By Steve Agbota, [email protected]
Bribery and corruption, a new norm among government agencies set up with the mandate to clear traffic around the port access road at the Tin Can Island Port Complex (TCIPC), Lagos, are now taking a toll on the business of government.
This is as export cargoes running into over a N1trillion are currently trapped at the port with commuters and Apapa residents still bearing the brunt of hardship with the perennial gridlock on the port access roads.
Officials of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Security Department, Police and the Presidential Task Team on Apapa gridlock, deployed to manage traffic in the area have been accused of consistent extortion by importers, clearing agents and truck owners.
Aside the condition of roads around the Tin Can Island Port, the high rate of extortion by security agents and traffic control officers remains a major issue causing gridlock in the area, given that over eight roadblocks are mounted along the port access road.
Daily Sun learnt that the development is making it difficult for trucks to ac cess the ports during the day except at night due to the alleged brazen extortion by officials of the Presidential task team on traffic control in Apapa.
Investigation revealed that the task team allegedly extort truck drivers and agents to the tune of N280,000 per truck before allowing them entry into the seaports. While the said illegal collections by members of the task force averaged N300 million per week, the illegal collections could amount to over N1.3 billion annually.
Taiwo Ayeni, a truck driver who spoke with Daily Sun at the weekend at Tin Island port road, said extortion of drivers by security agents has become a matter of “Pay As You Go,” as failure to bribe them automatically means denial of access to the ports.
“They are in caucus. Members of the caucus enter port freely while majority are languishing, suffering, in agony and pain. If you don’t give them money, they will turn you back. We want the government to intervene because it is like we are here working for these security agents and task team,” he alleged.
However, port users who expressed their anger said if the Federal Government fails to address this issue within 21 days, drivers will be compelled to paralyse all the port operations, which may even be worse than the recent #ENDSARS protest.
Speaking with Daily Sun, an exporter, Prince Enahoro Martins, said traffic on the access port roads is artificially created by human factors to extort money from truck drivers, exporters, importers and freight forwarders by creating traffic in order to delay truckers.
“As we speak now, from First Gate to Second Gate, we have several roadblocks mounted by these intentionally organised looters called security agents and the trucks must path with money before they can move else they turn you back.
“Do you know that from Mile 2 axis through Fatgbem Petrol Station, to Coconut costs about N170,000 per truck, while Coconut to Tin Can Gate costs N70,000, amounting to N240,000 on the minimum excluding other bribes. My sesame seeds truck stayed for 26 days on the road because the driver refused to bribe his way through,” he alleged.
According to him, most exporters have lost their potential customers due to these satanic elements called security agents around the port corridors.
He said exporters tried to meet up their contractual agreement through high cost barging system but the task force would go after exporters because by using barges, they have been deprived of bribes and extortion and they now impound exporters trucks from the barges forcing them to part with some money.
Also speaking, the National Vice President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Kayode Farinto, called for the disbandment of the Presidential Task Team, which he said has become “a money-making machine”.
According to him, clearing agents lose an average of N300 million weekly to illegal collection by NPA security officials, Police and members of the Presidential Task Team, adding that to enter the port, truck operators pay as high as N280,000 to security operatives on the road.
Farinto also lamented the absence of an electronic call-up system, saying that the manual call up system being used by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) is fuelling corruption.
“It is high time the NPA began the electronic call-up system. The manual call-up system is full of anomalies and it is encouraging corruption, making look as as if government is not even ready to stop corruption,” he said.
An importer, Dede Emeka Fidelis, said corruption among the security agents and task team has taken taking another dimension as they review their prices every year and nobody is doing anything about it.
“My brother, that is why you see prices of certain goods keep increasing every time. These corrupt elements are responsible for it because no businessman will like to lose money. That is why we need to add extra cost to recoup our money after all the extortion at the ports.
“Today, container stripping has return to the ports despite being abolished by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) last month. Just last month, the Authority issued a memo to that effect. Then, we discovered that container stripping was part of factors feuling gridlock, which we considered illegal and kicked against it. But less than a month after, they have started operating it again.
He lamented that security operatives mounted about eight illegal checkpoints between Tin Can First and Second Gates to extort truck drivers at each point, by collecting between N30,000 to N60,000 from each truck driver to allow them to park and discharge containers along the road.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Chief Remi Ogungbemi, said, “what is happening at Tin Can is a situation of the more you look, the less you see. Business is still going on as usual and the Task Team has refused to leave because they are benefiting from the chaos. They have formed a cartel and if you are not in that group, they will not pass your truck no matter who you are.”
A clearing agent operating at the Tin Can Island Port, Ojo Akintoye, said there are more than four road blocks between Tin Can Island Port First and Second Gates set up by the Presidential Task Team, Police and NPA officials where each truck is expected to part with money before being allowed passage into the port.
He said: “The extortion by NPA and other security agencies who claim to be controlling traffic on the road is the cause of the impediment we are experiencing daily along the port access road.
“From First Gate to Second Gate, we have about four road blocks mounted by the security agents and the trucks must part with money before they can move. As we speak, we pay between N1.1 million and N1.2 million per truck as against N100,000 to move our containers out of the port. The cheapest truck you can get to hire is N1 million. We have never experienced it this way before,” he lamented.