- Allege extortion by security agencies
The industrial action by truck drivers evacuating goods at the Apapa Port which is proposed to start today will shut down the port and worsen its congestion, a situation analysts have said could adversely affect the economy of the country.
Truck drivers and other major stakeholders at the port are protesting alleged extortion by personnel of the Nigerian Navy and other government agencies implementing the traffic call up system introduced by the federal government to manage the precarious Apapa traffic gridlock.
THISDAY gathered that the truck drivers might commence the strike today, a move some of their officials said was aimed at total shutdown of activity at the port.
If the strike goes ahead, it could fuel cargo congestion in the two Lagos ports because 98 per cent of cargoes in the ports are being evacuated by road transportation.
A leader of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO) told THISDAY that the industrial action would be embarked upon by individual truck owners and drivers who are tired of the situation under which they operate.
He alleged that the situation was getting chaotic despite government intervention and introduction of call up system.
He source said: â€It has not been announced officially, but truck drivers have down tool on individual basis but in the next 48 hours, there will be an announcement, and we want to inform authority before going on strike.â€
Apapa access roads have become impassable for more than two years as a result of failure by the government to repair damaged portions of Apapa-Oshodi expressway.
The traffic management system being coordinated by the Nigerian Navy via a call up card system introduced early this year to stem the perennial traffic lock down at Apapa port was at some point successful and restored sanity on the port access roads.
However, the slow pace of work on the Apapa Wharf road reconstruction project, despite claims by the contractors that it has achieved 75 per cent completion, appears to have worsened the situation.
But truck drivers have decried the activity of officials involved in the traffic management and vowed to henceforth resist the practice.
They also threatened to shut down the ports in a planned industrial action that may paralyse port activities.
To achieve their threat, the independent truck owners especially those operating at the Ijora axis had commenced series of meetings and consultations with truck owners under various associations such as the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), AMATO, Maritime Workersâ€™ Union of Nigeria (MWUN), Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN).
Officials of the associations told THISDAY that the planned industrial action was the last resort as all their previous efforts to stop the alleged extortionist practice had been fruitless.
At the meeting held at the NARTO office in Tincan, Abdullahi Inuwa of NARTO, said the collaborative efforts by the truckers have become necessary and urgent, saying they have been pushed to the wall as a result of the extortion in the hands of the government security officials.
The Vice-President, Seaport (Western Zone) of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Ibrahim Tanko, accused the naval officials of collecting N70,000 on 40- footer container while N40,000 was being collected on 20-footer container.
According to him, â€œThe naval officers collude with the NPA officials to collect this unreceipted money from truck drivers before they could be issued CA Lloyd up card to access the port.
â€œIf any driver refuses to part with this amount, he would stay in queue till eternity and because these drivers want to enter the port to get job, they are constrained to pay.â€
The National Publicity Secretary of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANCLA), Joe Sanni, corroborated Tankoâ€™s claims describing the situation as unfortunate.
â€œYes, there is extortion going on by the navy and NPA through the call up card system. We didnâ€™t even know that the money they collect has increased to N70,000 and N40,000, it used to be between N30,000 and N40,000.
â€œWhat is happening is necessitated by unfortunate stance of shipping companies not to obey the directive of NPA to direct empty containers to their holding bays, so they allow these trucks to float which causes congestion in the first place,â€ he said.
Also, the President of AMATO, Chief Remi Ogungbemi, said there was high level of extortion among these officers, but blamed the drivers who willingly offer them to get into the port faster.
â€œSome of these drivers offer money to the officials who control the traffic to get the call up card and enter the port. Some of them may not even tell the truth about the actual amount they pay as a ploy to inflate the real amount for the owners of the trucks. Yes, extortion goes on day and night there, â€œOgungbemi declared.
However, the Naval spokesperson for the traffic management committee, Lt. Commander Charles Brinemigha, dismissed the allegations.
He said the Commander, Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) BEECROFT, Commodore Okon Eyo, who is in charge of the traffic call up system has no knowledge of it.
â€œNo naval officer collects money from any driver. The commander has even asked the drivers to report to him directly any of his men who ask them for money for disciplinary action.
â€œThe commodore even gave the truckers his personal phone number on which they could reach him for complaint, and he also pays impromptu visits to the operational site,â€ he added.
Brinemigha, however, alleged that some drivers, out of desperation, induce officers with money in order to get call up card ahead of others to enter the port.