By Richards Adeniyi
IT will be recalled that few weeks after both the Nigerian Ports Authority and the Navy began a call-up system for trucks entering into Apapa port, maritime stakeholders including truck owners, truck drivers and clearing agents alleged that officials of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Nigerian Navy officers were extorting truck drivers and tankers accessing the ports.
Specifically, the stakeholders accused the ad-hoc traffic management oficials of collecting as high as N70, 000 on 40-foot container while N40, 000 is allegedly being collected on a 20-foot container.
The traffic management system which was being coordinated by the Nigerian Navy through a call-up card system that was introduced in March 22, 2018 to stem the perennial traffic lock down in the approach to Apapa port, has been a huge success since its introduction as it has restored sanity to Apapa port access road.
Ibrahim Tanko, the Vice-President, Seaport (Western Zone) of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) accused the naval personnel involved in the traffic management system of collecting between N70, 000 and N40, 000 per container.
The Naval officers collude with the NPA officials to collect this un-receipted money from truck drivers before they could be issued call-up card to access the port.
“If any driver refuses to part with the 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” he alleged.
He disclosed that the drivers then pass the bill to the clearing agents who need their services.
Also speaking on the allegation, the National Publicity Secretary of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) Mr. Joe Sani corroborated the claims made by Tanko which he described as unfortunate.
“Yes, there is an extortion going on by the Navy and NPA through the Call-Up card system.
“We don’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.
What is happening is necessitated by unfortunate stance of shipping companies not to obey the directive of NPA to take empty containers to their holding bays, so they allow these trucks to float which causes congestion in the first place.”
He however, blamed the truck drivers of being the ones, including both the Navy and NPA officials in a bid to enter the port with their empty containers and load other ones.
“The truck drivers are the ones inducing and bribing these officials to enable them gain access into the ports, drop the empties and load again so they are ready to pay,” he claimed.
His claims were echoed by Chief Remi Ogungbemi, the President of Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMARTO) who said although there is high level of extortion among these officers, but blamed the drivers who willingly offer them to get into theport faster.
“Some 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.
He also blamed the situation on NPA directive and the unwillingness of shipping companies to obey the directive which he said created opportunity for the Navy and the NPA officials to have a field day.
However, both the Navy and NPA management have denied allegations of extortion against their officials on the Call-Up system.
The Navy spokesperson for the Traffic Management Committee, Lt-Commander Charles Brinemigha dismissed the allegation as unfounded.
Even though, he did not rule out totally such a practice, he said it was not to the knowledge of Commodore Okon Eyo, who is the Commander, Nigerian Navy Ship (NNS) BEECROFT who is in charge of the traffic Call-Up system.
“No Navy officer is collecting money from any driver. The Commander has even asked the drivers to report to him directly if any of his men ask them (drivers) for money for disciplinary action.
“He even gave them his personal number on which they could reach him for complaint and he also pay impromptu visit to the operational site,” he added.
Corroborating what Sani and Chief Ogungbemi said, Lt-Commander Brinemigha said some drivers, out of desperation induce officers with money in order to get call up car ahead of others to enter the port.