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Apapa gridlock: Extortion causes nightmare, losses for importers

‘We pay about N250,000 to police to drive against traffic’

  • ‘We pay about N250,000 to police to drive against traffic’
  • We’ll report culprits to IGP – Sanwo-Olu
  • Over 500,000 containers trapped

Despite many actions taken by the Federal Government, including the disbandment of the Presidential Task Team for the Decongestion of the Port, extortion by security operatives has continued, contributing to the traffic congestion at the Apapa Tin Can Island Port.

The hour-long drive from Mile 2 to the Tin Can Island Port still takes up to two weeks for trucks laden with containers or flat back and petroleum products tankers, findings by Daily Trust revealed.

Uniformed men, especially those purportedly working for the disbanded task team, have been blamed for this by truck drivers and importers.

The escalating incidents of corrupt practices involving uniformed men, particularly the police and those from the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA), have led to various forms of protests by truck drivers, which Daily Trust has captured in a series of reports.

Part of the extortion scheme is the aiding and abetting of illegal use of the Apapa outward lane by truck drivers or owners who pay bribes of about N250, 000 to the uniformed agents.

Others who officially pay for a tag, which was originally initiated by the truck owners association as a means of controlling traffic at the onset of the gridlock caused by failed portions of the roads, are made to wait on queue for over a week.

Findings by our correspondent revealed that the Lagos port has no fewer than 500,000 containers laden with raw materials belonging to manufacturing companies and traders that are currently trapped.

This is in spite of renewed efforts by the Federal Government to decongest the port’s access road.

Manufacturers caught in traffic snare

The managing director of an international beverage company told journalists that his company had run out of the substrate used in manufacturing one of its soft drinks.

“We exhausted our stock and the container loads we imported arrived more than six weeks ago, but have not been able to leave the port,” the managing director, who does not want to be identified, said.

Also, various traders who imported goods to sell during the yuletide season have been caught in the traffic snare. Many of such traders risk losing millions as they were unable to sell the goods before Christmas.

The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi had, penultimate week, inspected the Tin Can Island Port access road in the company of the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Transportation (FMOT), Dr Magdalene Ajani; Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority, Hadiza Bala Usman and the Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers Council, Hassan Bello to find a solution to the gridlock, which has crippled cargo delivery at the nation’s second-busiest seaport.

Also around the same period, the FMOT Permanent Secretary, Dr Magdalene Ajani, held a meeting with interested parties in Lagos, outlining various measures to address the gridlock. The measures include the disbandment of the Presidential Task Team on the Apapa Gridlock and the reconstitution of the traffic management system at the Tin Can Port access road.

The Permanent Secretary also directed the contractor handling the repair of the Apapa-Oshodi expressway to reopen the road leading to the port to clear the gridlock.

However, the contractor has failed to comply with the order, five days after it was issued, while security operatives still mount toll points along the road to extort various sums of money from hapless truckers.

When our correspondent monitored the situation around Tin Can Island, a long queue of trucks were waiting to enter the port, with the road from Tin Can Second Gate to Liverpool taken over by trucks trying to exit the port.

The situation is not different from the Tin Can First Gate to PTML and Coconut areas, as the development has also led to a sharp rise in haulage cost by truck drivers.

The truck drivers, most of whom spoke based on anonymity, blamed the whole scenario on the disbanded Presidential Task Team and the Federal Government’s inability to speed up the road rehabilitation project, which began in 2018.

They revealed that security personnel, particularly the police, had fashioned out means of collecting a fee from the drivers to allow them drive against traffic, particularly between 9pm and 5am.

One of the drivers, Olajide Adegoke said, “Most times we spend eight days to get to the port from Mile 2. The police authorise some trucks to ply one way and use the Brawal bridge to connect the expressway to the ports. Sometimes, those of us who follow the normal lane remain there for up to two weeks, within which period those who choose one way would have made two trips of container delivery.

Obey the rule, face exploitation

Those of us who choose to obey the rule by paying for tags also face exploitation if we load at Tin Can and want to pass through Marine bridge from there. They request for money, but we have had to fight by asking them to explain why we should pay that huge sum.

Some truck drivers pay not less than N200,000 to go through one way, but for those of us who pass through the express, we pay for a tag, which costs about N60,000 to get to Tin Can Island.’’

He said the uniformed men at Mile 2 bridge, led by one Tajudeen, also known as Owonikoko, would be there and their appointed agents in mufti would collect bribes on their behalf.

“If the traffic moves, we spend eight days to get to Tin Can Island Port, if not, we spend about two weeks,’’ he said.

Adegoke said that owing to the bad road and terminal charges, which occasionally attract penalty if import papers expired, the cost of haulage is hiked to about N1.5 million for local delivery.

Begging for survival

Another truck driver told Daily Trust that they often begged for alms to survive as truck owners do not cater for their feeding while in transit for days, as no income is generated during those days.

Another dimension to the situation is the spate of accidents by haulage trucks on the Apapa expressway.

Some of the drivers disclosed that some of their colleagues go off to look for other means to feed their families, leaving the trucks in the care of their boys for the days they are on the queue, often resulting in accidents.

An official of the NUPENG Task Force who spoke anonymously said that when naval personnel were in charge of controlling traffic, things were better.

Completion of the road

According to him, the only solution would be the quick completion of the road by the Federal Government so that things would relatively return to normal and save importers the pains of paying outrageous haulage, which currently ranges from N1.5million to deliver a 40ft container within Lagos and N2.3million for upcountry.

A top-rate bonded terminal operator (name withheld) said this is the worst period he had experienced since he became a stakeholder in the maritime sector over two decades ago.

He wondered why the Federal Government, which had abandoned the Warri, Calabar, Port Harcourt, Koko and other ports over the years, could not give priority to the maintenance of the access road to Apapa and Tin Can Island.

Commenting on the haulage charges for container delivery, the terminal chieftain recalled that about a decade ago, haulage charges were within the reasonable limit as 40ft container cost about N50,000 for local delivery and about N180,000 for upcountry.

A clearing agent who operates at the Tin Can Island Port, Emmanuel Onyeme, said despite the disbandment of the Presidential Task Team, the traffic situation persists due to checkpoints by security and traffic management officials.

He also blamed the failure of the government to open the completed section of the road as promised by the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Transportation penultimate Friday. This, he said, created the avenue for security operatives to extort money from truck drivers.

“The traffic situation remains the same. Although they said they had disbanded the Presidential Task Team, the same people are coming out in the night to carry out their normal shady deals.

“If the government said they had banned the Presidential Task Force, let them open the road so that we would have free movement. With the blockade on the road, how will the road be free? If you come to Tin Can today, the containers that are exiting are not more than five, yet people are paying demurrages,” he said.

Recently, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State inspected the access road and hinted that the government would take over the enforcement of the road clearance from the disbanded Presidential Task Force on Port Decongestion.

The governor said the state would create an operational template for the task force, which would be enforced by a combined team of officers of the LASTMA and the police to restore sanity to the area.

“We have arrested people we felt were operating illegal barge terminals, but we were surprised that some of them had licenses issued by the Federal Government. This is part of the issues we want to resolve,” he said.

Blame games

Governor Sanwo-Olu said the sharp practices observed in the handling of the container operations would be escalated to the minister of transport while the misconduct of the policemen would be reported to the Inspector General of Police.

However, the Committee of Freight Forwarders and Maritime Truckers (COFFAMAT) blamed the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) officials, Presidential Task Force on Port Decongestion and the police for the corruption that allowed truck drivers to park indiscriminately on the road.

The Council of Maritime Transport Union and Association (COMTUA) absolved the police and the task force, accusing the COFFAMAT, truck drivers and other stakeholders of not playing by the rules.

A customs licensed clearing and forwarding agent, Mr Boniface Okoye, heaped the blame on the customs for “giving undue access to the Shippers’ Council to leave empty containers in the port areas, while pointing accusing fingers at the police for looking the other way after allegedly collecting kickbacks.

Following the accusation and counter-accusation, Sanwo-Olu intimated the stakeholders of the state government’s move to checkmate the activities of all the operators that have led to the problems being experienced in the area.

All the stakeholders involved in the alleged racketeering like the police and customs, among others, refused to talk on the matter.

But sources said the anger shown by Governor Sanwo-Olu might be responsible for their apparent silence so as not to join issues with him considering that the aggrieved transporters and drivers have all pointed their accusation in one direction- the security agencies.

 

 

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