Amid new technologies to support Eto, corruption thrives in Apapa

A truck driver with his Eto paper expressing frustration for being delayed to access the Apapa port… yesterday<br />PHOTO: ADAKU ONYENUCHEYA

•We pay N150, 000 to access ports on time, truckers lament
•Truck parks, Eto officials responsible for delays

The deployment of new technologies to support smooth operations of electronic call-up system appears to be failing in its address of Apapa gridlock and halt corruption/extortions at the ports, as smooth cargo evacuation from the Lagos ports still remains a nightmare, The Guardian has gathered.

When this paper visited the Tincan Island Port and Lagos Complex Port, the new technologies installed, such as the closed-circuit cameras (CCTV), access control barriers, access control card readers and bollard system were in perfect condition, however, trucks were parked on the roads, blocking other vehicles from using the roads.

From Berger yard and Abuja, trucks were parked on one side of the lane, while at Sunrise, they were on both lanes, not minding the bad road. For the Apapa-Wharf road, trucks were parked on both lanes. The Coconut Bridge was blocked, as area boys and military personnel were seen collecting money from truck drivers that exited the port going back to their base.

At the Tincan port, no truck was seen around the port premises, while for the Lagos Complex Port, trucks were seen parked on the lane going into the ports, with no space for other vehicles to pass through.

Some truck drivers were seen arguing and venting their frustrations at the operatives that came to check their Eto system documents while on queue.

Samuel Ogbaji, a truck driver from Benue State, who plies his trade in Lagos, lamented that the truck parks, port officials and enforcement agencies were ruining the Eto system.

He said when trucks enter the parks they are delayed for weeks before they are called into the ports, whereas trucks that paid illegally to the enforcement agencies pass one-way to the ports.

“Once we enter the park, we stay for weeks before we are called to the ports, but you see them passing trucks parked on the road side and those on the bridge frequently. When we come from the Lilypond Park, we pass the Navy junction where they will block us and pass trucks plying the one-way; collecting money from them and abandoning us that have the genuine Eto tickets coming from the designated parks,” he lamented.

Ogbaji said for the one-way route to the ports, truck drivers pay between N100, 000 to N150, 000 or more, noting that those who pass the one-way routes are brought directly to the port gates.

He said for those passing the normal route, they pay at least N100, 000 to security operatives to gain passage.

“There are some points on the road where you have to pay N10, 000 before you pass, other points collect N20, 000, while some N5, 000. In total you have to spend no less than N100, 000 to pass.

“Last two weeks I passed one-way and my boss paid N100, 000, sometimes he pays more than that coupled with the sufferings we pass through on the road and parks,” he said.

Ogbaji, who is a father of four, lamented that since the start of the Eto system four months ago, he has not made more than five trips into and out of the ports, despite doing his business in Lagos.

“In the month of June, I only went on one trip because of how we were delayed at the Lilypond Park. We, trailer drivers, are suffering. When I finish loading, they give my partner and I N35, 000 per trip and let’s say I end up with one trip in a month, which means I only made N35, 000 in a month, which I would share with my partner, not forgetting that I have a wife and children to cater for,” he complained.

A truck driver, who gave his name as Michael Gabriel (not real name) for the fear of being caught and punished by the ports officials and security operatives for disclosing the corrupt activities at the Lagos Complex port, said he had been waiting for the past two days to gain access into the port and pick up cargoes.

Gabriel narrated that despite having complete and genuine documents of the Eto system, the port officials and security operatives at the entrance of the port insist on collecting N5, 000 illegally to allow the import-bound trucks into the port.

He said refusal to pay the sum of N3, 000 at the junction of the port would cause them being returned to the truck parks, adding that the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) would then feast on the returned truck drivers to collect their own share of the illegal fees by arresting the trucks.

Gabriel narrated: “We have our complete papers, our Eto documents are genuine, yet we have to pay a bribe to go into the port. When we try to protest, the port operators and security operatives tell us that it is not about having the complete documents, that we have to spend extra before our trucks enter the ports,” he said.

Gabriel, who was waiting in the queue of trucks opposite the Lagos Complex Port for his turn to enter the port, further narrated his present experience, saying: “I spent two days driving from Lilypond park to Lagos Complex port. I am not sure I will enter the port today, I am praying to God to help me. I have paid N2, 000 at First Bank beside the junction of the port. I have already spent N70, 000 to get to this place and this is not the end, at that junction close to the port entrance, I will pay another N3, 000. If we don’t pay that money, we would be returned back to the park and the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) will then hold our vehicles.

“Last week one of my trucks was turned back because the driver couldn’t pay the N3, 000. While turning at the port road he ran out of fuel, the next thing we saw were LASTMA officials that came and towed the truck to their office at Costain and we spent N35, 000, which was after they collected bribe from us, before they could release our truck,” he groaned.

He said the truck parks are also not helping the success of the electronic call up system and truck drivers, noting that at the Lilypond park, trucks were delayed for seven days before they were called to the ports.

When asked the reason, he said, the Eto officials at the park, sometimes, give excuses of the ports being full as the reason why the trucks have not been called.

Gabriel said those excuses are lies as the ports are empty, saying: “It is because they no longer see that bribe we usually pay to them, so, it is the Nigerian Ports Authority and security operatives that get the money now.”

According to another truck driver, Friday Joseph, those assigned to monitor its smooth operation are frustrating the system. He said they create gridlock on the roads because of the money they want to collect from truck drivers, which affects the number of trips a truck can go in a month.

Joseph said before the system, he goes on about three trips in a week due to other avenues such as Badge operation, while now he hardly makes four trips in a month.

He said the Lilypond truck park has turned to his home as he spends days there before being called to the port. Joseph said the Eto system officials give excuses that the ports are filled and blocked as well as terminals not in operation.

This, he said, affects the truck drivers’ call-up document, which could, sometimes, remain a few days for its expiration before the driver gets to the port.

When The Guardian visited Lilypond Truck Park and Tin Can truck parks, few trucks were parked in them, as there was enough space to take over 50 more trucks.

MEANWHILE, a port official, who craved anonymity, blamed the enforcement agencies for frustrating the Eto system, as well as getting rid of the Apapa gridlock.

The official blamed the corruption at the ports’ roads on the enforcement agencies, whom he said, collect money from truckers without the Eto tickets and allow them park on both sides of the roads as their permanent parks.

He said about 60 to 70 per cent of the trucks parked along the roads do not have where they stay, adding that the owners of the trucks pay the enforcement agencies money to allow them park on the road.

“This is a road the Federal Government has not even commissioned, yet the foundation of destroying the road has already been laid. See trailers parked everywhere, the trucks don’t have where to park, it is the duty of the enforcement agencies to drive them away from the roads. The enforcement agencies are also at Sunrise, so, how did those trucks pass that point to come and start littering the port roads.

“For the middle lane created, it is to allow trucks with genuine Eto paper pass through to access the ports when called up, while most times, you wouldn’t see the middle lane on the road, which means that those trucks that are parked by the side of the road don’t have genuine papers.

“The question is, who allowed those trucks without papers to park on the roads? Who are they paying to stay there? These are the things we face there everyday.

“The enforcement agencies must explain why there are trucks parked on the roads, the truck drivers are defecating, having their baths on the roads and doing all sorts of things. They stay on the roads for days and weeks. The government needs to do something fast about it,” the official said.