The establishment of the Presidential Task Force on the Apapa Gridlock chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has been precipitating subtle upheaval in port operations on access roads from Mile 2 Expressway corridor to both the Tin Can Island and Apapa Ports. Stakeholders in the transport sector of the port operations have sustained vehement agitation against alleged collection of illegal dues or levies by a clique of transport operators in collaboration with the Presidential Task Force. Members of the perceived clique are accused of allegedly imposing N40,000 fee on truck owners or drivers before issuing “access pass” to ply the Tin Can Island road from the Mile 2 corridor of the Oshodi/Apapa expressway.
Those being alleged, however, contended with the protesters, disputing the collection of money from truck owners or drivers. The accusations and refutations made it imperative for conduct of thorough investigation; interactions were held with stakeholders from all sides – truck owners, Task Force, Transport Managers, including truck drivers who chose to speak on the condition of anonymity.
The crux of the uproar is an allegation that a group emerged among the transport operators without consensus and allegedly started collecting N40,000 levy per truck before truck drivers gain access to the Mile 2 – Tin Can Island road on transit to the Port. Other stakeholders have been demanding the collectors to render account of the revenue generated.
Secondly, the group under purported claim of being union representatives, allegedly share trucks space slots 50% with security operatives of the Presidential Task Force, they further allegedly classify some operators as “priority”, thus, giving speedy access to their ‘priority’ trucks to move easily into the ports.
Truck owners and drivers are purportedly issued tags on the alleged payment of N40,000 levy or more, but no receipt of payment is issued; the payment grants them access pass to the Mile 2 – Tin Can Island route.
The tenure of the Presidential Task Force is contested to have expired since June 2019 according the proclamation and mandate of President Muhammadu Buhari on the inauguration of the Task Force for a period of two weeks in March 2019.
Tenure of the Presidential Task Force on Apapa Gridlock:
The directive to the Presidential Task Force at inauguration on Wednesday, May 22, 2019, by the Presidency spelt out specific mandate and time frame to clear the Apapa Port Area Access Road and traffic with specific terms of reference.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was appointed Chairman of the Task Force by President Buhari; Kayode Opeifa was appointed Executive Vice Chairman; he is the direct coordinator of the Task Force which was given the mandate to within two weeks conclude its assignment which elapsed on June 5, 2019. The mandate was renewed, and extended to another two weeks, which also elapsed on June 19, 2019.
The Presidential Task Force is an interventionist ad hoc structure set up for effective traffic management for urgent clearance of the Apapa Gridlock.
Mandate of the Presidential Task Force:
At inauguration of the Presidential Task Force in March 2019, the terms of reference were immediate clearing of the Apapa Gridlock and restoration of law and order to Apapa and its environs within two weeks.
The Presidential directive mandated:
1. Immediate removal of all trucks from the bridges and roads within Apapa and all adjoining streets leading to the Apapa Port.
2. The development of an efficient and effective management plan for the entire Port area traffic, including the cargo, fuel distribution and business district traffic.
3. Enforcing the permanent removal of all stationary trucks on the highway.
4. The development of an effective manual truck call-up system, pending the introduction of the electronic truck call-up system.
5. The implementation of a workable Empty Container Return and Export Container Truck Handling Policy, among others.
6. Remove extortionist and illegal traffic control groups around Port operations.
Alleged Illegal activities:
There are allegations of assumed or self-appointed union leaders who created artificial structures on the Mile 2 -Tin Can Island corridor of the Apapa – Oshodi Expressway to enforce purported revenue collection from truck drivers which they cannot account for or explain to who the revenue is being remitted after months of operations.
It was alleged that a levy of N40,000 per truck is imposed on truck drivers before any truck is permitted to access the road to Tin Can Island from Mile 2.
Curiously, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Presidential Task Force, Kayode Opeifa, had in a speech after inauguration, acknowledged that “formerly, truckers pay N65,000 to N120,000, spending weeks to have access to use the road” into the Port. That was a proof of either purported revenue collection or extortion by the previous Task Force coordinated by the Nigeria Navy before the emergence of the current Presidential Task Force.
There is allegation that the self-appointed union leaders, operating under an unregistered identity of Truck Owners Association, have a purported agreement with security operatives in the Presidential Task Force on the alleged revenue collection which many operators protest is illegal. Members of Truck Owners Association were alleged to claim operating on the mandate of the Council of Maritime Transport Unions and Associations (COMTUA).
COMTUA, however, disputed the allegations.
Protests, Agitations and Allegations:
Several transport operators at the port are protesting alleged imposition of N40,000 per truck as registration fee at Fagbems Petrol Station at Mile 2 point before being issued access pass to the Tin Can Island route by some individuals claiming to be members of Truck Owners Association, operating under purported coverage of the Council of Maritime Transport Unions and Associations (COMTUA).
Alhaji Isiaka, Chairman, Road Transport Union, one of the leaders of the unions in the Maritime industry, in a telephone interaction, confirmed the payment of N40,000 by truck owners and other transport operators on the Mile 2 – Tin Can Island axis.
He stated: “Yes, that is true; that is the truth. Some people are paying even N50,000; some are paying N100,000.
“It is not the Union that made the arrangement. Some persons ganged up and started collecting money, it is not union.”
Alhaji Isiaka alleged that “the Police is collecting N30,000 from the N40,000. We do not see why the Police should be collecting N30,000.”
He said the group share truck slots allegedly with the Police on equal numbers for issuance of access tags on alleged payment of the imposed fee.
Alhaji Isiaka narrated: “When we have spaces for 300 trucks, they will take 150 and give Police the other 150;” alleging: “And the Police will collect N80,000 per truck and still collect N30,000 from the Truck agents.” He decried that it is unfortunate.
The Transport Union leader disclosed that before the current Task Force, the fee was N80,000 or N120,000 per truck to cross Mile 2 alone.
Also, Pastor Ikeeji, Secretary, Road Transport Employers of Nigeria (RTEAN) – Haulage, in a telephone interaction noted that there are two alternative routes to the Port, which are through Mile 2 or Ijora. He added that a structure emerged on the Mile 2 axis purportedly making arrangement to grant access to trucks, which he questioned the legality and transparency.
Pastor Ikeeji narrated: “For now, you have to access the Port either through Apapa or Tin Can. There is a kind of structure by a group at the Second Rainbow, Fagbems Petrol Station, trying to make arrangement with the Presidential Task Force so that they can offer access to trucks. That structure, I cannot attest to its transparency or integrity.”
Pastor Ikeeji maintained: “Each tag costs N40,000 officially. They have arrangement whereby they send N30,000 to the Task Force and use the N10,000 for expenses.
“This is still a subject of discussion. Some of our members are not comfortable and the matter has been taken to the Nigeria Police Zone 2.
“I am not even comfortable with that arrangement because it is not giving any relief.”
Corroborating the positions of alleged routine exploitation, Omotayo Stephen, a logistics practitioner, lamented the rotten stage of truck movement to the ports at Apapa; he described the situation as frustrating and appalling. He called for immediate dissolution of the Opeifa Task Force team and allow transport trade unions to take charge.
Petitions and Litigation:
Mr. Adeyinka Aroyewun, CEO of Feekroy Unique Enterprises, Clearing and Forwarding and haulage firm, took further actions in the protest to challenge the legality and legitimacy of the contentious imposition of levy, demanding accountability of purported revenue generated therefrom. This, in addition to the tenure of the Task Force, culminated into legal suit in court and petitions to appropriate law enforcement authorities.
Aroyewun narrated that the presumed union leaders purportedly impose N40,000 per truck and allegedly realizes N40 million from 1,000 trucks granted access into the Tin Can Island Road in one operation. He said that Saturday, March 28, 2020, was the fifth time they were passing trucks on the new arrangement. He noted that thus, realizing N40 million revenue in one operation accumulated to alleged N200 million revenue in five operations.
He alleged that thugs were recruited to harass, intimidate, or attack anyone that resists to pay the levy or challenges the presumed union leadership.
Aroyewun further reiterated that the said union members allegedly operate in collaboration with security operatives who constituted the Presidential Task Force. Like other stakeholders, he also alleged that they made an agreement on sharing of trucks that are issued tags to access the Mile 2 Road to the Ports.
It was narrated that on days 300 truck spaces are declared for access to the port on the Mile 2 – Tin Can Island access road, the said Union members allegedly share the slots 50% with the Police. The Police were said to allegedly issue pass tags to transporters at N100,000 per truck.
The presumed Union leaders were said to be purportedly issuing pass tags at per N100,000 per truck contrary to the official access pass levy of N40,000 per truck. The group members, first, allegedly share the 150 trucks among themselves and cronies; then, issue tags to priority trucks before considering other operators; thus, discriminating against other operators at the Port, he protested.
It was said that while the union members in the field allegedly issue pass tags at N100,000 per truck to transport operators, they purportedly remit N40,000 to the group’s leadership.
Aroyewun narrated that between July and November 2019, a group of people claiming to have the authority of the Council of Maritime Transport Unions and Associations (COMTUA) purportedly started collection of levy from truck drivers at Fagbems Petrol Station around Mile 2 on the Tin Can Island route.
Aroyewun alleged that the operations were coordinated by Mr. Bidemi Wasiu, Taofeek and Rasheed Olaegbon, on the basis which he petitioned the Assistant Inspector General of Police, Zone 2; also, the Inspector General of Police.
He added that, thereafter, the current group which he identified to include Mr. Adeyemi Waidi, Mr. Bidemi Wasiu, Alhaji Salami Ishola, Alhaji Alaro, Mr. Issa Kinfayakun and Mr. Rasheed Olaegbon – purporting to be representatives of Truck Owners, emerged to enforce the collection of levies.
On December 2, 2019, Aroyewun, through his counsels, Taofeek Oyesiji and Co, wrote the COMTUA Acting Chairman, Board of Trustees, demanding clarification on the collection of dues or levies by the identified persons.
COMTUA leadership in a response to Aroyewun through his counsels, Taofeek Oyesiji and Co, signed by COMTUA’s principal officers on December 6, 2019, debunked the Council’s or any of its officers involvement in collection of dues from truck drivers or their employers.
The Council of Maritime Transport Unions and Associations (COMTUA) in its response letter to Adeyinka Aroyewun, dated December 6, 2019, signed by Okafor Stephen, Secretary; Erojie Abudu, Deputy Coordinator; and Victor A. Nnotun, Secretary/Admin; admitted that Mr. Bidemi Wasiu and Taofeek Abiodun are field supervisors of COMTUA representing the Council in the Presidential Task Force within the Tin Can Island corridor, but declared that COMTUA or any individual union and association did not authorize them to be collecting money.
“Since May 2019, the Task Force began operations, COMTUA, as a body, has not been collecting any dues from drivers nor directed any of its field officers to collect money on behalf of the Council. When we start collection of Union dues, it will involve ticketing and will be made known to truckers and all concerned,” the Council declared.
The Council leaders stated further that points of collection…and amount of money realized so far, as indicated by the petitioner, are not to the knowledge of COMTUA.
“Therefore, asking us to give account/audit of what we do not know about and authorize is funny,” Council arued.
The response of COMTUA appears to show that the N40,000 or other payments are sheer exploitation of truck drivers by unknown persons or infiltrators which contradicts the sixth mandate of the Presidential Task Force.
COMTUA defined its existence as amalgam of all Transport Unions and Associations in Maritime Industry in Lagos State. It comprises the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), Maritime Workers of Nigeria (MWUN), National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), heavy duty section; Road Transport Employers of Nigeria (RTEAN), heavy duty section; Amalgamation of Container Truck Owners of Nigeria (ACTOA) and Container Truck Owners Association of Nigeria (COTOAN).
The collection of the N40,000 dues was said to have reduced till March 10, 2020, when the reported persons were alleged to have appointed a group of thugs/touts under the umbrella of Truck Owners Association to enforce the purported collection of N40,000 from truck drivers before they are issued access pass from Mile 2 to the Tin Can Island Road.
Aroyewun disclosed that a stakeholders meeting was convened by COMTUA on March 20, 2020 to address the grievances of truck owners on the alleged illegal fees imposed on drivers. He said the meeting was presided by Alhaji Salami Ishola, Alhaji Isiaka and had over 35 stakeholders in attendance.
Aroyewun said that his demand for accountability or audit of the alleged revenue generated from the N40,000 per truck levy, provoked the anger of the COMTUA leader who threatened his life.
Aroyewun in a petition to the Police indicated that he was assaulted on October 24, 2019 by thugs alleged to be fronting for the Task Force and union members at Sunrise, along Apapa/Oshodi expressway. He said the attack was reported at the Trinity Police Station.
Moreover, the Police, from the purported share of their slots allocation, were alleged to issue “access tag” to truck drivers at N100,000 per truck at Fagbems Filling Station on Mile 2 axis to pass trucks to the Tin Can Island route.
The Police team on the Mile 2/Tin Can Island corridor is said to be supervised by SUPOL Femi Iwasokun.
Some of the points where tolls were alleged to collected from drivers include Fagbems Filling Station, Otto Wharf, MTN, Sunrise, Coconut, First and Second Gates on the Mile 2 – Tin Can Island road.
It was narrated that on the Apapa – Ijora route supervised by an Assistant Commissioner of Police, ACP Bayo Suleiman, working in collaboration with the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), garages are identified, and each garage is allocated a slot of 15 trucks. There are 12 garages in each group; and there are three groups granted access weekly to the Port.
The 15 trucks are moved to Lili Pond, Ijora, which is transit Park for onward movement to loading point at Apapa Port. The total charges are said to be N15,000 per truck which include garage parking fees and other administrative costs, including Union charges.
Aroyewun noted that the Ijora – Apapa corridor is coordinated by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), but the Mile 2 – Tin Can Island route is not supervised by any government agency involved in Port management. Invariably, normal charges are paid on the Ijora – Apapa access road and there’s better coordination on this corridor, the stakeholders said.
On the Mile 2 – Tin Can corridor, the Task Force was alleged to create illegal “access pass” for trucks of some companies which are big players, classifying them as “priority”, then, grant them easy access whenever they are ready for loading. Until the alleged priority trucks are completed, no other operator is granted access into the Port.
The purported Priority trucks on Mile 2 – Tin Can route were identified to include: The Great Pyramid, HYCEE, Emma Dunamis, Ya Salaam, Dauda and JO.
Operators said that the payments do not guarantee express access to loading points for the truck drivers. Some still have to spend weeks before being granted access into the Port for loading.
Meanwhile, the legality of the activities of the Presidential Task Force which tenure is perceived to have elapsed since June 2019 is being challenged at the Federal High Court in Lagos by Adeyinka Aroyewun.
Also, Aroyewun petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Special Fraud Unit (SFU), including the Assistant Inspector General of Police, Zone 2 Command Headquarter, Onikan, Lagos; the petition is also before the Inspector General of Police, complaining of threat to his life, alleged illegal collections, therefore, seeking investigation or prosecution of the union leaders for purported illegal imposition of N40,000 levy and failure to account for alleged revenue generated over time. The Truck Owners Association was said not to exist in law and not registered under the Trade Union Act.
Refutations and Counter-arguments:
On the other divide, stakeholders under accusations have denied involvement in collection of money or mandating anyone to do so on their behalf.
Alhaji Rashgunk Ishola, Acting Chairman of the Truck Owners Association, but who they said, prefers to be identified as Facilitator, in a telephone conversation, said that the information on N40,000 payment by truck drivers is lie, insisting that the person who gave the information lied. Alhaji Ishola denied that no such money is collected from truck drivers, neither is anybody mandated to collect any money from truck drivers.
“The person that give you that information lied, it is a lie. Go there, get information from the drivers, the truck owners and confirm from them if they are paying; if they are paying anything, how much are they paying.
“I, as a person, I don’t collect one naira from anybody,” Alhaji Rashgunk Ishola declared.
He said the tenure of the Presidential Task Force is not what he can comment on since it was established by government. “It is government that appointed them. As individuals, we do not have any right to query them. Since it is the federal government that appointed them, we have little say. They appointed them and it has expired since June, and they are still there, there is nothing we can do,” Alhaji Ishola said.
The Secretary of COMTUA, Mr. Victor Nnotum, also in a telephone conversation debunked that the Council is collecting money from any transport operator at the Port. “I don’t know what you are talking. COMTUA is not collecting money from anybody; the Council does not know anything about collection of dues from truck operators. COMTUA has not given any approval or mandate to anybody to collect money or dues,” the Council Secretary said.
A senior Police officer, who sought anonymity, noting that he has no authority to speak for the Lagos State Police Command, also stated that collecting money from truck drivers by the Police is not possible. He said that the Task Force team has cleared the road to a reasonable extent; adding that people would want to complain because of the success made so far to discredit the Police.
He explained that the Police have only arrested operators who he identified as “Truck Pushers”. These people, he said, do not have single truck but approach truck owners, promise them of facilitating their trucks to loading points, demanding money from them. He encouraged truck owners to come forward and pass their trucks, personally. The Police Officer decried that people don’t want to do things right.
The officer highlighted: “The road has not been like this because it has been cleared. So, you should expect such talks. But anything that has to do with money, just count me and my men out. “Whatever rubbish they are doing, we are trying our best to chase them out of the road.
“We call them ‘Truck Pushers’; they don’t have single truck; you see them on the road negotiating with truck owners and people on the road. If you have your truck, you should be able to come to the road, pass your truck yourself.
“So, the moment you pass your truck yourself, it will be difficult for Truck Pushers to meet you and say – Oga, give me money, I want to pass your truck. But if you are passing your truck yourself, you will question why someone is asking for money.
“But the moment you stay at home, it will be easy for people to ask for money under the guise that they want to give it to security operatives. But when they are seeing you, seeing your truck, it will be difficult for anybody to ask for money. “This is the way we have been doing it.
“They don’t want to do the right thing. The people we arrested are truck pushers. “
Efforts are ongoing to reach the Lagos Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) for official statement.
Virtually all truck drivers engaged in face to face interactions at the Port arena acknowledged alleged payment of N100,000 as registration fee for issuance of ‘Pass Tags” to access the Tin Can Island road from the Mile 2 corridor of the Oshodi/Apapa Expressway.
The truck drivers, who spoke on conditions of anonymity, said that the prevailing levies led to high cost of transporting consignments from the Port to the destinations of their clients. The truck drivers said that distances they charge N120,000 or N180,000 for delivery of goods in the past within Lagos and its environs, they now charge N550,000 or N650,000 since the current Task Force emerged. They alleged that they spend a total sum of between N180,000 to N200,000 to gain access to loading points in the Port.
Secondly, the various stakeholders also lamented that the gridlock has not abated under the current Presidential Task Force either.
Some stakeholders admitted that the Task Force appeared to have made relative achievements at the early stage, but said the achievements may have been lost to the alleged payment of money.
Thirdly, they were alleged to have taken over the duties of the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) and the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in regulating their members.
There could be the tendency that impersonators may have infiltrated the operational locations of the stakeholders whose activities could be heaped on the Task Force or other stakeholders.
Meanwhile, investigations continue; findings will be reported on conclusion.