By Francis Ogwo
The congestion at the Tin Can Island Port (TCIP), Apapa became worrisome over the weekend with the anchorage of the ports currently having 40 ships not yet cleared. This development according to ports sources has made operations difficult and expensive.
Reports say the cost of moving a container from one point in the terminal to another increased from below N100,000 less than a month ago, to about N1.1 million now.
A cross section of importers who over the weekend lamented that at the moment they pay between N850,000 and N1.1 million for their containers to be trucked from point to the other, either for examination or something, a journey of about 50 meters and has never been more than 200 meters.
An anonymous freight agent said the current state at the Port is due to the extortions going on along the port access roads by the security personnel allegedly in collaboration with the NPA Security Department.
He said: “From the First Gate to Second Gate, we have about four road blocks mounted by the security agents and the trucks must part with money before they can move. As we speak, we pay between N1.1 million and N1.2 million per truck as against N100,000 to move our containers out of the port. The cheapest truck you can get to hire is N1 million.
“We have never experienced it this way before.”
He said before now, they were paying between N50,000 to N100,000 to truckers for such services. They further blamed the owners of the terminals of having a hand in the scheme to frisk the importers to the last kobo as the ship congestion at the anchorage and cargo congestion in the port cannot be enough reason for such outrageous increase.
Another challenge faced by the shippers according to reports are huge demurrage payments to owners of the over 40 vessels currently stranded at the Lagos anchorage due to lack of space to discharge their cargoes at terminals in the Tin Can Island Port.
There are also insinuations that operatives of the Presidential Taskforce Team on Decongestion of Apapa Port and other security personnel responded to the resultant hiccup in the port by jacking up the amount they hitherto extort from truck owners before their trucks are allowed into the ports from about N20,000 to N50,000 to N100,000 to N250,000 per truck currently.
The stakeholders said in addition to 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.
A truck owner had lamented that “The issue of unlawful extortion by NPA security officials, police and the Presidential Task Team along Apapa and Tin Can Port road axis has become an institutionalised phenomenon that is taking a serious toll on the income of truck owners and increasing cost of haulage in and out of the port.
“The issue of traffic on the access road is artificial and caused by human factor because without the traffic, there is no how they can extort people, so they have to create the traffic by delaying truckers, Bala said.
Chairman of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Chief Remi Ogungbemi, corroborated the position of Bala saying, “What is happening at Tin Can is a situation of the more you look, the less you see.
“Business is still going on as usual and the Task Force Team has refused to leave because they are benefiting from the chaos. They have formed a cartel and if you are not in that group, they will not pass your truck no matter who you are.”
According to a clearing agent operating at the Tin Can Island Port, Ojo Akintoye, there are more than four road blocks between Tin Can Island Port First and Second Gates set up by the Presidential Task Team, Police and NPA officials where each truck is expected to part with money before being allowed passage into the port.
He said: “The extortion by NPA and other security agencies who claim to be controlling traffic on the road is the cause of the impediment we are experiencing daily along the port access road.”
The National Vice President, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Kayode Farinto, called for the disbandment of the Presidential Task Team, which he said has become “a money-making machine”.
According to him, clearing agents lose an average of N300 million weekly to illegal collections by NPA security officials, Police and members of the Presidential Task Team, adding that to enter the port, truck operators pay as high as N280,000 to security operatives on the road. Farinto also lamented the absence of an electronic call-up system, saying the manual call up system being used by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) is fuelling corruption.
“It is high time the NPA began the electronic call-up system. The manual call-up system is full of anomalies and it is encouraging corruption and it looks as if the government is not even ready to stop corruption,” he said. In February, the House of Representatives resolved to investigate extortion of truck drivers in Apapa by security operatives.
The resolution was made after lawmakers identified extortion by security officials as being a major factor responsible for the traffic challenges as operatives delayed the movement of trucks drivers who refused to cooperate with them.
The House took the resolution consequent upon a motion titled “Urgent Need to Investigate the unwarranted Extortion of Truck Operators and other Port users by Law Enforcement Agents at Apapa Port”, moved by Olusola Fatoba from Ekiti State.
Moving the motion, Fatoba said truck operators pay as high as N200,000 to N300,000 to gain access into the port. He said the House is worried that law enforcement agents that are supposed to maintain law and order at the port have now formed a “cartel” in cahoots with unscrupulous port officials, extorting money ranging from N200,000 to N300,000 per truck to gain entrance into the port, to load or offload containers.
He said the “ugly trend” had been going on unabated for years, “but became worse after naval officers were removed from the operations, as the sum of N60,000 to N100,000 was extorted when the naval officers were in charge of the operation.”
He added that the House was also worried that as a result of the activities of law enforcement agents in Apapa, “a truck may spend up to two months before gaining access into the terminal which is causing a lot of hardships and huge increase in the cost of doing business which may inevitably lead to unrest and breakdown of law and order by the frustrated and oppressed truck operators”.
The Managing Director of Port & Cargo Handling Services, John Jenkins, on Tuesday expressed frustration over the near total collapse of cargo delivery along the Mile 2/ Tin Can Island port access road.
He said: “Transfer of containers by road is almost not in existence because the road is blocked and you can’t get containers out.
The problem is the road. If the problem of the road is solved, the problem inside the port will be solved. Before we never had block stack containers because the cargo used to move freely but not anymore now.
“There are in excess of 40 vessels at anchorage. At Port & Cargo, we could only bring seven alongside now. Last month, we kept one of the MSC vessels there for four days because they could not discharge and this month, we have kept vessels for more than two days already because we don’t know where to put the containers,” the respondent added.
Recall that the Nigerian Economic Summit Group had recently described the congestion at the Apapa Port in Lagos as a huge set back to the country’s quest to support import and export activities.
This was with a call on the Federal Government to intensify reforms at the nation’s ports to tackle the issue of congestion so as to boost economic activities.