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Worry as extortion at Lagos seaports defies measures

By Adaku Onyenucheya
27 April 2022   |   2:40 am
Port users heaved a sigh of relief when the Port Standing Task Team (PSTT) flagged off the third phase of its operation tagged ‘Operation Free the Port Corridor’, a measure designed

Military men in uniform on stand by, while an unidentified man stops a truck driver to demand for money to allow him pass… PHOTO: ADAKU ONYENUCHEYA

Dislodge, don’t reallocate checkpoints, stakeholders advise

Port users heaved a sigh of relief when the Port Standing Task Team (PSTT) flagged off the third phase of its operation tagged ‘Operation Free the Port Corridor’, a measure designed to dislodge illegal checkpoints and hoodlums extorting truck drivers along the port access roads.

The task team is an offshoot of the Nigerian Port Process Manual (NPPM), which was launched in 2021 by Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, to improve the ranking of Nigeria on the global corruption index.

Accordingly, the task team comprises 180 personnel drawn from various agencies and security organisations to make the ports’ access roads free of traffic congestion.

The PSTT revealed through a painstaking investigation that, apart from the Tin Can Island Port area, there are 26 illegal checkpoints between the Apapa port corridor and Sifax bonded terminal, Ijora alone.

The Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers Council, Emmanuel Jime, also attested that the ports’ corridors do not have a free flow of traffic due to “unnecessary checkpoints,” which do not make for an atmosphere free of extortion and other forms of corrupt practices.

The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) had also raised concern over the high level of corrupt activities taking place in the nation’s ports, which the agency said is causing foreign investors to shun investing in Nigeria and instead, patronising neighbouring countries.

The ICPC chairman, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye said the corrupt practices have led to reputational damage to the country and caused the economy to bleed.

While flagging off the PSTT project at the Nigerian Shippers Council headquarters in Apapa, Lagos on April 14, the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Transportation, Magdale Ajani, said to free the port corridor, it must be done holistically and with the support of other agencies to achieve ease of doing business in Nigerian ports and the corridors.

A few days after, the Lagos State government and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) streamlined checkpoints along the port corridors and feeder routes to eliminate illegal extortion points.

According to the Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Transportation, Oluwatoyin Fayinka, the checkpoints at Apapa and Tin Can axis have been assigned to specific agencies as part of the state government’s efforts to eliminate gridlock and curb illegal extortion.

The checkpoints were assigned to NPA, Lagos State Government, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), Rapid Response Squad (RRS) and the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) to manage independently without interference from other agencies, while Military checkpoints were disbanded.

Also, trucks would no longer be stopped for ETO at Ijora Badia (LPC axis), Mile 2 under and over the bridge, UBA (TCIPC corridor), while truck movement would not be interfered with at NAGAFF, Area B, RRS Marine Bridge, 7up, Fidelity Roundabout, Etisalat Roundabout (LPC axis) and RRS (TCIPC corridor).

Stakeholders’ pain points
THE news of streamlining and assigning checkpoints to government agencies did not go down well with port users, as they decry more hardship in the movement of cargoes along the ports corridors.

They lamented that previous committees set up by the Federal and State governments to address traffic flow turned the ports into cash cow, while expressing fear that the new development could worsen the situation.

They said the majority of extortions are perpetrated by security operatives, particularly the police and LASTMA, which is contributing to the traffic congestion at the Apapa and Tin Can port.

Recall that NPA had last year identified over 30 toll points manned by security personnel, where bribes are allegedly being collected before trucks are allowed into the Apapa and Tin Can Ports.

The National President, Council of Maritime Transport Union and Association (COMTUA), Adeyinka Aroyewun, questioned the manning of checkpoints by government agencies when the electronic call-up system was set up to ward off human interference responsible for extortions and gridlock along the port access roads.

“Setting up of the checkpoints and using the same personnel that we have been complaining about to man these positions is still trying to give a medium for the reward system.

“It has been an issue of who is in charge of what point between police and LASTMA. Now they are trying to share it among themselves so that the collection would be easy and the process of sharing the proceeds will not be difficult,” he stated.

He said for each checkpoint at Biggs and Eleganza truckers pay N15, 000 for empties and N20, 000 for trucks with exports

He said the hoodlums who claim to be union representatives, have about 50 points in Amuwo Odofin alone, which is increasing by the day as they are being aided by the police and local government.

Aroyewun said the state government does not have any business determining checkpoints on Federal Government roads, especially LASTMA 200 metres checkpoints on the port access roads, which is a concern for truckers.

On the implications for truckers, Aroyewun explained: The return on a truck is not even up to N5, 000 or N10, 000 in some cases and it still falls into the hands of LASTMA and the agency on abandoned vehicles.

“For instance, you charge N200, 000 to transport cargo from the port, you buy gas of N60, 000, the driver collects N30, 000, the conductor and manager collect their fees, at the end of the day you will be left with about N50, 000. Then the checkpoints manned by both state and non-state actors on the road collect from N2, 000 to N5, 000 and in the end you are left with little or nothing. If your truck breaks down on the road or falls into the hands of LASTMA or the abandoned vehicle agency, they tow the vehicles and charge you N150, 000 or a fine of N50, 000.”

The National Publicity Secretary of the Association of Registered Freight Forwarders of Nigeria, (ARFFN), Taiwo Fatomilola, described the assigning of checkpoints to the agencies as “business as usual.”

He said these agencies have been accused of engaging hoodlums to extort truckers and owners of the cargoes being moved.

He said the aftermath is that the amount spent would be added to the cost of the goods and this will cause inflation.

The President, National Council of Managing Director of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, said Lagos state has no power to manage federal roads as they have limitations in ports operations.

“It is the Minister of Finance and Transport that can set up such a committee to man the port roads and not Lagos state and NPA.

“Lagos State cannot streamline the activities at the ports because the National government owns the ports. The Port Act does not give the state government power to do what they just did,” he said.

Amiwero said the state government should be concerned with assigning land for holding bays and truck parks to the NPA rather than duplicating the operations of the Port Standing Task Team.

He said the Federal Government concessioned the ports without a law that regulates and enforces concessionaires to provide holding bays and truck parks for their operations, which he said is responsible for the menace experienced at the ports.

‘Apapa pass yahoo’ gains popularity
THE Port Manager, Lagos Ports Complex of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Funmilayo Olotu, revealed that a popular slogan, ‘papa Pass Yahoo’, used among the extortionist committees and their members in allusion to Internet fraudsters, reflects the reality and level of sleaze at the ports.

She pointed out that the collapsed portion of the road network between the Lagos port and Orile, gave room for camp boys and hoodlums to extort truckers, adding that they are all fronting for one agency or the other.

She said the Tincan port corridor calls for national concern because the boys operating on the road enjoy backup from powerful operators.

Olotu charged the PSTT to be resilient and unwavering in the task of ridding Apapa port access road of corruption and extortion.

A chieftain of the National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), Abdullahi Inuwa, said a lot of truck drivers have received beatings from hoodlums at the checkpoints aside from the delays and unfriendly issues causing foreign investors to shun the nation’s ports.

He said many trucks have been kicked out of business, as they can no longer continue the business after experiencing losses due to the situation.

He, however, expressed hope that the new format will bring positive feedback in tackling the menace at the port, especially the ICPC involvement in the PSTT committee.

Fatomilola urged the federal government to fast-track the construction of the road, which extortionists are leveraging, noting that the workers should be made to work 24 hours daily to ensure its completion.

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