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Maritime operators seek change, port, border reforms

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Entrance to Apapa Port, Lagos. PHOTO: SULAIMON SALAU<br />


Despite the seaports being closed for about five days, the wreck left behind by hoodlums in the aftermath of the EndSARS protests on the maritime sector are unimaginable.

From the burning of the seven-storey building of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) headquarters, to attacks on the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), the terminal operators, clearing agents, and the truckers, the pains would take a while to heal.

While counting their losses to the crisis, stakeholders in the sector urged the government to bring to bear the real change that Nigerians desire in the maritime sector, calling for holistic reforms in the industry.

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Although, NPA is yet to issue an official statement on the quantum of damage, The Guardian observed that about 50 vehicles parked in the premises (both private and official buses) were set ablaze and destroyed. The office building was also torched; the glasses broken, while valuables such as televisions, computers among others were carted away during the protests.

An eyewitness, Ayodele Samuel, who gave a vivid description of how hoodlums who masqueraded as EndSARS protesters, gained access into the corporate head office of NPA in Marina, Lagos, said a few members of staff who were on duty had to find other escape routes, as the rampaging youths wielding dangerous weapons unleashed mayhem on the building.

Nigeria’s largest seaports, Apapa and TinCan Island Ports were shut down not just in protest of police brutality, but also against excessive extortion by the government agencies in the ports, as the protesters included clearing agents, truckers and Apapa youths, who called for an end to Customs multiple units, bad roads, and bad governance.

To make their demands, the protesters blocked the two-port access roads leading into the Lagos ports – Wharf Road, and Creek Road, thereby paralysing activities at the seaports.

Security agents immediately shut the gates to the ports, while reports alleged that one of the protesters was shot dead in the process.

An importer, Andrew Obasi, estimated that the maritime sector has lost hundreds of billions of naira to the #EndSARS protest, adding that the losses are huge in terms of man hours, demurrage that would be paid on delayed berthing and discharge of cargoes.

He said the protests also offered an opportunity for port operators to vent their anger against extortion, corruption and other challenges they are facing in the hands of security agents at the ports.

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The #EndSARS protests also compounded challenges faced on account of the border closure with roads leading in and out of the Idiroko and Seme borders blocked by the rampaging youths. The Customs, Immigration and other security officers fled to safety, while some Customs formations were attacked, leading to the loss of one officer, with many severely injured.

In fact, findings revealed that the numerous Customs checkpoints along the Idiroko and Owode borders were on Tuesday and Wednesday attacked by angry mobs.

A trader in the border area, Kudirat Ayanfe told The Guardian that some smugglers allegedly used the opportunity of the protest to sponsor some youths in the communities to attack Customs checkpoints at the borders, and allegedly led to the killing of a Customs officer.

For several days, the borders were left open while smugglers had a field day bringing in imported rice and other banned items into the country unchecked.

The Spokesman, Ogun 1 Command, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), DSC Hammed Bukoye Oloyede, who confirmed the attack said hoodlums at Oke-Ore, Yewa South Local Government Area of Ogun State, on Tuesday night attacked officers of the Command, during which one officer, an Assistant Inspector of Customs, Solomon Alagye, was allegedly killed.

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Oloyede said the hoodlums, who came in their large numbers armed with guns, machetes, axes, charms and other dangerous weapons, had attacked a Customs patrol base at Oke Ore, and killed Alagye on the spot.

He said another officer, who sustained gunshot injury is responding to treatment at the 192 Brigade Military Hospitals, Owode. On Friday, the hoodlums with an intention to loot and set the Command ablaze also attacked the Kwara Area Command of Customs.

Public Relations Officer, Kwara Area Command, Chado Zakari, who confirmed this to The Guardian, said: “the hoodlums came in large numbers armed with guns, machetes, axes, charms and other dangerous weapons and attempted to unleash mayhem on the Command.”

He said this led to about a 40-minute exchange of gunfire, with two officers sustaining serious injuries, and responding to treatment.

“It is important to state that 24 motorcycles and one Keke NAPEP meant to move goods out of the Command were seized during the encounter,” he said.

Despite the protests, the APM Terminals, Apapa, ran skeletal services during the period, and is gradually resuming full operations.
In a memo to its customers, it stated: “We are currently gating out the trucks which have been trapped in our facility through the curfew, and our focus for tonight will be to complete the current vessel alongside and work the barges which can get to the terminal. We also anticipate Truckers to come in for deliveries and believe many are now at the gate ready to re-start work.

“Due to the curfew hours, we cannot run a full day shift. So, on Sunday after 8am, we will change shifts and continue operations tomorrow (Monday), starting at 11am and finishing at 1600hours to get our staff home safely. The night shift will then resume, running as normal 7pm – 7am (12 hours). We will be back, close to 24 hour operations by Monday 26th of Oct 2020.

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“Free up for free: We are offering six storage free days and would ask that customers take delivery to enjoy the offer within the next 10 days. Thereafter, our offer lapses and all pending (storage free etc) invoices will revert to full storage,” it stated.

The terminal implored customers to consider multi-modal solutions for cargo delivery, with barging being the most popular option. For the truckers, they need real change at the ports. The Chairman, Association of Maritime Truck Owners, Remi Odugbemi, reeled out an 11-point demand to The Guardian.

He said: “The transporters demand from the authorities as conditions to suspend protest include: dissolution of Presidential Task Force; daily passing of export trucks, daily passage of reefer containers; dissolve all illegal checkpoints of extortion in Apapa and Tincan Ports,”

Others are: “Reduce the number of Custom checkpoints; Customs should leave ports gate and exit trucks from APM Terminals; unconditional release of all trucks seized by Customs; unconditional release of trucks and cargo seized at the CMS jetty.”

The group also demanded unconditional release of trucks seized by LASTMA and abandoned by the Lagos State Government; improved operational efficiency by APM Terminals; and that all shipping lines must have functional holding bays.

However, the clearing agents condemned the looting and burning down of the NPA Headquarters, the attack on Customs facilities and killing of officers.

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President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero noted that the EndSARS protest is not about the ports, but about bad governance generally.

“We need to start to change the way we do things now. These youths are not NLC, APC, or PDP. Now the youths have taken over. They are seriously angry. Over 50 years, nobody has taken care of them.

“This is time for the government to reform the whole system and change many leaders, those that are too old and those that are corrupt. We have to change many things, because the country is not going to be the same again.

“It’s so unfortunate that they had to burn NPA Headquarters, because NPA is not one of them. So we have to assess the current situation and start to change the way we do things. Customs should ensure that they sanitise their system and operate professionally, rather than engaging in illegal activities that seem to be intimidating the masses.”

He equally enjoined the terminal and shipping companies to refund the COVID-19 rent waivers, which they have continued to ignore, warning that “We are going to visit those people soon, if they refuse to pay.”

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