· Armed Forces Now Tax-Collectors On Lagos Roads
By Kenneth Jukpor
While traffic gridlock at Lagos ports has dissipated, the traffic situation has deteriorated in neighbouring communities around the ports as a result of the directives of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to free the port access roads via the use holding bays for empty containers.
Shipping companies have seized the opportunity to charge colossal sums to accept empty containers at their respective holding bays while devising devious means of frustrating truckers and freight forwarders with the excuse that their holding bays lacked capacity to receive empty containers.
Consequently, truckers have hiked their fares as part of efforts to cushion the effect of the long delays and extortion by armed forces and shipping companies at several major junctions on the port access roads and in neighbouring communities.
Appalled by the unending queues of trucks and tankers seen along areas like Kirikiri, Ajengunle, Lagos-Badagry expressway, Old Ojo road, Second Rainbow to Tin Can Island Port, Orile, Ijora, Satelite town, Ijegun Egba, among other areas in Lagos, our correspondent gathered on the spot reports from operators at several locations.
Mr. Emmanuel Okafor, a truck owner under the association of truck owners at Kirikiri Lighter Terminal (KLT), spoke to MMS Plus. According to Okafor, shipping companies have become a pain in the neck of transporters in the haulage business.
“When we carry empty containers belonging to shipping companies, they convert our vehicles to their holding bays sometimes for 12days to 15days. After driving for days before getting to the holding bay, they would tell us that there was no space to drop the container but after you pay a ransom of N50, 000 there would be space for the container. Even after paying the N50,000 they would wait until late in the night before dropping the container because they have told the public that there was no space to receive empty containers in the facility. Sometimes they drop the containers around 2am. All shipping companies are deploying this system. They all demand colossal sums to drop containers despite the recent sanctions and directives of NPA.
“For instance, when you get to Tin Can to drop the container the shipping companies would direct you to Unity container terminal at Mile 2 but remember that it took 4-5 days to move from Mile 2 to Tin Can and you spend another 4 days to go back. However, you eventually get to Unity terminal the operators of the holding bay would say there’s no space. That’s Maersk Line but immediately you pay N50,000 there would be space. You would have spent 10-12days yet you haven’t dropped the container. If you to Sapid the facility for CMA CGM the story is the same, no space until you give bribe. You must pay bribes before you can drop the container yet the shipping companies would still collect demurrage for delays that was caused by them and also as a result of the traffic gridlock and bad roads. These shipping companies have turned transporters to their ATMs (Automated Teller Machines) We cannot continue to house empty containers on our trucks and eventually drop it at such expense yet there are no jobs. Most times, after we drop the containers we enter another brawl with the clearing agents as they accuse of depriving them the privilege of getting the refund of the container deposit. After struggling to drop an empty container for two weeks, it is only rational to demand additional sum on the next job and that explains the consistent increase in the cost of moving containers” he said.
Our correspondent also engaged Mr. Sheyi Ojo, a tanker owner at Abule-ado axis on Lagos-Badagry expressway. He noted that the traffic situation has worsened along Lagos-Badagry expressway as trucks and tankers which were on the Mile-Coconut-Tin Can road have relocated to the Badagry expressway.
“The problem is that there is no provision for the trucks and tankers to park. They left the port road and moved to other places. The problem of traffic-jam is still there, it has not been solved. Another problem has also been created as the armed forces sent to manage the traffic ‘wahala’ along the port access roads and other areas have also turned into tax collector on the roads. If you don’t pay N20,000 to the team at Mile 2, you can’t cross that axis. Along this Lagos- Badagry expressway, these security agents have numerous toll gates were they extort monies from transporters.
“We have been pushed to the wall and we are no longer happy. The Nigerian government should be able to provide parks for these heavy duty trucks and tankers. They must hold shipping companies accountable to provide holding bays that have the capacity to absorb empty containers and this indiscriminate extortion by the Army and Navy must stop” he added.
Commenting on the extortion of truckers by armed forces personnel, the Chairman of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) KLT Chapter, Engr. Emmanuel Umeadi admonished the senior officers to examine the activities of their officers.
The freight forwarding veteran lamented that the armed forces deployed to bring orderliness have become illegal revenue-generating agents at their various posts.
“Whoever posted these armed forces personnel to the port access roads should scrutinize their operations. What these officers are doing isn’t what they were assigned to. Sometimes they connive with touts to extort monies from truckers. They take advantage of the gruesome queues and promise speedy passage to those who pay. Such incident happened with one of my drivers but I intervened and they ran away” he said.
Mr. Paulinus Igwe, a truck owner found at the Berger, off Mile 2- Coconut road, also told MMS Plus that the traffic problem was as a result of the delay in dropping empty containers.
“I have spent two days moving from Mile 2 to this spot (Berger bus stop). All the shipping companies have their cronies at the port and holding bays and they would either say there is no space for the container to be dropped or inform you that empty containers aren’t dropped there. However, immediately you pay monies they would accept it. For 20ft containers at KLT, the operators collect N40,000 while they collect N70,000 for 40ft containers.
“If you don’t pay they wouldn’t drop the container; but that isn’t the only problem. It takes three to four days before you can drop the container even when you have agreed to pay the money. This is why you see these trucks parked on the road without moving, consequently, the drivers can’t have their bath or rest for weeks. The Federal Government has to do something”
Providing solutions to the menace, he said, “The government should explore other opportunities like using Brawal which is no longer functional. All shipping companies can route their empty container there and move it via barges to ease the burden in transporters, road users and the nation at large”
On her part, the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman has pleaded with the port operators and stakeholders to be patient, noting that the problem which had existed for years couldn’t be eradicated speedily.
Usman who was speaking with journalists recently said; “When you have a problem that has been there for years despite several recognition and resolutions, it would also take years to resolve it. The problem isn’t something that could be resolved speedily. Cargo evacuation via barges is one of the measures that we have commenced to reduce the pangs of congestion. We have also encouraged the operators to evacuate cargoes using barges but we recognize the award of N32billion contract to fully reconstruct the Apapa road.
“NPA prioritizes the road especially as trucks are collapsing but the repairs would solve the issue. We also have empty container policy which is one of the immediate measures to reduce the number of empty boxes that are trying to the ports. We have looked at defining the period in which empty containers can go into the port to reduce congestion. Shipping companies and NPA would define the call-up time for empty containers and we have also looked at the possibility of going in with an empty container and coming out with a loaded container. These are some of the immediate steps we took to address the situation”, she said.
She also lamented that the Authority hadn’t been able to license any trailer parks despite several advertisements for investors to come forward.
“I have met with Lagos State and I put up an advert seeking for people to come up with trailer parks so that we issue a license. With that license, all trucks must come there and we use a call-up system to call trucks from there. We advertised and received four bids but they didn’t show ownership of any trailer park. The custodian of the land is the Lagos State Government and we wrote to the Governor of Lagos as well as the Governor of Ogun State. We can license trailer parks in Ogunquit and they would only come into the Lagos ports when called upon because a large proportion of the trucks on the port road don’t have any business there. They just go to the port and hope for business and that is very irresponsible. They could go to the trailer park to source for businesses and clients can equally come to the park to get trucks. NPA doesn’t have the land and it actually out of our purview but we are seeking how we could collaborate with the State and Local Governments to establish trailer parks.
She also revealed that NPA has written to the Ministry of Works to expedite Tin Can Island Port trailer park it was constructing.
“The construction has taken so long and we have written to the Ministry to expedite the process and we also offered to pay for the shoreline. They said the contract that was awarded from the beginning included shore protection so they could not do a fresh award for the shore protection” she said.
Meanwhile, the Presidential Task Force on Apapa Gridlock is set to commence the impounding of errant and idle articulated vehicles on Lagos bridges and roads from Monday, this week.