*Haulage charges rise by 50 percent, NPA, NSC appear helpless
Lagos — Following the high level of extortion by government agents at the nation’s ports, foreign shipping lines operating in Nigeria has increased their charges by as much as 600 percent with a view to breaking even in their business.
Besides shipping firms, truck owners and drivers have also jerked up their charges by 50 percent from N1.2million to N1.8million within one week to move a container from the Tin Can Island Port, Lagos to any other part of the city, as extortion by security officials on the port access road continues unabated.
Barely a year ago, 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.
Many truck operators attribute the escalating cost of haulage services at the Tin Can Port to extortion by security operators including NPA security officials, police and the presidential task team on Apapa gridlock.
Many truck drivers, who spoke with Vanguard weekend, said they pay more than N200,000 per truck to gain access to the port.
However, several promises by the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, NSC to curtail extortion on the port access road and embark on repair of the roads to enable free flow of traffic have remained unfulfilled.
Last week, NPA, in a press 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 on Wednesday last week, the House of Representatives asked the Federal Government to disband the Presidential Task Team onApapa gridlock, saying the task team has outlived its usefulness, was participating in extortion and contributing to the congestion of the Lagos ports.
The lawmakers also urged government and other relevant security agencies to immediately put an end to extortion of truck drivers by their operatives on the port access roads.
“Concerned that in addition to the poor condition of the port access roads, extortion by officials of the Nigerian Ports Authority Security Department, 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, Leke Abejide, who sponsored a motion of “urgent national importance” on the issue, 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, Nigeria Police Force, Nigerian Army and officials of the Presidential Task Team on Apapa gridlock.
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.
Speaking on the development, the Managing Director of Port & Cargo Handling Services, John Jenkins, on Tuesday 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 everyday because of the poor condition of the road.”
Also speaking, the Chairman, Association of Maritime Truck Owners, AMATO, Chief Remi Ogungbemi, said, “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.”
A clearing agent operating at the Tin Can Island Port, Ojo Akintoye, said there are more than four road blocks between Tin Can Island Port First and Second Gates set up by the Presidential Task Team, Police and NPA officials where each truck is expected to part with money 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 KayodeFarinto, 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, Police and members of the Presidential Task Team, adding that to enter the port, truck operators pay as high as N280,000 to security operatives on the road.