The federal government’s inability to find a solution to the intractable Apapa gridlock has negatively impacted the cost of shipping containers into Nigeria, which has risen by 600 per cent.
On average, 100,000 containers, carrying various cargos are discharged in Lagos ports monthly.
With shipping companies now charging $6,000 to ship a container to Nigeria, it costs shippers in Nigeria $600 million (N234 billion) every month to transport 100,000 containers to Nigeria.
As a result of the blockage of the roads in and around the ports, millions of containers are trapped in the ports and shipping companies have had to stay at anchorages for between three to four months incurring various surcharges due to circumstances beyond their control.
Numbers obtained by THISDAY revealed that in the first half of this year, it cost $1,000 to ship a 20-foot container to Nigeria from the Far East.
Today, the cost charged by shipping lines for the same service is between $5,500 and $6,000.
Also, haulage cost from Tin Can Port to any other part of Lagos has risen by more than 1,000 per cent from about N100, 000 to about N1.2 million
THISDAY investigation revealed that due to the massive congestion at Tin Can and Apapa ports, many shipping lines have started diverting Nigeria-bound cargoes to neighbouring ports in Cotonou and Ivory Coast.
The situation, experts told THISDAY, contributes to Nigeria’s galloping inflation as consumers now have to pay more for goods.
Besides, importers, clearing agents and truck owners have expressed concerns over worsening gridlock along the port access road at the Tin Can Island Port Complex (TCIPC), Lagos, accusing officials of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Security Department, police and the Presidential Task Team on Apapa gridlock, who were deployed to manage traffic in the area of extortion.
They 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.
THISDAY investigation revealed a well-organised racket of security officials at the Tin Can Island Port Complex, who allegedly extort between N70,000 and N200,000 per truck before allowing them in.
Some truck drivers who expressed frustration over the development accused officials of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Security Department, the police and the Presidential Task Team on Apapa gridlock of demanding huge sums of money as bribes from them before their trucks are granted access into the port.
The situation, THISDAY gathered, has negatively affected port operations by slowing down cargo delivery. It has also led to a sudden rise in haulage and shipping cost, thereby fuelling inflation in the country.
A truck owner and an executive member of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Mr. Sanni Bala, said the security agents would not grant them access to the ports unless they pay between N70,000 and N200,000 depending on the “bargaining power” of the truck driver.
“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 a daily occurrence and an institutionalised phenomenon that is taking a serious toll on the income of truck owners and exacerbating the plight of motorists on that axis.
“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.
“They collect money ranging from N70,000 to N200,000 and as a result, many truckers have been left with nothing to take home and maintain their trucks and yet the Lagos State Government will be complaining of rickety trucks on the roads whereas it is the outcome of the extortion by the police and others and they have refused to vacate the roads,” he added.
The Chairman of AMATO, Chief Remi Ogungbemi, corroborated Bala’s statement.
He said: “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 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.”
A clearing agent operating at the Tin Can Island Port, Mr. Ojo Akintoye, identified more than four roadblocks between Tin Can Island Port First and Second Gates set up by the Presidential Task Team, the 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.
“From First Gate to Second Gate, we have about four roadblocks 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.”
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, the 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.
Farinto also lamented the absence of an electronic call-up system, saying that the manual call up system being used by the 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 stated.
In February, the House of Representatives had resolved to investigate the 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 following 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 Hon. Olusola Fatoba from Ekiti State.
Moving the motion, Fatoba had said truck operators pay as high as N300,000 to gain access into the port.
He said the House was worried that law enforcement agents that are supposed to maintain law and order at the port had formed a “cartel” in cahoots with port officials, extorting money from the transporters.
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 said 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 a 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.”