By Steve Agbota                                    [email protected] 

Corruption and extortion have become the two most intractible challenges facing maritime stakeholders especially truck owners and drivers along the nation’s port access corridors.

Indeed,  in several areas, flagrant acts of extortion are daily linked to the persistent gridlock which have become  bitter pills  that port users have had to swallow over and over again.  This has continued to defile basic solutions thrown at it.

In recent times, not even a solution known as electronic call-up system introduced by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), has been able to stem the menace.

The road links to the nation’s two premier seaports are synonymous with corruption. This is because there  are over 26 illegal check points along Apapa port access roads alone. These illegal check points were mounted by security agents including Police, Army, LASTMA and NPA security personnel among others.

Their menace has seen several petitions being sent to the management of NPA and Inspector General of Police and other authorities of security agencies alike.

Following the many petitions by port users especially truck owners, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Lagos State Government (LASG) and Nigerian Police dismantled illegal checkpoints along Port access roads as part of efforts to curb extortion of truck drivers in the corridor.

However, the statement obtained by quoted: “Pursuant to the implementation of action points in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the NPA and the Lagos State Government (LASG) on truck traffic control and enforcement in Apapa and environs signed on March 8, 2022, the management of NPA has enlisted the support of the police high command in curbing the activities of extortionists and other forms of illegalities along the roads leading to Apapa and TinCan Island Port Complex.

“The Managing Director NPA Mohammed Bello Koko, while receiving the AIG Zone 2 Command Bode Adeyinka, Adeleke and his counterpart in the Maritime Police Command Ibrahim Kaoje, on “Thursday, April 21, 2022 at the NPA headquarters lamented the proliferation of illegal checkpoints along the ports corridor and got the consent of the two AIGs to join the NPA management on a spot check of the port access road to ascertain the reality on the ground.”

In spite of the above statement, the extortion is still ongoing along the Tin Can Port access road even as truck drivers allege they are still paying security agents between N100, 000 to N250, 000 before being allowed into the port.

Truck drivers who spoke with Daily Sun insisted that clogging along the Tin Can Island port access road is as a result of  several toll points before they can access the port.

And the ripples effect of the development is congestion that has left several ships stuck at the anchorage.

Also, several importers, clearing agents and truck owners have expressed concerns over worsening gridlock along the port access road at the Tin Can Island Port, accusing security officials deployed to manage traffic in the area of massive extortion.

Aside the poor condition of the port access roads, extortion by security and traffic control officials remain the major cause of the unending gridlock along the Apapa-Oshodi expressway.

The situation has negatively affected port operation as cargo delivery has been considerably slowed down. It has also led to a sudden rise in haulage and shipping cost, thereby fueling inflation in the country.

Speaking with Daily Sun, the former member Presidential Taskforce on the Reform of Nigeria Customs Service; Presidential Committee on Destination Inspection and Ministerial Committee on Fiscal Policy and Import Clearance Procedure, Lucky Eyis Amiwero, said the there are real economy losses because the port is not been properly managed.

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“When the concession of the port was done, I was against it as it was done wrongly.  It also took government much time before it started to intervene. It was not a serious intervention to really solve the problems. It was intervention that allowed the trucks to go into the Ports and come out. That is not serious intervention,” he said.

He said “looking at the port intervention, the nation’s port must be consistent, predictable and transparent. But today, none of Nigerian Ports has these components for effective management and administration.

“When you are talking moving a cargo is a problem, going into the port is a problem and the procedure in the port is a problem. There are a lot of factors that militate against the operations of the port in Lagos. And those factors are what the government has not addressed.

“Government is only looking at how they can make money out of the port. They only bring government people to come and rectify issues and they will never solve that problems. That is why Obasanjo is better. He brought experts to come and solve problems. You use experts to solve problems not politicians.,” he argued.

According to him, the port needs total overhaul by experts, adding that the port procedure is cumbersome and length and nobody regulates the ports.

He said if government is serious, there is need to engage experts to find lasting solutions to the problem, and not politicians. He added that government needs to constitute a very serious committee of professionals to solve problems.

Amiwero said Apapa gridlock came as a result of port concession, that was not properly done. He hinted that a lot of things were not put into consideration, as several areas that needed to be left for trailer parks, holding bays, were never activated. “And the trailer parks and holding bays issues have been on for a very long time.

There are issues that created that gridlock that must be addressed.

“If the issues are not addressed, probably, we will continue to scramble. Then we must understand that very soon, our country will be exposed to African Continental Free Trade Agreement. What we have seen so far is that the gridlock is not properly managed,” he added.

He said NPA must not be the one to manage the gridlock./ It should be left with professional port procedural experts who will come and look at the most of the administrations in the port operations and proffer solutions on how to address it.

He said Nigeria port needs economy regulator like Ghana, South Africa who have port economy regulators running  their ports.

“You cannot continue to bring in civil servants who want to make money from it. What Federal Government needs to do is to bring in experts that will address the issue of the gridlock. These issues are man made errors and there must be a special committee to resolve it.

“Only professionals can solve the Apapa gridlock not NPA workers, politicians, not even Customs. There is need to call people who will be able to address those issues because the gridlock came in as a result of wronghandling of port concession by the Federal Government,” he added.

An exporter, Mr. Dada Adeyemi, said that a lot of people have lost their contractual agreement with their foreign counterparts due to gridlock, as the situation is a serious one as it has adverse effect on the forex that suppose to come into the country.

“You know the white man is not like us that we can still beg and still have our ways through. Once you have an agreement with a white man, you must deliver on the time you signed in the paper. Once you fails, they begin to see you as unserious fellow.