As the Presidential Task Force Team (PTT) on decongestion of traffic of Lagos ports, chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and co-chaired by a former Lagos State Commissioner for Transport, Mr. Kayode Opeifa failed woefully to deliver on its mandate and is disbandment following allegations of massive extortions, PAUL OGBUOKIRI reports that the vacuum created may have triggered a struggle over who takes charge of the notorious Apapa traffic gridlock
Tuck owners, port operators accuse presidential team of extortion
Importers, clearing agents, truck owners and other operators at the Apapa and Tin Can Island Ports in Lagos cried out against the alleged extortion by security officials at the facilities.
Some of the operators told Sunday Telegraph that the worsening traffic gridlock along the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway and the port access road at the Tin Can Island Port Complex was fueled by the illegal activities of the security officials.
They said the port security, police and the Presidential Task Team on Apapa Gridlock created an artificial traffic situation to extort them. Describing the alleged illegal operation of the officials as “well organised and institutionalised,” the operators urged President Muhammadu Buhari to order the immediate disbandment of the presidential task team on the Apapa gridlock.
The Chairman of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Remi Ogungbemi, said his association had made several complaints and reports have been made to the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) management but drew no response. He said he had personally witnessed on several occasions truck drivers forced to pay huge bribes before being allowed into the port to do business.
Ogungbemi said this has increased the cost of doing business in the country and worsened inflation in the economy. Ogungbemi said the introduction of the presidential team on Apapa gridlock, in place of Nigerian Navy officials, has worsened the traffic situation in the area.
“The situation has degenerated so badly that members of the (task team) have formed themselves into a cabal or cartel, such that if a truck operator does not belong to their circle, his truck will not be given access to the port.
“They had a special operation code. If you are not a member of the syndicate or cartel and cannot provide the special code for the day, they will not allow your truck into the port,” Ogungbemi said. He said the activities of the syndicate was so pervasive that hardly would one find anyone operating at the port who was not involved, including some members of his association, who, he said, were frustrated into joining in the illegalities for the survival of their businesses.
A truck owner and an executive member of the AMATO, Sanni Bala, said the illegal activities of the syndicate seriously affected port operations as cargo delivery has considerably slowed down. He said trucks were paying bribes of between N70, 000 and N200, 000 inflated haulage and shipping costs, and was also fueling inflation in the country.
Amaechi to deploy 200 security officers to prevent gridlock
Shortly after the presidential team was disbanded, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, during an inspection visit to Tin Can, announced the plan by his ministry to deploy 200 security officials to the route. The minister, who spoke at a meeting with Maritime Stakeholders and the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) after the visit, said the security officials will also ensure trucks do not park on the roads. According to a statement by the Minister’s Media Assistant, Taiye Elebiyo-Edeni, the union had threatened to go on strike if the government failed to address the gridlock on the route.
The minister, however, said that there should be a steering committee headed by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Magdalene Ajani, to sit monthly until the challenges are overcome. Other members of the committee would be from the Nigerian Ports Authority, Nigerian Shippers Council, MWUN, Road Safety, and Lagos State government. He directed the committee to write to the Inspector General of Police for more officers for the assignment.
NPA to begin truck e-call up in January to ease traffic
During the Minister’s visit to Tin Can Island Port, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) disclosed that it would commence electronic call up of trucks into the Lagos ports in January 2021. This Sunday Telegraph learnt is aimed at bringing to an end the perennial gridlock that has crippled economic activities in the port city of Apapa which houses Nigeria’s and West Africa’s two biggest seaports; the Apapa Port and Tin Can Port complexes.
Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Ms Hadiza Bala-Usman gave this assurance to stakeholders during the recent visit of the Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amacehi to the Tin Can Island Port to have first-hand information on the crippling congestion in the port that has caused cost of haulage skyrocketing by about 1000 per cent.
Ms Bala-Usman disclosed that the NPA is working with the Lagos State Government to create truck parks at designated areas in the state, adding that the state is planning to provide a designated truck park at Orile, where trucks would park until their cargoes are cleared electronically before they could proceed into the ports. “We are planning to deploy an e-call-up system in January 2021.
We will provide an electronic call-up system within the ports and designated truck parks. No more random parking of trucks on the roads, we are going to have a designated trucks’ park, when you are called upon, you can enter the port. “The electronic call-up system will be across all platforms on phones. You can monitor when the consignment arrives and when you have been assigned to pick up your cargo,” she explained.
Sanwo-Olu moves to take over management of Apapa gridlock
Days after the Minister of Transportation announced plan to deploy the 200 security officials to control traffic on the Lagos port access roads, the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, disclosed that he is also setting up his own up team to take over traffic management in Apapa from the disbanded Presidential Task Team (PTT) on the road. According to a report, the plan is to adopt a new approach in easing gridlock on the port area and its environs. Sanwo-Olu said a stakeholders’ meeting, involving representatives of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) haulage transport unions, port operators, among others, would be convened to work out means of solving the protracted gridlock in Apapa, as well as having a more efficient, effective port operations in the general interest of the public.
The governor, while inspecting the Apapa port road to assess traffic situation in Apapa ports and its environs, said the aim is to restore sanity to the area. Sanwo-Olu informed the stakeholders of the state government’s moves to tackle the gridlock by taking over traffic management in the area.
He decried the indiscipline among port players with the promise to tackle head-on and eliminate the cabal behind the alleged extortion being perpetrated by some officials and security personnel. According to him, as part of efforts to ease the gridlock, a stakeholders’ meeting has been slated for next week. “You are aware that since last year, the PTT has been working. Now, there is a process that is starting in which the state government needs to take over that task force. One of the reasons for this trip is to start that process, to see things for myself.
“The state government is to set up a seamless operation to have a team of Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), about 400 to 500, dedicated to Apapa gridlock; have a team of police men from Area B dedicated to the same gridlock.
We understand what the Port Police Command is doing because they are also part of the problem. Sanwo-Olu gave assurance to escalate some of the issues to the Inspector General of Police (IG), Mohammed Adamu, meet with the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi and get the NPA to understand what their roles are. “As a government, we don’t own the port, but we have a responsibility to our citizens. The turn around here is the most expensive turn around port that you have. “I am hoping that this trip will give us another opportunity to resolve this issue, identify the roadblocks,” he added. On extortion allegations against the police, Sanwo-Olu said: “I have said to them, give me the evidence of those people that are collecting money from you. That is also important. “We are determined to make people scapegoats. It is part of ensuring that we reduce the ease of doing process of businesses.”
Observers say the development will be very intriguing as the two levels of government seem to be more interested in controlling traffic at the port access road rather than taking steps to ensure that the construction of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway which has been ongoing for about 16 years is completed. They said if the road is completed, it will solve the Apapa gridlock by over 70 per cent and the major work that needs to be done on the road is about six kilometers from Liverpool to Sunrise. It is hoped that it is a contest whose ‘boys’ will be charged with the collection of the extorted money.