Apapa wharf road traffic logjam which has brought sleepless nights to Lagosians may never come to an end, MMS Plus can authoritatively reveal. The logjam which is 90 per cent man-made has become a big contract giving those behind it a nexus for sudden wealth which they may never let go.
Those at the centre of it all are the Joint Task Force of Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) security, APM Terminals, the Police and the Navy as well as the NPA traffic departmental workers, being the latest revelation in the corruption web.
From recent investigations by our reporter while the dilapidated nature of the road contributes about 30 percent to the cause of traffic gridlock; about 70 percent of the problem is created by the Task Force that deliberately create artificial bottlenecks, making it difficult for truck drivers to access the port easily to either drop their empty containers or export cargoes.
MMS Plus discovered that truck drivers that move faster on the usually very long daily queues to the wharf are the ones that negotiate with the security details and willing to part with between N30, 000 to N70, 000 per drop.
If a calculation is done on the basis of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), an affiliate of the World Bank study of the Apapa gridlock which revealed that the Lagos ports has been accommodating more than 5000 trucks in Apapa in a haphazard manner, whereas only about 1,300 trucks should be found on the port access road, the figure will exceed N10 billion on monthly basis. MMS Plus in another investigation, had quoted N2billion, only to be corrected that it was underestimated.
Some of the truck drivers that spoke with MMS Plus said there is a big racketeering going on and while the NPA security, the police and the Navy are making a lot of money, the drivers are at the receiving end. For the Police and Navy at Lagos Port Complex(LPC), they share their loot inside the office situated at the extreme right side of the port entrance gate, while the NPA Security personnel and NPA traffic departmental workers are digital operators as they undertake money sharing on the move after collection by forming a 360 degree circle to cover their act.
One of them victims, Paul who said he had stayed 14 days on the queue to drop an empty container was very worried while explaining the scary situation to MMS Plus. “My fear is that this queue will continue even if they finish the construction of the road,” he said in a dull cadence of certainty.
He said that while he has seen racketeering before, this one is on a large scale and that it may have the blessing s of “Oga’s at the top that are benefitting from it.”
Another truck driver, Wale confirmed that the racketeering involves a large network of co-operation between those involved. “The collection of the money is done in phases, he said. There is one that is collected during the day, and then there are other amounts collected at night as the drivers’ progress on the queue.
“The operatives are spread. As you join the queue from either Flour Mills or Liverpool you pay N1, 000. As you make progress on the queue, there is a point you will be required to pay N500. When you get to the gate you pay another N6, 000 and then also when you enter, the APMT staff that will help you offload your container will collect N1000.00 from you for those that want to follow the normal process.”
The driver said that this category of people can stay for 21 days on the queue before they enter the port to drop their consignment.
“If you want to make it fast, there are two ways to it. You can join the queue that day and go that day if you are willing to pay.”
While the driver was discussing with MMS Plus, there was a little chaos on the other side, and on enquiry it was discovered that a port police man was making way for a driver that just joined the queue that day to beat the logjam and get closer to the port gate by taking one way because the driver paid N70, 000 for express service.
This abnormal act led to murmuring among the other drivers who were alarmed at the crude way the security man carried out the exercise inspite of the fact that most of the drivers had stayed more than a week on the queue with no end in sight about when they would approach the port gate.
To the policeman, the murmuring did not mean anything. The drivers could as well have told it to the marines. All they needed to do was to pay money and be liberated from queuing unnecessarily for several weeks without bathing and with little or no food.
About thirty minutes later, when MMS Plus saw that same driver that paid for express service, he said his colleagues were being envious for murmuring about something that is happening every other second. “A lot of us pay more than that amount daily so my case is not different,” he said, adding “if the authorities cannot do anything about it let corruption continue.”
He said his boss who gave him the delivery job did not want him to experience what happened the other day when he stayed 14 days on the queue to drop an empty container spending so much on demurrage. He however told MMS Plus that the N70, 000 did not earn him automatic ticket into the wharf but brought him from the starting line to the first 20 containers, adding that if he wanted to get into the wharf directly, he would need like N100, 000.
The brazen manner that these drivers are being fleeced makes it look like an open robbery. The drivers themselves appear utterly helpless as everything weigh against them. They are also miffed that their own union that should have intervened in matters like this appear clay footed, even co-operating with those robbing them.
Within the last 3 months, so many drivers have died while on the queue. MMS Plus discovered that many of them died out of exhaustion. “We are afraid that many more drivers will die in coming weeks,” confessed Segun, another truck driver.
“Many of us have stayed two weeks on this line. In the last two weeks I have only started my vehicle four times just to move a little. A lot of us do not take our bath from morning to night. Some can’t even brush their death. We can’t change our cloth. We can’t see our families.
“At night, we cannot sleep. If you close your eyes for one minute before you open it your battery or some parts of your car is gone,” he said regrettably.
MMS Plus discovered that money the drivers pay differs. By the time you approach Eleganza shopping complex the routing starts. Those that continue straight without being re-routed to go through commercial road through to Burma before accessing the port pay N30, 000. Those that go through Burma Road but who want to follow one way instead of the normal queue pay N25, 000 while those that want to join creek road instead of going through Burma Road pay N30, 000.
But that’s not the icing on the cake. The clearing house for the collection of the money is done at a booth in front of Nnewi building where those that collect the monies come to give account. Another discovery was that except at some strategic points like Eleganza or Creek road, the security operatives do not collect the money directly by themselves but do it by proxy so nothing is directly linked to them.
Another interesting thing is that the real collection is carried out at night. An elderly driver who spoke in anonymity said “if you want to see how they collect this money just come here from 7pm at night. The 24 hour port operation is in their favour. That is why you don’t see much truck move in the day. But you see action at night when they are so free to collect the money.”
No security operative was willing to comment on the development. One of them who spoke on the sides said anybody who accuses any police or security man of collecting money from him should bring a receipt to prove it. “if you pay money to somebody you will be given a receipt, no be so,” he asked, adding “so let them produce the receipt to back up their allegation.
He said that the security operatives are more interested in ensuring the queue moves instead of the money. “If the drivers feel they are getting frustrated by staying long on the queue they should blame APMT for the delay and not the security men because we are doing our best.”
Although the drivers do not agree with the position of the policeman, many of them accused APMT as being part of the collaborators in extorting the drivers.
“I have never seen a terminal as slow as APMT and this is deliberate. When you go inside the port, you will not see any container but when you come outside you see queues. Sometimes when you go inside you see the APMT staff playing computer games when he is supposed to be attending to truck drivers.
“You will also notice that deliberately APMT delays the drivers with empty containers because the more the containers stays out, the more money you pay for exceeding the time limit, so it’s a game,” he said.
Another anomaly they pointed out was that contrary to what obtained at the Tincan Port where more hands are assigned to handle the dropping of containers, APMT have just few staff assigned to service so many truck drivers and this is adding to the whole confusion.
MMS Plus discovered that with the present setting where those in this overall game plan reap billions daily by creating delays for the entry of trucks into the port, highly placed security personnel may be involved in the heavy racketeering and there may never been an end in sight to the queues because a lot of money is involved.
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