- Expert decries ‘Apapa pass yahoo’ new extortion slogan
By ADAKU WALTER
Port users have expressed hope and confidence that as the Port Standing Task Team (PSTT) began the third phase of Operation Free The Ports Corridor, specifically designed to dislodge illegal checkpoints and hoodlums extorting truck drivers along the ports access roads, some level of order will be instilled on the port corridors.
The PSTT is an offshoot of the Nigerian Port Process Manual (NPPM), which was unveiled in 2021 by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to improve Nigeria’s ranking on the global corruption index.Accordingly, the team comprises 180 personnel drawn from various agencies and security organisations to ensure that access roads to the ports are free of traffic congestion.
But the PSTT revealed through investigation that apart from the Tin Can Island Port area, there are over 26 illegal checkpoints between the Apapa Port corridor and Sifax Bonded Terminal at Ijora.
Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), Emmanuel Jime, affirmed that the ports’ corridors do not have free flow of traffic due to unnecessary checkpoints, which has been fuelling extortion, illegal businesses and other corrupt practices.
Also, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) had raised concern over the rising corrupt activities in the nation’s ports, which it said, was causing foreign investors to shun doing business in Nigeria and patronising neighbouring countries.
ICPC Chairman, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, said such corrupt practices had led to reputational damage of the country and caused the economy to bleed.
While inaugurating the PSTT project at the NSC headquarters in Apapa, Lagos on April 14, 2022, Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Transportation, Mrs.
Magdalene Ajani, said freeing the port corridor must be done holistically and with the support of other agencies to achieve ease of doing business in the Nigerian ports and along the corridors.
Following the development, the Lagos State government and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), streamlined extortion points on the port corridors and feeder routes to eliminate illegal checkpoints.
Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Transportation, Oluwatoyin Fayinka, said the checkpoints at Apapa and Tin Can axis have been assigned to specific agencies, as part of ate government’s efforts to eliminate gridlock and curb illegal extortions.
The checkpoints were assigned to NPA, Lagos State Government, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), Rapid Response Squad (RRS) and the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) to manage independently without interference from the other agencies, while all military checkpoints were disbanded.
Also, trucks would no longer be stopped for ETO at Ijora Badia (LPC axis), Mile 2 under, UBA (TCIPC corridor), while truck movement would not be interfered with at NAGAFF, Area B, RRS Marine Bridge, 7up, Fidelity Roundabout, Etisalat Roundabout (LPC axis) and RRS (TCIPC corridor).
But the report of streamlining and assigning checkpoints to government agencies did not go down well with port users, as they decry more hardship in movement of cargoes along the port corridors.
They lamented that previous committees set up by the Federal and state governments to address traffic flow, turned the ports into a cash cow, while expressing reservations that the development could worsen the situation.
They said majority of the extortions are perpetrated by security operatives, particularly the police and LASTMA, which is contributing to the traffic congestion at the Apapa and Tin Can port.
The Trumpet recalled that NPA had last year identified over 30 toll points manned by various security personnel, where tips are allegedly collected before trucks are allowed into the Apapa and Tin Can ports.
National President, Council of Maritime Transport Union and Association (COMTUA), Adeyinka Aroyewun, questioned the manning of checkpoints by government agencies, when the electronic call-up system was already set up to discourage human interference responsible for extortions and traffic jam along the port access roads.
“Setting up of the checkpoints and using the same personnel that we have been complaining about to man these positions is still trying to give a medium for reward system.
“It has been an issue of who is in charge of what point between police and LASTMA.
Now they are trying to share it among themselves so that the collection would be easy and the process of sharing the proceeds will not be difficult,” he said.
He pointed out that for each checkpoint at Mr. Biggs and Eleganza, truckers pay N15, 000 for empty and N20,000 for trucks with exports, adding that for the hoodlums who claim to be union representatives, they have about 50 points in Amuwo Odofin alone, which is increasing by the day, as they are being aided by the police and local government officials and therefore, urged Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu to disband the state enforcement team on the Apapa gridlock.
Aroyewun said the state government does not have any business determining checkpoints on Federal roads, especially LASTMA’s 200 metres checkpoints on the port access roads, which has been a major concern for truckers.
On the implications for truckers, Aroyewun explained: The return on a truck is not even up to N5,000 or N10,000 in some cases and it still falls into the hands of LASTMA and the agency on abandoned vehicles.
“For instance, you charge N200, 000 to move a cargo from the port, you buy gas of N60,000, the driver collects N30,000, the conductor and manager collect their own fees and at the end of the day you will be left with about N50,000.
Then the checkpoints manned by both state and non-state actors on the road collect between N2,000 and N5, 000 and at the end, you are left with little or nothing.
“If your truck breaks down on the road or falls into the hands of LASTMA or the abandoned vehicles agency, they tow the vehicle and charge you N150,000 or a fine of N50,000,” he explained.
Also, National Publicity Secretary of the Association of Registered Freight Forwarders of Nigeria (ARFFN), Taiwo Fatomilola, described assigning of checkpoints to the agencies as ‘business as usual.’
He said these agencies have been accused of engaging hoodlums to extort truckers and owners of the cargoes being moved.
Adding that the after effect is that the amount spent would be added to the cost of goods, which will cause inflation.
Responding to the development, President, National Council of Managing Director of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, said Lagos State has no powers to manage federal roads, as it has limitations in ports operations.
“The ministers of finance and transportation could set up such committee to man the port roads and not Lagos State and the NPA. Lagos State cannot streamline the activities at the ports, because the Federal Government owns the ports. The Port Act does not give the state government powers to do what they just did,” he said.
Amiwero maintained that the state government should be concerned with assigning lands for holding bays and truck parks to the NPA, rather than duplicating operations of the port standing task team.
He lamented that the Federal Government concessioned the ports without a law that regulates and enforces concessionaires to provide holding bays and truck parks for their operations, which he said, was responsible for the menace being experienced at the nation’s ports.
Meanwhile, Port Manager, Lagos Ports Complex of NPA, Mrs. Funmilayo Olotu, lamented that a popular slogan: “Apapa pass yahoo” was being used among the extortionist committees and their members in the manner of Internet fraudsters, popularly known as yahoo yahoo boys.
She pointed out that the collapsed portions of the road network between the Lagos port and Orile, gave room for camp boys and hoodlums to extort truckers, adding that they were all fronting for different agencies.
She said the Tincan port corridor calls for a national concerns because the boys operating on the road enjoy backups from powerful operators.
Olotu charged the PSTT to be resilient and unwavering in the task of ridding the Apapa port access road of corruption and extortion.
A chieftain of the National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), Abdullahi Inuwa, said a lot of truck drivers have received beatings from hoodlums at the checkpoints aside the delays and unfriendly issues causing foreign investors to shun the nation’s ports.
He said many trucks have been kicked out of business as they can no longer continue the business after experiencing loss due to the situation and expressed the hope that the new format would bring positive feedback in tackling the menace at the ports, especially the ICPC involvement in the PSTT Committee.
Fatomilola urged the Federal Government to facilitate the construction of the road, which extortionists are leveraging, noting that the workers should be made to work 24 hours every day to ensure its speedy completion.