•40 ships stranded at anchorage
•Maritime workers begin strike, close eastern ports
Eromosele Abiodun in Lagos and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
Truckers have within one week raised the cost to move a container from the Tin Can Island Port, Lagos, to any other part of the city by 50 per cent, from N1.2 million to N1.8 million, THISDAY checks revealed at the weekend.
THISDAY had exclusively reported last week that haulage cost from Tin Can to any other part of Lagos had risen by more than 1,000 per cent from about N100,000 to about N1.2 million
Barely a year ago, the cost of trucking from the Tin Can Port was about N300,000.
The haulage cost from Tin Can Port is now three times the cost of haulage from the Apapa Port, which has remained at N600, 000 since the beginning of this year.
During an on-the-spot assessment by THISDAY over the weekend, truck operators attributed the escalating cost of haulage services at the Tin Can Port to extortion by security operators, including Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) security officials, police and the presidential task team on Apapa gridlock.
The truck drivers told THISDAY that they pay more than N200, 000 per truck to gain access to the port.
However, promises by the NPA and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) to curtail extortion and repair the roads to enable free flow of traffic have remained unfulfilled.
Speaking on the development, the Managing Director of Port & Cargo Handling Services, Mr. John Jenkins, 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.
“I have worked in this port industry all my life. I have never seen roads like this. We could form a palliative solution. We are not happy; we got people losing their means of livelihood every day because of the poor condition of the road.”
The Chairman, Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Chief Remi Ogungbemi, described the situation at the ports as befuddling.
“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,” he added.
A clearing agent operating at the Tin Can Island Port, Mr. Ojo Akintoye, said there are 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 bribe officials before being allowed passage into the port.
He said: “The extortion by NPA (security officials) 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 road blocks mounted by the security agents and the trucks must part with money before they can move.”
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 collection by NPA security officials, the police and members of the Presidential Task Team, adding that to enter the port, truckers pay as high as N280,000 to security operatives on the road.
Last week, the NPA in a statement promised to curtail “rent seeking” on the port access road after the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) threatened to go on strike due to the harrowing experience suffered by its members in accessing the port.
Also, last Wednesday, the House of Representatives asked the federal government to disband the Presidential Task Team, stressing that it has outlived its usefulness and is allegedly participating in extortion and contributing to the congestion of the Lagos ports.
The lawmakers had also urged government and other security agencies to immediately end extortion of truck drivers.
“Concerned that in addition to the poor condition of the port access roads, extortion by officials of the Nigerian Ports Authority Security Department, the police, and the Presidential Task Force remain the major cause of unending gridlock along the port access roads, with stakeholders such as importers, clearing agents and truck owners alleging that they are forced to pay as much as N250,000 to N280,000 per truck for entries and exits to the ports.
“These apparatus milking the stakeholders at the expense of the nation should be held accountable, while the task force, which has demonstrated that it has outlived its usefulness, should be disbanded forthwith,” one of the lawmakers, Hon. Leke Abejide, who sponsored a motion of “urgent national importance” on the issue, had said.
Abejide said that businesses, commuters, and residents along the access roads “see hell on a daily basis as they are subjected to nuisance, pollution, and emissions to the environment.”
According to him, due to the challenges of inaccessibility to the ports in Lagos, it now takes an average of 60 days to turnaround a vessel as against the five days it used to be.
At present, no fewer than 40 ships calling at the Tin Can Island Port are stranded at anchorage due to lack of space to discharge new cargoes at terminals in the port, as cargo evacuation from the port has been hampered by multiple toll points mounted by security operatives including men of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) security department, the Nigeria police, Nigerian Army and officials of the Presidential Task Team.
The situation has negatively affected port operation as cargo delivery has been considerably slowed down, leading to astronomical rise in haulage and shipping cost, thereby fuelling inflation in the country.
Maritime Workers Begin Strike over Sack of 500 Members
Meanwhile, Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) has directed all its members in Eastern ports to commence an indefinite strike from today in protest over the retrenchment of 500 workers by the management of Integrated Logistics Services (INTELS) Nigeria Limited and the Associated Maritime Services (AMS) Limited.
The union said the strike would last until the management of INTELS and AMS withdraw the sack letters issued to their members and resume negotiations with the unions.
It also stated that the strike would not be called off until there is a guarantee from the management of Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) that security operatives will no longer be used to deal with or settle industrial relations issues in the sector.
In a statement signed by the Secretary General of MWUN, Mr. Felix Akingboye, the union urged the federal government to investigate the deployment of armed security operatives to disrupt a peaceful gathering of workers.
It called for sanctions against those who brought the security operatives that brutalised, intimidated and harassed its members.
MWUN decried what it termed increasing unfair labour practice and assault on its members in INTELS Nigeria Limited and AMS Limited.
According to Akingboye, “the height of the anti-labour practices by these two companies were the sacking of over 500 of our members on December 4, 2020 in the midst of the union’s negotiations with the companies over improved welfare and the conditions of service for workers- our members.
“In the course of the negotiations that started about a week earlier, the union requested for a break to enable us hold a National Executive Council (NEC) meeting on Friday, 4 December 2020. To our greatest shock, while the union was holding its NEC, the two companies issued redundancy letters to over 500 of our members.
“We wrote to the two managements to withdraw the redundancy letters for us to resume negotiations in a peaceful and harmonious environment. They did not only refuse, but follow up the redundancy letters by locking out our members on Monday December 7, 2020.”
The union alleged that the management unleashed armed security operatives on its members and inflicted various degrees of injuries on them, leading some of them to receive treatment in hospitals.
“As a law-abiding union, we cannot accept the illegal use of security operatives to deal with industrial relations issue where unarmed workers are brutalise, intimidated and harassed,” it added.