After maritime activities, the next big thing that happens in Apapa, Nigeria’s first port city, is extortion of truck drivers, an act that has assumed the status of an industry worth N100 million daily.
Though the introduction of an electronic call- up system has led to an improvement in traffic situation, the technology that drives that system has not been able to end extortion on Apapa roads and bridges.
Stakeholders, especially truck owners who are at the receiving end, explain that the extortion has continued because Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has remained a toothless bull dog incapable of taking necessary actions to put an to the monster.
Trucks Transit Parks, the firm in charge of managing the electronic call-up system, estimates the value of daily extortion on Apapa roads at N100 million, meaning that in just one month, truck owners part with N30 million taken from them by uniformed officials whose job should be traffic control.
Itunuoluwa Shonibare, a truck owner, agrees with PTT’s estimate, disclosing that there exists what she called ‘Apapa park yahoo’ which is why majority of uniformed personnel always refused to be posted out of Apapa area.
Shonibare who spoke with BusinessDay in a telephone interview, alleged that uniformed officials pay as much as N10 million to their superiors to come back to Apapa where each of them earns as much as N2 million overnight.
“If the NPA is serious about fighting corruption in Apapa, they should visit Apapa unannounced without entourage at night from 10pm to 3am, to see wonders happening. Imagine export containers paying N200, 000 each to access the port; multiply this by 200 export trucks that access the port. That will give you N40 million a day,” she explained.
Shonibare alleged further that some NPA officials were involved in stealing code for truckers that want to circumvent the system, revealing that each code was sold for N5,000 which means that the six codes required to obtain Eto ticket goes for N30,000 while truckers pay between N150,000 and N180,000 to avoid necessary pre-gates procedures.
In the last three to four weeks, Apapa residents and businesses have witnessed relatively gridlock-free roads and bridges. Olaseni Alakija, general manager, corporate and strategic communications at NPA, explained to BusinessDay that “certain steps have been taken and more will be taken.”
He, however, declined to disclose the steps because of saboteurs. He added that those outside the NPA circle who have been indicted for unethical conducts were being talked to.
“We are reaching out to the authorities of those outside the NPA who were exposed by some sections of the media for doing what they were doing and therefore sabotaging our efforts,” he said, adding, “from what we all can see on the roads, it means the authorities are acting.”
But Kayode Opeifa, the executive vice chairman of the disbanded Presidential Task Team (PTT) on Apapa Gridlock, has always blamed the problem of Apapa on the inefficiency at the ports supervised by NPA.
Chinuike Amaechi, minister of transport, shared the same view at a TV programme in Lagos where he stressed that the problem with the seaport was inefficiency, adding that terminal operators must contribute to the total reconstruction and reorganization of Apapa port.
It is the expectation of Apapa stakeholders, particularly landlords and other property owners to whom the gridlock remains Elephant in a China’s shop that is degrading the environment and devaluing their properties, that the present situation is sustained by whatever means.
Though it is not yet Uhuru, promoters of the Eto App, say the call-up system has made some gains, citing haulage rate which, according to them, has dropped drastically to 30 to 40 percent. In December last year, the haulage rate from Tin-Can to Ikeja was about N1.4 or N1.5 million but now, it has reduced to about N500,000 to N600,000.
Another positive side of the call-up system is that it has also ensured that when empty containers are loaded, they go straight to the port instead of going to a Truck Park, thereby reducing the huge demurrage shippers pay on empty containers.
“By using a combination of technology, physical infrastructure, and stakeholder collaboration, we have increased and optimised existing infrastructure; stopped park owners from releasing trucks from their parks indiscriminately; neutralised truck drivers ability to access the port without first being in a park, and following the queue,” , Kamar Bakrin, chairman of Trucks Transit Parks, noted.