Naval officers and policemen controlling the movement of container trucks into the Apapa port in Lagos are taking advantage of the congestion in the area and making millions of naira per day, investigations by The PUNCH have revealed.
The officers, it was learnt, work together with thugs, also known as area boys, in demanding bribes ranging from N60,000 to N100,000 from every truck driver entering the port.
Drivers who fail to part with the sum are not cleared by the officers to enter the port and such drivers could queue for up to several weeks on the road without getting cleared.
On a hot Tuesday afternoon when our reporter visited Area B in Apapa, a truck driver, simply named Kabiru, told our reporter how he had paid close to N100,000 in bribes to security agencies, particularly officers of the Nigerian Navy and the police.
According to the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, an agency under the Federal Ministry of Transportation, about 7,000 trucks ply the Apapa Wharf Road on a daily basis, even though just about 2,500 of them have genuine business to do at the port.
In a recent survey it conducted, the NSC said the exercise was carried out in a bid to provide a lasting solution to the incessant gridlock along the Apapa Port access road.
Provided that about 2,500 trucks which have genuine business to do at the Apapa port enter therein every day, conservative estimates by The PUNCH showed that naval and police officers could rake in as high as N250m from truck drivers who are being made to bribe them with N100,000 each.
Speaking to our reporter, Kabiru said in the past, he used to leave his base in Sagamu, Ogun State, and load his truck at the Apapa port within just three days.
“But now, I spend about a month, even with the payment of various bribes. I have spent about N100,000 in bribes to the navy, police and other security agencies. The expenses are too much,” he said.
“I started paying right from Costain, to the Marine Bridge, to Area B, and I have spent about N80,000. By the time I get to the final point of entry to the port, I will spend about N20,000 again.”
Lamenting, Kabiru said truck drivers were now being issued call-up letters by the Nigerian Navy.
“Before, we used to park anywhere on the road, but now we park in designated parks first before we are being called to form a queue on the road. Getting the call-up letter costs about N20,000.
“Any truck driver who doesn’t have the letter might pay double of the bribe as they journey to the port, and that is just one of the bribes,” Kabiru said.
The truck driver continued, “We are forced to pay at every checkpoint and there are no receipts for all these payments.”
Despite the bribes being paid by truck drivers, one would think the traffic would have been eased. However, observations showed the traffic at Apapa was still terrible.
Kabiru said, “For a whole day, I might not drive my truck for more than five inches. It is a terrible situation here.
“We sleep here, we bathe here. Some truck drivers defecate inside polythene bags and throw it by the roadside. My phone was stolen two days ago while I slept. The thief used a long stick to remove it from the inside of my truck. Some thieves even steal truck batteries.”
Kabiru described trucks’ movement into the port as “too sluggish” and appealed to the government to find a lasting solution to the lingering problem.
Meanwhile, Kabiru said he observed that drivers who drive trucks belonging to Dangote Group, owned by the richest African Aliko Dangote, usually did not pass through the problem that other truck drivers pass through.
“Dangote trucks are given a specific time of the day to enter the port. At that time of the day, the road is very free and no other truck enters the port with them. They are special,” he noted.
When our reporter visited the Ijora-Olopa area, which is a few miles from the Apapa port, another driver simply identified as Kazeem also alleged naval officers and the police of extorting them.
“I’ve been moving goods from the port for about 18 years, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” the 51-year-old Kwara State indigene said.
“I’ve been queuing on the road for three weeks now and I’ve not been cleared.”
Kazeem also confirmed Kabiru’s observation, saying drivers of trucks belonging to Dangote Group and BUA Group did not usually pass through “tough times” with them.
He said, “As early as 5am, you would see Dangote and BUA trucks coming from behind us and driving freely into the port. They don’t queue, unlike us.
“Things have changed a bit from what was obtainable about two months ago. Now, we are being issued call-up letters by the navy, which we pay for, of course,
“By the time we pay up to N100,000, we will be cleared to enter the port.”
Another driver, Mr Mustapha Salau, whom our reporter met in a long queue of trucks on the Marine Bridge, said he had paid about N60,000 to naval and police officers and was expecting to pay more until the final point of entry to the port.
He said, “As soon as we start approaching the Stadium area, through Ijora, to the port, there are different checkpoints mounted by the navy and police. They say they are controlling traffic, but they are collecting money from us.
“I’ve encountered four checkpoints, where I paid bribes ranging from N10,000 to N35,000. Everything I’ve paid on this trip is N60,000. Before I finally enter the port, I will pay another bribe, maybe N15,000 or N20,000. All these payments have no receipts.”
Another truck driver, simply identified as Segun, said in his 14 years of conveying goods from the Apapa port, he had never witnessed bribery on a large scale like what was currently happening.
He said in the past, he used to part with just a few thousands of naira to get his goods out of the port.
“It’s a different story now. I have spent N80,000 already coming from Ijora,” he said.
“Before I finally make it to the point of entry to the port, I would have spent N100,000,” he added.
Another truck driver, Stanley Nwankwo, said it was surprising how the situation at Apapa port had degenerated.
“It is frustrating to spend weeks on the road, even after paying the navy and police up to N100,000. It was never this bad. Something must be done about this problem,” he said.
A Lagos-based economist and social commentator, Dr Babatunde Abraham, said the situation at Apapa would definitely cause the prices of consumer goods to increase.
He explained that if it cost N100,000 to move goods from Apapa to Ikeja two years ago and now it costs N600,000, the prices of goods would definitely increase.
“The Apapa gridlock is worrisome and the fact that corrupt security officers are now extorting money from truck drivers is sickening. But what do you expect from a country that fails to address its problems squarely?”Abraham asked.
A Lagos-based maritime expert, Mr Oluwole Bello, attributed the persistent gridlock at Apapa, where the country’s main port is, to poor infrastructure and government’s failure to fix it.
“Some businessmen now prefer to use the ports of neighbouring countries like Ghana because of the ease of getting in and out of their ports,” he said.
Findings showed that why some businessmen are now opting to use the ports in neighbouring countries like Ghana and Benin Republic is because getting their goods cleared at those ports takes only about 48 hours.
Horror of doing business
Expectedly, the slow pace of movement of goods and services due to extortion, bureaucracy and other bottlenecks have negatively affected the nation’s economy.
The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry recently estimated that the country loses $19bn (N6.9tn, that is, more than two-thirds of its national budget) annually to the avoidable delays caused by illegal charges, insecurity and traffic congestion.
Speaking with The PUNCH, the Director-General of LCCI, Mr Muda Yusuf, said the chamber would keep on engaging the government on the situation at Apapa.
After carrying out a research in 2018 which indicated that the Federal Government was losing up to $19bn annually due to the Apapa gridlock, he said the chamber met with the Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, to discuss the issue and present the report.
Yusuf said the chamber also met with the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr Okechukwu Enemalah, as well as President Muhammadu Buhari to present the report.
“That is the best we can do – to let them realise the weighty consequences of the Apapa gridlock,” he said.
He said, “We will continue to engage them. Thankfully, some constructions are going on and we have also seen some efforts by the government at railway construction and the minister of transportation said the rail lines would be extended to the ports.
“We also need to get the pipelines working so that fuel can be transported to different parts of the country, but the pipelines have been vandalised.
“One other solution to the problem at Apapa is to have an efficient transit management system in place. This will ensure that trucks that have no business at the ports are not found in the queue.”
Similarly, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council said the cost of transporting goods from the Apapa port to other parts of Lagos had risen from around N150,000 to about N700,000 due to multiple charges paid to federal, state and local government officials, as well as the need to give bribes to louts and security officials on the roads.
In September 2018, the National Association of Road Transport Owners expressed concern over the Apapa gridlock, saying it was hampering trade.
The association’s vice chairman, Lagos State chapter, Mr Abdullahi Mohammed-Nura, lamented that export-bound produce were getting damaged en route Apapa.
He said that exporters were losing a fortune due to the inaccessible roads to the ports, saying that unlike in the past when exporters were smiling to the bank, many of them had become indebted due to the Apapa gridlock.
The association also in September 2018 said that nine truck drivers had died in 2018 alone due to the inhuman condition caused by the gridlock at Apapa.
President Buhari had said in October 2018 that his administration would ensure that the infrastructural problem at the Apapa port was addressed.
However, experts have said the economy might continue to get worse unless stringent measures are put in place to address the Apapa port’s problem, which has contributed to Nigeria’s poor ranking on the World Bank’s Trading Across Borders survey, which ranked Nigeria 182nd out of 190 countries.
A maritime expert, Mr Paul Osagie, said the situation at the Apapa port had already caused massive economic and job losses.
“Lagos ports employ about 35,000 workers; and it is indeed worrisome that the Federal Government is treating the protracted gridlock with levity. Just look at how many people are getting affected by this problem,” he said.
Referring to a statement by Africa’s richest man, Dangote, in 2017 that the country was losing N140bn weekly to the Apapa debacle, Osagie said this ought to have provoked a swift response by the Federal Government.
Osagie said, “The government should act on time and start fixing the infrastructural problems, especially the roads in order to save other vital economic assets like bridges, which could collapse because of deadweight trailers on them.
“Tank farms and bonded terminals should be decentralised. Railways should be provided to transport goods from the ports and the government should also build more holding bays to keep tanker and trailers away from the roads. This is what is being done in other countries of the world, even in less developed ones than Nigeria.”
The President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, Alhaji Razak Jaiyeola, also noted that the impact of the lingering Apapa gridlock had been huge.
“When trucks spend weeks in queue to get to the port, the companies that own them are incurring additional costs and so this issue must be addressed frontally,” he said.
He said there were fundamental issues that should be put in place at the port, without which there would be no lasting solution.
Jaiyeola said, “Having a railway system will ease the pressure at the port. It’s also important that there are alternative routes to Apapa, through Tin Can Island.
“There should also be a route through Ibafo (Ogun State) to ease the congestion. Tank farms should be constructed at different parts of the country so that not every truck goes to Apapa.”
In the meantime, the Head of Transparency International Nigeria, Mr Musa Rafsanjani, said it was time the country’s anti-corruption agencies beamed their searchlight on what was happening at the Apapa port.
He said TI had on several occasions called on the Federal Government to make reforms at the port and that it was time they were implemented.
Rafsanjani said, “Corruption at the ports is one of the problems we have identified in the country. Unfortunately, there has been no beam of focus from the anti-corruption agencies and the Federal Government.
“A lot of Nigerians have been subjected to untold hardship at the ports and reforms must be carried out to ease the movement of goods. Some truck owners are unnecessarily delayed because they refuse to give bribes. A lot of officials of different security agencies have populated the place and there is a high competition in terms of extortion.
“For long, we have been calling on the Federal Government on the need for proper reforms so that extortion can stop. There are many complications at the place.”
“If the Federal Government is committed to fighting corruption, it is time to prove it. Some businessmen have lost their goods because of high tariff, in addition to extortion by security agencies,” Rafsanjani added.
He noted that the seaport usually attracts corruption, being one of the major hubs where the country derives huge income. He suggested the use of technology to ease the congestion.
Navy, police react
When our reporter visited the Western Ports Police Command in Apapa, the spokesperson for the command, DSP Collins Dibie, said he was not authorised to speak on the issue.
He later said the policemen in question were not from the jurisdiction of the ports command, even though information on the website of the Nigeria Police Force indicated that the command was in charge of maintaining law and order at the Apapa port.
The Director of Information, Naval Headquarters, Abuja, Navy Commodore Suleman Dahun, said the navy had at many times denied allegations levelled against them by the truck drivers.
“It’s not true. Anyway, I will connect you with the person you can talk to you (on the issue),” he said.
He had, however, yet to do so as of the time of filing this report.
Apapa gridlock: Naval officers, policemen rake in millions daily as Lagosians groan