Despite efforts by the government to rid Apapa and its environs of gridlock, the chaotic traffic situation has continued to linger unabated because those who have been assigned the responsibility of ensuring sanity on the port access roads are taking advantage of the situation to enrich themselves.
Truck drivers and clearing agents operating at the Lagos ports may have thought that the high level extortion, which was the order of the day when naval personnel controlled traffic at Apapa would be addressed with the birth of the Presidential Task Team headed by one time Commissioner for Transportation in Lagos, Kayode Opeifa. But sadly, the situation has worsened as officials of so-called task team have turned the gridlock into a money-taking venture.
Simply put, deep-rooted corruption by the task team deployed to manage the gridlock had frustrated every effort by government including the call-up system initiative introduced by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to streamline truck access to the port.
Recently, Port Manager, Lagos Port Complex, Apapa, Fumilayo Olotu, decried the activities of uniformed men, whom she accused of worsening the spate of corruption and contributing to the traffic challenge on the Lagos ports access roads..
According to the Port Manager, apart from the fact that the uniformed men stop trucks coming to the port unnecessarily, they also escort unauthorized trucks to gain entry into the port, a move referred to as ‘flying of trucks’ after collecting huge sums of money from the drivers.
Hapless truck drivers are always at the receiving end of the unbridled extortion by these security operatives. In 2019, the truck drivers out of frustration had engaged policemen from the task team in a bloody clash over allegation of extortion, which led to the death of one person and several vehicles burnt at the Lilypond truck park.
Hapless truck drivers and owners have accused unscrupulous officials of the task team of demand huge sums of money ranging from N250,000 to N300,000 per truck in order to accord truckers not in the Lilypond park ‘priority access’ to the port.
“The level of extortion of truckers is very outrageous. It is one of the factors frustrating any government policy aimed at restoring sanity on the Apapa access roads. The major players are the NPA security officials, the police, the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA) and the Federal Road Safety Corp (FRSC) officials who are members of the task team. They are the ones exacerbating the problems of truckers because of the money they are collecting from truck drivers.
“At the same time, they are not following due process of trucks entering Lilypond to Apapa. They promote the use of direct access to the port, which is called ‘priority’, so the highest bidder gets the priority, ranging from N250,000 to N300,000 per truck. The security agencies will deliberately frustrate trucks coming from Lilypond, slow them down and pass those coming from the bridge direct from Ijora Olapa overnight. Meanwhile, those at the Lilypond are left there for several weeks and even months. When the truck drivers are also coming out, they will still be subjected to multiple extortion at various illegal checkpoints,” President of the youth wing of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Mohammed Sanni, said.
Sanni said there are over 10 illegal security checkpoints between Lilypond gate and Apapa port gate set up by the task team where each truck is expected to part with money before being allowed passage into the port.
He said, “There are over 10 illegal checkpoints mounted by the task force from Lilypond to the port. They beat driver, destroy their vehicles all in the effort to collect bribe. This is very frustrating. It is unfortunate that the people that are being assigned with the responsibility of ensuring sanity on the road are the ones frustrating it for their own selfish interest.
“I have enough evidence to buttress what I am saying. The task team officials are all hypocrites, they will deny they are not collecting bribe but in reality, that is what is happening,” he added just as he called for the dissolution of the task team, which he said had overstayed its purpose and the prosecution by all those involved in the extortion scheme.
Another truck driver, Grey Ezeala, said different cabals and cartels have been created in connivance with the presidential task team to control and determine who can have access to the Lagos ports.
While lamenting the frustration of truck drivers who are left unattended to at Lilypond parks for weeks, Ezeala said the task team collects as much as N200,000 per truck to fast track movement of at least 30 to 50 trucks into the port every night.
He said, “Trucks can only access the port through Lilypond park but the problem we are having is that those who claimed they are cabals have hijacked the operations totally by moving their trucks directly to the port. This has impeded movement of truckers that are accessing the port through Lilypond.
“The cabals pay N250,000 per truck. When you come to Lilypond, you spend, weeks sometimes months before leaving. Even before we access Lilypond, some of us would have spent three weeks at the garages where your truck will park for N3,000 per day.
“After leaving the park, you will come to Lilypond where you will spend another three to four weeks before you will be exited out. Sometimes, the task team will even turn you back that they did not recognize the Lilpond park thereby encouraging us to follow the fast track where we would pay up to N250,000 before they can allow you go.
“So if we say we want to follow the due process, Opeifa, being the task force chairman would still be frustrating the effort of the Lilypond by making us stay there for almost two months.
“The problem is those who claim they are priority truck and they don’t have to come to Lilypond but to the port direct, in collaboration with the task force. Why they are giving them this support is because at the end of the day, they have a return they give to the task force, which is N200,000 per truck every night. On the average, they move nothing less than 30 to 50 trucks.
“Apapa has turned to a business centre where uniformed men come as people that can pass trucks. They come and they charge money for them to escort your truck to Apapa direct and this costs between N200,000 to N250,000. Apapa is a honey pot. We want the government to put a mechanism in place whereby they enforce all trucks to come to Apapa through Lilypond. Issue of ‘priority’ should be cancelled,” he said.
On his part, the Chairman of AMATO, Chief Remi Ogungbemi corroborated the position of Sanni and Ezeila saying, “What is happening in Apapa is a situation of the more you look, the less you see. Business is still going on as usual and the task 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.”