Published On: Sun, Jul 1st, 2018

Crisis hits Apapa traffic call up system

—-as truckers threaten to shut ports over extortion by govt. officials

The government officials of  Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Ports Authority  (NPA )and Lagos State Transport Management Authority  (LASTMA), who are managing the notorious Apapa port traffic gridlock through a call up card system,  are presently trying to ward off odious allegation of massive extortion of hapless truck drivers.

Apapa gridlock

The traffic management system which was being coordinated by the Nigerian Navy through  a call up  card system that was introduced in March 22nd, 2018 to stem the perennial traffic lock down at Apapa port, has been a huge success since its introduction as it has restored sanity toApapa port access road.
However,  the system is currently enmeshed in controversy as the officials of the three government agencies charged to drive the system are said to have turned the otherwise noble effort into a daily Automated Teller Machine  (ATM).
Truck owners, truck drivers and Customs Brokers have unanimously accused these officials of subjecting truck drivers to horrendous objects of money-making machine through what they called bared-faced and unabashed extortion.
Ibrahim Tanko, the Vice-President , Seaport (Western Zone) of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders  (NAGAFF) accused the Naval officials in the traffic management system of collecting N70, 000 on 40- footer container while N40, 000 is being collected on 20-footer container.
“The Naval officers collude with the NPA officials to collect this unreceipted money from truck drivers before they could be issued caLloyd up card to access the port.
“If any driver refuses to part with this amount,  he would stay in queue till eternity and because these drivers want to enter the port to get job, the are constrained to pay.
He disclosed that the drivers then pass the bill to the clearing agents who need their services.
The National Publicity Secretary of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents  (ANCLA), Joe Sanni corroborated the claims made by Tanko which he described as unfortunate.
“Yes, there is an extortion going on by the Navy and NPA through the call up card system.
“We don’t even know that the money they collect has increased to N70 , 000 and N40,000, it used to be between  N30,000 and N40,00.
“What is happening is necessitated by unfortunate stance of shipping companies not to obey the directive of NPA to direct empty containers to their holding bays, so they allow these trucks to float which causes congestion in the first place”
He however blamed the truck drivers of being the ones inducing both the Naval and NPA officials in a bid to enter the port with their empty containers and load other ones.
“The truck drivers are the ones inducing and bribing these officials to enable theme gain access into the ports,  drop the empties and load again, so they are ready to pay”, he claimed.
His claims were echoed by Chief Remi Ogungbemi, the President of Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO) who said though there is high level of extortion among these officers, but blamed the drivers who willingly offer them to get into the port faster.
“Some of these drivers offer money to the officials who control the traffic to get the call up card and enter the port.
“Some of them may not even tell the truth about the actual amount they pay as a ploy to  inflate the real amount for the owners of the trucks.
“Yes, extortion goes on day and night there”, Chief Ogungbemi declared.
He also blamed the situation on NPA directive and the unwillingness of shipping companies  to obey the directive which he said created opportunity for the Navy and the NPA officials to have a field day.
However,  both the Naval Authority and NPA management have denied allegations of extortion again their officials on the call up system.
The Naval spokesperson for the traffic management committee,  Lt. Commander  Charles Brinemigha dismissed the allegations as unfounded.
Even though,  he did not totally rule out such practice,  but said it was not to the knowledge of Commodore Okon  Eyo,  who is the Commander, Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) BEECROFT, who is in charge of the traffic call up system.
” No Naval officer is collecting money from any driver.  The Commander has even asked the drivers to report to him directly any of his men who asks them for money for disciplinary action.
“He even gave them his personal number on which they could reach him for complaint and  he also pays impromptu  visits to  the operational site”
Lt.  Commander Brinemigha however declared that whoever gives money to anybody is on his own.
Corroborating what Sanni and Chief Ogungbemi said, Brinemigha said some drivers,  out of desperation,  induce officers with money in order to get call up card ahead of others to enter the port.
“But you know some of these drivers are so desperate they entice officers with money to get call up cards.
“Even at that, we do turn back some of them back with their  call up card if we notice traffic build up from Area B police command and Boundary axis. We doesn’t allow them to stay on top of the Ijora  bridge”
The Naval spokesman said that the  money allegedly being given was not authorised by the Commander who said  the call up card is free.
 He also stated the system was not only being coordinated by Navy alone but other personnel from NPA and LASTMA, hinting that these officers are also involved in the allegation bribery.
Similarly,  Malham Suwaid Isah,  the spokesman for the NPA dismissed the bribery allegation against NPA staff involved in the Apapa traffic management system.
“This allegation has not been brought to the notice of the NPA management but let me assure you and members of general public that any NPA staff caught soiling his hand in such a sordid practice shall be summarily dealt with” Malam Suwaid declared.
He however reminded those whom he said are peddling the allegation that NPA is not the one that issues the call up card to drivers.
Meanwhile,  the truck drivers have insisted that they are being mercilessly extorted by the officials involved in the traffic management system and have vowed to henceforth resist the practice.
Towards this end, they have threatened to shut down the port in a planned strike action that may paralyse port activities.
To achieve their threat, the independent truck owners especially those operating at the Ijora axis have commenced series of meetings  and consultations with truck owners under various associations such as the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), Association of Maritime Truck Owners,(AMATO), Maritime Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MWUN), Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN).
They said the planned strike action was the last resort as all their previous efforts to stop this extortionist practice have been fruitless.

At the meeting held at the NARTO office in Tincan, Alhaji Abdullahi Inuwa of NARTO, said the collaborative efforts have become necessary and urgent by the truckers whom he said  have been pushed to the wall as a result of the extortion in the hands of the security government officials.

“The meeting was an urgent one that was organised by truck owners under various unions and associations based on the pains that the truckers are passing through.”The truckers have been pushed to the wall, they have no option that is why they came for this meeting and thinking of taking some certain decisions.

“The cause of these things is all about accessibility of trucks to go into the port. Trucks in some places spend up to ten days or two weeks before accessing the port amidst  multiple extortions by various security agencies.

“At the end of the day, if you look at the transport fare that you charge, you will go back with nothing and as a matter of fact, the truck owners cannot fix their trucks or able to pay their children’s school fees let alone our drivers who stay on the road for days without seeing their families nor take proper bath.

“The next line of action is that we will see our national leaders and deliver their message to them and they will determine what to do because NARTO is already in collaboration with MWUN, RTEAN, heavy duty and other associations,” Inuwa stated.

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