By SUNDAY ODIBASHI
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 ports 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 clique are accused of having generated over N200 million revenue from imposition of N40,000 fee on truck owners and drivers before permitting them to access the Tin Can Island, Apapa Ports from the Mile 2 corridor of the Oshodi/Apapa expressway.
The seeming “beneficiaries”, however, contend with the protesters, disputing the collection of money from truck owners or drivers. The accusations and refutations made it imperative for the conduct of thorough investigation; interactions were held with stakeholders from all sides – truck owners, Task Force, Transport Managers, Police authorities; 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 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. The revenue collection by the group at a period was calculated to amount to N200 million which other stakeholders have been demanding the collectors to render account.
Secondly, the group under the guise of being union representatives, allegedly share trucks space slots 50% with security operatives of the Presidential Task Force, they further classified some operators as “priority”, thus, giving speedy access to their ‘priority’ trucks to move easily into the ports.
Truck owners and drivers are issued tags on the payment of the 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. It is not a permanent institution of public administration in the governance of Nigeria.
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:
- Immediate removal of all trucks from the bridges and roads within Apapa and all adjoining streets leading to the Apapa Port.
- The development of an efficient and effective management plan for the entire Port area traffic, including the cargo, fuel distribution and business district traffic.
- Enforcing the permanent removal of all stationary trucks on the highway.
- The development of an effective manual truck call-up system, pending the introduction of the electronic truck call-up system.
- The implementation of a workable Empty Container Return and Export Container Truck Handling Policy, among others.
- Remove extortionist and illegal traffic control groups around Port operations.
Revenue generation was not part of the presidential mandate.
Alleged Illegal activities:
There are allegations of assumed or self-appointed union leaders who created artifical structures on the Mile 2 -Tin Can Island corridor of the Apapa – Oshodi Expressway to enforce revenue collection on truck drivers which they cannot account for or explain to who the revenue is being remitted after months 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. The truck drivers, after payment at Mile 2, are alleged to be compelled to pay tolls at several check points on transit while accessing Tin Can Island towards Apapa Wharf to the port to load client’s consignment for delivery.
Curiously, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Presidential Task Force, Kayode Opeifa, had in a speech after the 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 clear proof of either revenue collection or extortion by the previous Task Force coordinated by the Nigeria Navy before the emergence of the current Presidential Task Force.
It would appear that under the current regime, the entire process is being modified.
There is allegation that the self-appointed union leaders, operating under an unregistered identity of Truck Owners Association, have an agreement with security operatives in the Presidential Task Force on the revenue collection which many operators protest is illegal. Members of the Truck Owners Association were alleged to claim operating on the mandate of the Council of Maritime Transport Unions and Associations (COMTUA).
Protests and Agitations:
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 allowed access 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 gang 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 with the Police on equal numbers for issuance of access tags on 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 chairman 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 for collection of money, which he questioned 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.”
It was observed that the road on which they are collecting toll is a federal road, and there was doubt if the money collected is going to the Federal Ministry of Work.
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 a 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 Litigations:
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 the 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 imposes N40,000 per truck and 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. Thus, realizing N40 million revenue in one operation accumulated to the contentious N200 million revenue in five operations.
The contentious N200 million was said to be part of the accumulated revenue allegedly collected on the Mile 2 – Tin Can Island corridor over the period in less than one year of inauguration of the Presidential Task Force under the chairmanship of Vice President Osinbajo.
It was 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 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 share the slots 50% with the Police. The Police were said to allegedly issue pass tags to transporters at N100,000 or N150,000 per truck.
The presumed Union leaders were said to be issuing pass tags at per N100,000 per truck contrary to the official access pass levy of N40,000 per truck. The gang members, first, 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.
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) 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 existing 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 declared.
The response of COMTUA appears to show that the N40,000 or other payments are sheer exploitation of truck drivers which contradicts the sixth mandate of the Presidential Task Force under the chairmanship of the Vice President.
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 collection of N40,000 from every truck driver before they are allowed access 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 illegal fees imposed on drivers. He said the meeting was presided by Alhaji Salami Ishola, Alhaji Isiaka and had over 35 stakeholders in attendance.
The request by Aroyewun for accounting or audit of the revenue generated from the N40,000 per truck levy, provoked the anger of the COMTUA leader who threatened his life.
Adeyinka Aroyewun in a petition to the Police disclosed 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 share of their slots allocation, were alleged to issue “access tag” to truck drivers at N100,000 per truck, sometimes N150,000 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.
Beside the bulk payment, it was alleged that tolls are collected from drivers at different; locations from Fagbems Filling Station to Otto Wharf, MTN, Sunrise, Coconut, First and Second Gates, that is seven points, 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.
While the Ijora – Apapa corridor is coordinated by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), 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 priority trucks are completed, no other operator is granted access into the Port.
The 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 conceived to have elapsed since June 2019 is being challenged at the Federal High Court in Lagos by Adeyinka Aroyewun.
Also, Adeyinka 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, illegal collections, therefore, seeking investigation or prosecution of the union leaders for purported illegal imposition of N40,000 levy and failure to account for N200 million generated revenue. The Truck Owners Association was said not to exist in law and not registered under the Trade Union Act.
Denials 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 money 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 denied 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 declared.
A senior Police officer, who sought anonymity, noting 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 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 he identified as “Truck Pushers”. These people, he said, 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 confirmed payment of N100,000 or N150,000 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, explained that the prevailing levies degenerated into 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.
“Though, the Task Force appeared to have made relative achievements at the early stage; the achievements seem to have been lost since the purported monetization of their operations or diversion of mandate to revenue generation even when the generated revenue cannot be accounted for. In all, receipts are not issued for payments made. Truck owners and transport operators are still suffering daily financial losses from delays before loading,” stakeholders said.
Thirdly, they 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. Transport operators alleged they are repeatedly exploited by the Task Force in collaboration with the union gangs.
Meanwhile, investigations continue; findings will be reported on conclusion.
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