How Lagos State Govt Officials Lead Agencies On Touting,Extortion Mission At Ports

By Babajide Okeowo

How Lagos State Govt Officials Lead Agencies On Touting,Extortion Mission At Ports

Inside the estimated N100 million touting extortion ‘industry’ along the Apapa, Tincan Ports Access Roads, truckers, and freight forwarders are crying out for help as security agencies in cahoots with street urchins put businesses in a chokehold.

Daily, truckers on the port access roads are subjected to harassment, and extortion by the street urchins and failure to dance to the tune of these urchins operating unfettered on Port Access Roads and in connivance with security agencies like the Nigeria Police Force, Nigerian Navy, Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA), and the Lagos State Parks and Garages amongst others leads to vandalisation of the trucker’s truck, infliction of bodily harm and in many instances death.

Checks by MMS Plus put the number of extortion flashpoints on the ports access roads at over 30 and the amount charged by the urchins ranges from N1,000 to as high as N10,000 and failure to comply comes at a very serious price.

A few weeks ago, the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, raised an alarm about increased extortion along the access roads of the Lagos and Tin Can Island Port Complexes. The Managing Director of NPA Mohammed Bello-Koko lamented that these acts of extortion and illegalities are inimical to trade facilitation, which is the agency’s core function, and would not sit and watch while these “unscrupulous characters” make nonsense of the gateways to the national economy which the ports constitute.

Speaking about the nefarious activities of the extortionist, the Council of Maritime Truck Unions and Association (COMTUA) decried the willful vandalisation of its members’ trucks by hoodlums on Lagos roads while calling on the Lagos State Government to halt their destructive activities.

President of the Council, Mr Adeyinka Aroyewun lamented that despite the several appeals made by the association to the Lagos State Government, the Nigeria Police Force as well as the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the menace has continued to no avail a development that has impacted negatively on the business of his members.

“We have been crying about this and I have made a lot of submissions on this, we have written over 50 letters appealing to the government to weed the vandals off the road.

‘As we speak, they still vandalized trucks today. They will still vandalize it tomorrow because the extortion points and points of vandalization have not been removed by the government. 

“We cannot estimate what we have lost to vandalism” he lamented.

 He also claimed that COMUTUA has lost over 10 members who have been killed this year alone while over 20 members have been seriously injured by the hoodlums.

Still speaking on the issue, Dike Ekene Collins, National Organising Secretary of the association in a chat with MMS Plus sends out a Save Our Soul (SOS) to the Lagos State Government on this issue.

“Now the issue of extortion has been going on over a long period of time, even before we assumed office as the executives of COMTUA. This menace has continued unabated because of insincerities on the part of government, insincerities on the part of government agencies, both states and federal and even the actions of state and non-state actors.

You see, this extortion is happening even in daylight. On the road where everybody can see it. Because these guys are extorting truckers in the name of a union. Some of them brandish weapons in broad daylight to vandalize our trucks” he started.

Collins disclosed that the association has videos, pictures, and evidence that have been submitted to the government about those involved, and yet nothing is being done about it.

“We’ve met several at different stations located in Lagos we’ve complained, we’ve written, we’ve addressed even to the point of AIG and IG yet most of the time when we go to the police station, we’ll be told that we don’t have any white paper from the government in question.

And when we go back to the government, the government will tell us that the police know their duty, that the police should do their duty. And this is how we’ve been moving back and forth. And it’s not been helping.

And how this has been affecting, it has been affecting our business. For instance, most of our drivers are driving in fear.

We have instances whereby the drivers crushed about three people around the trade fair, including a police officer because these thugs are struggling and are dragging steering with the driver on the road.

And it has been happening. We have pictures of accidents, we have videos of which we, each time we complain, the police will push us to the government agencies, the government agencies will push us back to the police and each time the police will tell us, give us white paper.

While Nigeria is in dire need of foreign investment, harping on trade facilitation and promoting the Ease of Doing Business, the activities of these urchins stand as a cog in the wheel of actualizing these goals and objectivities.

There are fears and concerns that foreign investors might shun Nigeria as the environment is considered not investment friendly.

This position is corroborated by the Africa Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics of Nigeria- APFFLON.

According to the National President of the association, Otunba Frank Ogunojemite while talking to MMS Plus this issue is detrimental to trade facilitation, hampers ease of doing business, leads to delays in cargo delivery and is a contributing factor to the rising costs of products in and outside Nigeria.

He, therefore called on government and stakeholders to address this issue with the urgency it deserves.

“The onus lies on the government, once a law is made, it should be enforced to the letter. The government has a task force, they should swing into action.

The compliance of that directive lies with the government, this issue is one of the reasons why Nigerian ports are not amongst the comity of maritime nations, it is also becoming an impediment to the ease of doing business policy of the government because unfortunately, at the end of the day, it is adding to the cost of the commodity in and out of this country.

This issue is also leading to delays in delivering cargo. This is the time for all the concerned stakeholders to come together and face this issue heads on unless they are benefitting from this rot as well.

Nigeria will not attract investors with this kind of challenge at a time that we need trade facilitation and foreign direct investment, these are some of the things that investors look at they want to know if the place is conducive for business” he posited.

On his part, Francis Omotosho the Registrar, National Association of Government-Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF Academy), while tracing the genesis of the problem alleged that these touts extorting truckers are working in connivance with various security agencies like the Police, Navy and the likes.

He also pointed out that most of the touts are failed members of the truckers association while calling for a stakeholders’ meeting to tackle this challenge from the roots.

“All the touts that you see are collaborating with the different security agencies like the Police, Navy etc. What should be done is to call all the professional associations; the truckers, the freight forwarders to a meeting, many of those touts are derailed members of these various associations.

All you need to do is to get their informants arrested and dealt with decisively, they will all leave the road. These truckers’ associations will be able to identify those working in cahoots with these government agencies to give them information, they are called the Kelebes (informants)

Once you are able to track them down and arrest them, this would send a signal to the government agencies to leave the roads” he said.

He however reserves appreciation for the Presidential Standing Task Team (PSTT) for their efforts towards ridding the Ports Access Roads of the touts.

Chief Remi Ogungbemi, Chairman, Association of Maritime Truck Owners AMATO sees a connection between the activities of these extortionists and the issues of falling trucks on Port Access Roads and appeals to the government to come to the aid of truckers.

He told MMS Plus that if the roads are cleared of touts and extortionists, the issue of trucks falling down will be eradicated.

“Let me mention the contributing factors to the falling of containers within the Lagos Metropolis, especially.  It is due to the activities of the street urchins, that is, those boys that are forcibly forcing drivers to give them money, they are contributing seriously to the falling of containers, because in most cases, they will waylay the trucks and put a stone on the traffic. 

You will see the street urchins on the side of the driver, both sides, terrorizing the driver, beating the driver, forcing the driver to give them money, they will hold the air hose to scare the driver and tell him ‘Yes, we are holding your air hose if you don’t give us money, we will break the hose’ and this air hose is the hose that controls the brake system of the truck.

 And sometimes it happens like that.  So, we are using this medium to appeal to the Lagos State government to outlaw, criminalize the activities of these street urchins.  They have become a problem to the smooth running of trucks within the Lagos Metropolis.

So, I am using this medium to appeal to the state government and let them look at how they can remove the street urchins from the roads.  I know it will help reduce the rate at which trucks are falling here and there” he added.

Efforts to get Engr. Abdulhafiz Gbolahan Toriola- Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry Of Transportation’s reaction proved abortive as he did not respond to the inquiries of this reporter as of the time of filing this report.

While the Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Transportation initially promised to get Perm Sec to address the issues raised, subsequent messages to him were left unanswered.

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