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.
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.
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.
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,”
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.
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.
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.
*This investigative story, though edited and simplified was originally published in THE PUNCH