Commercial activities within Kirikiri Town and its environs in Lagos were brought to a standstill recently, as truck drivers in the area clashed with some naval personnel stationed at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Kirikiri.
It was gathered that the military men brutalised some members of the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN), Kirikiri chapter, following disagreements over toll collection from truck owners and drivers. The naval men, the truck owners and drivers alleged, were extorting money from the truck drivers before granting them access into the terminal of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) in Kirikiri to load or offload containers.
The reporter gathered that members of the RTEAN task force in Kirikiri trying to prevent petrol tanker drivers from facing oncoming traffic, thereby adding to the traffic congestion in the area, were resisted by the military men. The RTEAN members alleged that the military men had been collecting some amounts of money from the truck owners and drivers. Daily Sun was unable to verify the claims, however.
The controversies developed into a protest by the RTEAN members, but the protesters were dispersed by the naval men. An eyewitness said the problem began when members of the RTEAN tried to stop the trucks from facing oncoming traffic, a move that annoyed the naval men who daily controlled traffic in the area.
Narrating what transpired, president of RTEAN, Kirikiri chapter, Francis Achuonye, said the association, for some time now, has been against extortion of its members by the security agents. He said a meeting was earlier scheduled between the naval personnel and the leadership of the RTEAN in Kirikiri, which resolved, among others, that truck drivers would be restricted from facing oncoming traffic and the money being paid to the military men by the truck owners and drivers would be reduced.
But he accused the naval personnel of reneging on the agreement.
His words: “In the past two weeks or more, there has been a serious dialogue between RTEAN and the naval personnel that are exhorting money from truck owners and drivers, thereby making life unbearable for us. So, we had a series of talks with the security agents in the area and had an agreement.
“On Tuesday, we got to the roundabout, hoping they would come to do something different. But the Naval personnel continued with the old order of extortion from truck owners and drivers. They even allowed the trucks to ply the wrong lane, facing oncoming traffic, which has been the major cause of the gridlocks in the Apapa area of Lagos.”
He noted that since the naval men were openly breaching the agreement, the RTEAN task force members resolved to stop the trucks plying the wrong lane. He said the naval personnel, subsequently, attacked his members, adding that some of the men sustained injuries and were taken to hospital.
Achuonye appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to save the drivers from intimidation and harassment in the hands of security agents stationed in Kirikiri. He urged Buhari to stop the military from controlling traffic in the area, noting that the police and the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) were enough to control traffic in Apapa and its environs, as well as on the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway.
The RTEAN leader recalled that an order made by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, that security agents should ensure that all trucks and tankers were moved to their respective parks was not complied with. The situation was part of the causes of the usual gridlocks along the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, he asserted.
In his reaction, the spokesperson for the Western Naval Command, Commander Otuji Cinfo, said his men were always stationed at the NIMASA junction to control traffic.
He said due to the perpetual gridlocks in the Kirikiri axis, the command deployed its men to control traffic. He denied accusation of extortion of any kind by officers of the command, but directed the members of RTEAN to come to him with any proof that the naval personnel had been extorting money from truck drivers and their owners. He said if any of his men was found culpable, such an individual would be punished.
The naval spokesperson also explained that the command had a policing system, noting that all naval men on internal security assignments were checkmated by the Navycommand’s police unit.