How security agents, touts extort Lagos port operators N4.8b daily

Extortions at Lagos ports have become a norm, even as efforts to curb the menace have failed. Proliferation of checkpoints and other illegal activities continue, while perpetrators are rarely brought to
Touts having field day extorting truck drivers at Lagos port access roads PHOTOS: ADAKU ONYENUCHEYA

Touts having field day extorting truck drivers at Lagos port access roads PHOTOS: ADAKU ONYENUCHEYA
Extortions at Lagos ports have become a norm, even as efforts to curb the menace have failed. Proliferation of checkpoints and other illegal activities continue, while perpetrators are rarely brought to book, ADAKU ONYENUCHEYA writes.

Despite interventions by Federal and state governments to curb corruption at the Lagos ports corridor, extortionists are still thriving in their business, as they make N4.8 billion from port operators daily.
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About 50 checkpoints for extortion exist around Mile 2, Sunrise, Coconut, Tincan Port second gate, Kirikiri, FATGBEMS, Badagry Express Road and inside Amuwo Odofin, Ijora Olopa, Costain. At these checkpoints mounted by security personnel, state and non-state actors, truck drivers are extorted between N2, 000 and N10, 000 daily.

The Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Muhammed Bello-Koko, had also confirmed that no less than 30 toll-points for extortion had sprung up around the Apapa and Tin Can ports.

The Guardian gathered that this led NPA, Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) and Lagos State government to team up in the battle against illegal checkpoints mounted around Lagos ports corridor.

NPA had assured that it was ready to discipline any of its staff involved in the menace, while moving some of them out of port locations.

Also, the Special Adviser to Lagos State Governor on Transportation, Oluwatoyin Fayinka, confirmed the government’s enforcement of zero tolerance on illegal extortion and activities of miscreants through Special Mobile Courts created to address the aforementioned challenges.

He warned that any union and hoodlums caught extorting motorists along the ports corridor would be arrested and prosecuted.

As part of efforts to tackle the challenges, the Federal Government, through the Port Standing Task Team (PSTT), implemented the Operation Free Port Corridor to remove all illegal checkpoints and stop extortion tendencies fuelling gridlock and congestion on the port access roads.

But eight months after, the illegal checkpoints are still at their usual spots with a rise in the number of miscreants, who have been moving freely extorting truckers continuously, damaging their trucks and inflicting injuries on drivers that resist payment.
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There have been no record of arrests or prosecution of extortionists at the ports corridor.

When The Guardian visited the Lagos ports corridor, miscreants were having a field day forcefully extorting drivers with their trucks in motion, as some with weapons climbed the driver’s side and attacked both the driver and his colleague for refusing to stop and give them money.

According to CPCS Transcom Limited, an international infrastructure development firm specialised in private sector participation in transportation and power infrastructure, operations, investment, policy and regulation, an estimated average of 16,000 container trucks comes in and out of Lagos every day.

The Guardian findings showed that each truck that passes through the 50 illegal checkpoints pay about N6, 000, which when summed up would be about N300, 000 daily.

Meanwhile, the only officially receipted payment to the government is between N5,000 to N10,000.

The General Secretary, Association of Bonded Terminal Operators of Nigeria, Haruna Omolajomo, confirmed that haulage operators, who patronise the terminal he works with, claim they pay between N150,000 to N300,000 before each truck could be allowed to successfully arrive at their destination.

The Administration Secretary, Association of Maritime Truck Owners of Nigeria (AMATO), Mohammed Sani, lamented the artificial barriers created by extortionists in the maritime ecosystem, by both government and non-governmental actors, despite the introduction of ETO system, is taking a serious toll on the haulage sector and ability of the maritime logistics sector to deliver efficiently and profitably.

He said there are over 50 checkpoints of extortion of unofficial and un-receipted monies around Tin Can and Apapa. Ports.

“When you come to load cargoes from the port that will help generate revenue for the country, someone will block you and collect money before you load, same with dropping off the containers.

On the amount collected at each checkpoint, Sani said: “It depends on the mood of the person at the checkpoint, some collect between N5, 000 and N10, 000. Unfortunately, those who are supposed to ensure the place is orderly are the ones involved in this illegality. They are encouraging and collaborating with hoodlums to extort truckers that want to drop export goods that will fetch foreign exchange for Nigeria.

“If you don’t have money, they will not allow you to pass or they damage the trucks, which sometimes lose control and then kill people in the process, sometimes the containers fall off the trucks and cause ghastly accidents.”
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The National President, Council of the Maritime Transport Unions and Associations (COMTUA), Adeyinka Aroyewun, said there are 20 checkpoints from Coconut to Tincan Port Second gate, where N2, 000 is forcefully collected per point from truckers.

Aroyewun also alleged that there are 30 extortion points between Mile 2 and Sunrise where between N2, 000 and N6, 000 are forcefully collected per point, including Kirikiri, FATGBEMS, Badagry Express Road and inside Amuwo Odofin.

“We are deeply troubled as our members are injured and killed by these criminals daily without any concerns from authorities and this is totally unacceptable especially as our members are living in very hard times due to poor return per trip and debts which is given impetus by this ugly state of affairs,” he said.

Former President, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Eugene Nweke, said as at today, for a Custom broke to successfully deliver a twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) container to Alaba International Market, he spends between N150, 000 to N250, 000 to touts.

Giving a breakdown of the analysis, Nweke said from the Mile 2 to Sunrise, which has 30 checkpoints at N2, 000 is N60, 000, Coconut to Tincan, which is 20 checkpoints at N2000 is N40,000, from Ijora to Iyana Iba tuning is N45,000, while from Iyana Iba tuning to Alaba International Market is N70,000, which totals N215,000.

He said this is what custom brokers and their clients encounter for trucking their cargo to the warehouse.

Nweke said most often, it ends in exchange of blows, forceful opening of the container to tamper with the laden content and damage of trucks, noting that to avoid such, they pay under pressure.

All efforts to cleanse and sanitise the ports corridor of illegality posing danger to the maritime sector have become difficult.

This is just as the extortionists have gone haywire with the cash crunch biting hard across all businesses in the country.

The haulage operators are being forced to part with cash at every extortion checkpoint by different labour and trade union boys, as those who have no cash are not allowed passage.
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“Our motor boys must always have cash on them to move around because when you go to the port to pick cargoes, you won’t be allowed to pass through some checkpoints if you don’t settle those union boys. They don’t collect transfer from you. It is either you pay cash or you won’t move an inch,” Aroyewun said.

The COMTUA boss said the truckers are at the mercy of the POS operators who charge them high for giving cash.

“We are always at the mercy of POS operators, because our clients, who own those cargoes we pick at the ports, don’t pay us cash. They make transfers into the truck owners’ account. How the truck owner gets cash for his motor boys to navigate through all the extortion checkpoints along the ports access roads is none of the cargo owners business,” he said.

Aroyewun disclosed that the miscreants brag openly that nobody or government can stop them, while claiming ownership of the land.

According to him, the miscreants warned that trucker or haulage operators unwilling to comply should leave or cease doing business in the state.

“This only leaves any rational being to query if the government functions to encourage and support illegality and criminals who openly act against established laws and order in the state,” he asked.

Speaking on the economic impact, Omolajomo said extortion has made Nigerian ports most expensive to do business in West and Sub-Saharan Africa.

He said the effects are enormous on the business of terminal operators, noting that it makes their business operation costly and on the higher side after spending more money than what is ordinarily expected.

Omolajomo said this is actually making the agents and importers always be at loggerheads, adding that when the cost of extortion is added to the official cost, the importers through the agents cannot afford to pay.

He said the result is that containers are abandoned in the terminals, which later become overtime cargoes that may be auctioned.

He said when the containers become overtime, both government and the terminal operators are bound to suffer it.

Omolajomo said terminal operators won’t be able to recoup the money spent on it, while the revenue that was supposed to accrue to federal government would be lost, just as the shipping company would also lose at least 60 per cent of what they supposed to collect.

On solutions to address the menace, Omolajomo said to reduce the issue to the barest minimum, all hands must be on deck.

He said maritime regulatory bodies and government must ensure compliance with best maritime international practice.

He also said regulatory bodies should jointly have a monitoring team to ensure no taskforce, touts and other officials of government agencies extort money from truck operators.

Omolajomo called for public display of telephone numbers, which should also be sent to all truck drivers, owners and terminal operators, while the monitoring team takes immediate action on any case reported to them.
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