind eye to trucks breaching the traffic rules at the corridor.

Chairman of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs, ANLCA, Tin-can Island Chapter, Segun Oduntan, said the same situation is playing out along Tin-can Island/Mile2 (outward Tin-can), part of the road that has been completed.

Oduntan said the same cabal allow trucks to drive against traffic to the port, adding that there are lots of people who put on their military uniforms, head to the ports with the intention of making money.

According to him, “We have identified that the Apapa traffic is man-made. Where do you see that a road that is an economic road would be shut down. You did your palliative; you did your construction and graded the road. The same road they are shutting down, they will open in the night for trucks to sneak into some places. People can just wear uniform and start coming to Apapa/Tin-can and be making money.”

Truckers have been crying for help concerning extortion by uniformed men, the government agencies, hoodlums, as well as terminal operators.

A source close to the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, said both the Authority and terminal operators have continued to collect their dues and levies from cargoes at the ports and ships calling at the port.

Former Port Manager of Tin-can Island Port, Abubakar Umar, in an exclusive interview with Vanguard Maritime Report, said that illegal truck movements became worrisome at a point that they had to be turning back some of such trucks.

He stated: “Yes, illegal trucks that are coming from illegal destinations. They push them and because we do not have enough space for such trucks to turn; we have to manage them but sometimes when we discover them early, we try to push them back to where they are coming from,” meaning, if they had paid bribe to get to the point, they would have lost the money.

Vanguard Maritime Report investigation revealed the situation is still the same, as entrance into the port is determined by connection and how much the truck owner is willing to spend.

Recall that President of Association of Maritime Truck Owners, AMATO, Remi Ogungbemi, revealed that some stakeholders in the port services industry are not perturbed about the present traffic chaos, noting that many truckers are equally benefiting from the ugly situation.

He stated: “Different cabals and cartels have been formed and if you do not belong to any recognised group, your truck cannot go through to the ports. Many people are enjoying what is going on because they are benefitting in one way or the other, but I must say that I do not understand this type of benefits because most people are suffering, especially the drivers.

“We are not together; some are having it good while some are having it bad.”

Ogungbemi also said  that there have been series of accusations and counter-accusations about extortion but noted that he is now focused on finding solution to the problems faced by truck drivers.

He noted that the reason for the shift in focus is not unconnected with his previous activism which led to some people calling him names and even threatening his life.

Also speaking, a truck owner, Chief Anthony Agbanusi, said the issue of bringing empty containers to the ports at Apapa was irresponsible and unacceptable, arguing that what the shipping companies have at the ports are buffer zones, while they require holding bays.

Agbanusi said that if permitted, truck owners could build holding bays where containers could be dropped, before moving them to the ports when needed. He said the shipping companies had joined in the rip off, as they collect N25,000 every day, on containers that are on top of their vehicles.

That, he said was the reason they are not serious about creating or having a competent holding bay that could contain a number of trucks at a time. “We appeal to government to permit us to get a place, like along Badagry Road, where we can drop these empty containers so whenever the appropriate ships berth, trailers can convey the empty containers, by night, say from 3 am to 6 am to the ports. That was how we were doing it before the foreigners came and ruined our efforts.

Again, barges should be allowed to work. Governments can allow trains to carry empty containers. All those containers from Abeokuta, Ogun State, to Lagos, could resolve some of these issues. These empty containers littering the places are tying down our businesses and creating confusion on the roads. This way, the roads will be decongested.

Trucker drivers have alleged that they spend between N180,000 to N240,000 on gratifications to police officers, other government agencies, including the Presidential Task Team, PTT, to give them passage on the road to the Apapa ports.

The truck drivers who spoke to  Vanguard Maritime Report  on the updates on the traffic crises in the Apapa port axis, also said that they spend between three and six weeks on traffic from the Mile 2 end of the Apapa – Oshodi Expressway to get to the ports.

A truck driver, Mr Farouk Agodi, told  Vanguard Maritime Report  that the situation is so bad that in some cases the truck drivers are turned back just before reaching the entrance to the port due to lack of space even after spending the money on bribe.

The situation, according to him, has forced some truck owners to opt for movement of their trucks through the waterways by barges.

He said “Imagine from Mile 2 Axis through Fatgbem Petrol Station, to Coconut at the cost of N170,000 per truck, from Coconut to Tin-Can and Gate at the cost of N70,000, totalling N240,000.

“If you go by road, it takes several weeks from Mile2 to Tin-Can Port. If you go by barge it takes you three hours.”

Similarly, anther truck driver, Anthony Agbanusi, said it was high time the Federal Government came to their rescue as they were tired of the intimidation and harassment of the security and other government agencies on the charged with decongesting the Mile2 –Tin-can axis.

According to him, “If you take ferry from Mile2 to Apapa, using barges, it takes only three hours, while it takes weeks by road.

“Now the task force, because by using barges, they are deprived of the monies they extort, they impound your trucks from the barges and intimidate you to part with some money. It is the Task Forces that are causing the congestion on that stretch of road.”

Managing Director, Gold-Link Investment Ltd, Tony Anakebe, blamed Nigeria’s inability to control the congestion in the port, as several ships anchored on Nigerian waters find it difficult to berth due to lack of space.

He said: “Several terminals are filled to the brim and demurrages are being paid by importers. We are having congestion and trucks stay on queue for days just to load laden containers”

“Last week, 20-foot container was loaded with N1.2 million from Tin-Can Island Port to Ajao-Estate in Lagos while 40-foot container cost as much as N1.4 million. This hike in transportation cost was due to the traffic congestion on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway”.

On the issue of corruption, Anakebe added that the management of traffic control on the port access roads has been feeding from the chaos by collecting illegal charges from the truckers.

President/CEO of NICSOL Worldwide Investment Limited, Mr. Nicodemus Odolo, speaking on the traffic situation said the bad roads has affected the movement of goods to and from the port; and has affected the cost of movement of consignments to and from the port.

According to Odolo, “bad port access road for the past four years has affected the cost of transportation. Now containers that are supposed to move from Apapa port to Ikeja at the cost of maybe N30,000, now end cost up to N350,000.

“So all these thing are factored into cost of production and it affects the selling price that is why you see made in Nigeria goods costlier than those imported. So every other country of the world sees Nigeria as their supermarket and that is why they do not pray that we improve economically or that our infrastructure should work or that our electricity should work because when they begin to work and they get developed they have nowhere to sell their manufactured goods.”

It has further compounded the woes there in TCIP, leading to its immediate suspension by the NPA. Before the stripping ban, it cost between N600, 000 to N700, 000 to strip a cargo, and on an average day, about 100 trucks are usually lined up for the exercise.

“The amount for stripping in the Tin Can Island port area is exorbitant but it is simply a factor determined by market forces. The demand for stripping in this area is so high and there is no space for such activity. Therefore, those with the facility hiked the prices but importers don’t care because it saves them from the possible dangers with the multiple Customs units on the highways,” an official at Tin Can Island Port said.

According to the source, stripping, until the NPA banned it, was the norm at TCIP due to the type of consignment received there. He further explained that while Apapa port deals more with cargoes for multinational companies and government project cargoes, TCIP handles cargoes owned by individuals. This feature is said to encourage stripping at the port.

In February, the House of Representatives had resolved to investigate the extortion of truck drivers in Apapa by security operatives.

The resolution 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 House took the resolution following 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 Hon. Olusola Fatoba from Ekiti State.

Moving the motion, Fatoba had said truck operators pay as high as N300,000 to gain access into the port. He said the House was worried that law enforcement agents that are supposed to maintain law and order at the port had formed a “cartel” in cahoots with port officials, extorting money from the transporters.

He said the House was also worried 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 a 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.”

He noted that although the “ugly trend” had been going on unabated for years, yet, it was not this bad in terms of the level of extortion. “When the naval officers were there in charge of the operation to ensure smooth movement, the extortion was usually between N60, 000 to N100, 000. But now that they have been removed, the extortion has become worse,” Fatoba said.

A lawmaker last week at the National Assembly, Leke Abejide, moved a motion that the “House specifically asked that a greater part of two months revenue generated by the Apapa Port, Tin Can Island Port, Kirikiri Lighter Terminal and PTML be committed to the construction of all the access roads for optimal revenue for the country, while the Nigerian Ports Authority and relevant security agencies should halt extortion activities going on at the ports and the access roads.

Abejide expressed surprise that notwithstanding the challenges of the access roads, the Nigeria Customs Service in four commands within the port viz the Apapa, Tin Can lsIand, PTML, and Kirikiri Lighter Terminal, rake in an average of N100 billion in one month. He said if the port access roads were in tip-top condition, perhaps over N500 billion would have been generated.

“If two months of Nigeria Customs revenue from these commands be dedicated to facilitating these access roads and needed infrastructure, the revenue would be recovered in full in less than a month and this will in effect sharply increasing our revenue. Ultimately, this would help stem the frequency of loans from China and other sources, of which we cannot predict the future ramification of the debts for the country,” Abejide submitted.

 

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