By Steve Agbota, [email protected]
On February 27, 2021, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) commenced the implementation of the electronic call-up system for all trucks calling at the nation’s ports. The decision was to find a permanent solution to the problem of truck congestion in Apapa and also to return sanity to the port environment.
The system came onboard after the disolution of thePresidential Task Force set up in 2018 by the Federal Government and headed by Vice President Yemi Osibanjo, with the mandate to solve the Apapa gridlock, was dissolved.
The electronic system was designed for the management of truck movement and access to and from the Lagos Ports Complex and the Tin Can Island Ports, Apapa, Lagos, with the aim of putting an end to the perennial logjam caused by articulated trucks within the port corridor.
The truck electronic call-up system, which is being powered by a web application called “Eto”, then was said to be responsible for the scheduling, entry and exit of all trucks in the ports.
Ironically, barely two weeks after NPA commenced the implementation of the electronic call-up system, fraudsters had already cloned the system and printing counterfeit call-up slips for truck drivers. This is where corruption creeped into the system.
Truck owners and truck drivers operating along the Lagos two seaports, Apapa and Tin Can Island Ports, continued to decry the high rate of extortion being experienced at the hands of security officers.
The truckers said that security agents have turned the e-call up system to cash cow while they said that extortion is now an industry for the security agents. They said the security agents include, officers of the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA), Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and officers of the Nigerian Police Force, Apapa, Lagos.
However, Daily Sun learnt that the extortion industry in Apapa is about N100 million a day with an over 30 extortion “toll points” set up around Apapa and Tin Can Island Ports by security agents where bribes are being collected before trucks are allowed into the Port.
Even the Acting Managing Director of NPA, Mr. Muhammed Bello-Koko, once confirmed at a meeting that security officials were frustrating the NPA’s electronic call-up system for trucks.
He said the NPA has been inundated with complaints of extortions from truckers, especially by security operatives, including the Military, the Police and NPA Security, demanding money from drivers before accessing the Ports.
However, he described the ugly practice as a major disincentive to the smooth implementation of the truck call-up system.
As the extortion remains unabated, the Council of Maritime Transport Union and Association (COMTUA) urged NPA to unbundle its e-call-up system (Eto) to help curb extortion at the port corridor.
As the problems persist, COMTUA has engaged the services of a foremost lawyer, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN) to drag NPA to court over extortion and illegal practice on-call up system.
Few days ago, the Association in a legal notice by Adegboruwa, titled, “ Notice of intention to commence a suit against the NPA pursuant to Section 92 (1) of the NPA Act CAP 126, LFN 2004.”
“Our client reliably informed us of certain developments and unfair activities in the maritime sector for which countless letters of complaint have been written but serially ignored by your office and other concerned offices such as the office of the Lagos State government. Some of the disturbing facts, which were reliably disclosed to us, are as follows:
“That there has been reported cases of discrepancies and misrepresentation of facts and figures emanating from the electronic call-up system regime (ETO/TTP Progamme) created by Truck Transit Park Ltd on the instruction and directives of your office, the Nigerian Port Authority. “Our client is vehemently disputing the cost and value of the services being rendered by ETO/TTP as there has been cases of extortions and breach of agreement on the part of your office,” the notice stated.
According to the notice, that it was mutually agreed that the sum of N10,000 was payable for booking process as entry permit into the terminal but TTP now extort a whooping sum of N31,250.
The notice explained that contrary to the intent and purpose of TTP which was meant to eradicate payment checkpoints, there has been proliferation of illegal checkpoints along the terminal routes with attendant extortion of the sum of N5000 per checkpoints.
“That despite assurances to the contrary, members of our client now pay an outrageous sums ranging from N50,000 to N150,000 to return empty containers at the authorised holding bay. That there have been cases of connivance and abuse of office by the Holding Bay operators and some agencies of the government who would arrest and impound our client’s members’ truck so as to illegally extort money from them.
“The continuous harassment and extortion of our client often lead to further arrests and detention of our client’s members by clearing agents on container demurrage. That the initial arrangements that trucks would move from the satellite parks to the pre-gate and then into the terminal within the period of two days has not been realised as trucks take more than weeks to move into the terminal from the satellite parks,” the notice added.
The association, in the notice, said that the initial arrangement to install Close-Circuit Television (CCTV) to monitor movement of trucks into the terminal to ensure speedy movement of vehicles and other purposes has not been effected by TTP.
“That there has been consistent violation of movement procedures and illegal parking of trucks on the express road by some preferred truck drivers of which modus operandi are antithetical to the aim and purpose of the electronic call-up regime.
“That the effort and intervention of the Minister of Transportation in setting up the Ministerial Steering and Implementation Committee to proffer solutions associated with the ease of doing business at the Apapa/Tincan Island Port has been defeated with attendant cases of greed, extortions, harassment of truck drivers, robberies and total collapse of the accessible road networks.
“That there is an existing Presidential Executive Order vesting economic regulation of the Nigerian Ports in the hands of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council thereby making economic activities of your office illegal.
“On the other hand, the involvement and activities of the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) and the Lagos State Committee on abandoned and disused vehicles headed by the Special Adviser to the Lagos State Government on Transport, Mr. Toyin Fayinka, is regrettably inimical to the legitimate activities of the truck drivers. That there have been cases of extortion; creation of illegal garages; indiscriminate and illegal tagging of vehicles as abandoned vehicles; compromise and selective enforcement of the law against perceived enemies and truck drivers are being extorted on a daily basis without issuance of receipts,” the notice stated.
The association said refusal to yield to extortion would often degenerate to violence and in some cases, death of truck drivers might occur just as it happened, for instance, in Mile 2, resulting in the death of several people.
Meanwhile, the President of COMTUA, Mr Yinka Aroyewun, who led some members of the council to a courtesy visit to the Assistant Inspector General (AIG) of Police Mr. Adeleke Adeyinka, in Zone 2, Onikan, Lagos, recently, lamented that truckers have become a cash cow for the enforcement team, consisting of the Police, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, (LASTMA), NPA officials among others.
He, therefore, urged the Police AIG to put an end to the extortion outside the port premises.
“We are here to intimate you of our business, what we do and what we represent, the maritime industry is so large that it contributes about 40 per cent of revenue to the government coffers yearly”.
“We are the members of COMTUA. Some people believe when they talk about union, you are talking about touts. But we are here so that you can see who we are, we are law abiding citizens who knows the importance of the maritime sector to the economy.
“However, while carrying out our lawful businesses, we do experience some bottlenecks outside the port corridors which fall under your jurisdiction. This include extortion from officials of the enforcement team responsible for free flow of traffic in and out of the port, the enforcement team comprising the Police, LASTMA officials NPA officials among others,” he said.