There was unrest at the Apapa and Tin Can port on Monday as container truck drivers disrupted economic activities for several hours while protesting alleged brutality and extortion by Nigerian Navy, Nigerian Police as well as harsh operating environment in the country, especially the absence of container holding bays and truck terminals.
The truckers commenced the strike at the Apapa port early in the morning and later moved on to Ijora where they reportedly destroyed a patrol vehicle belonging to the Nigerian Navy. Another team of protesters also clashed with alleged bribe-taking police officers around Coconut axis of the Tin Can Port.
The visibly angry drivers numbering over 50 blocked the entrance of the Apapa Port with their trucks, preventing vehicles from entering and exiting the port, thus crippling economic activities for several hours.
One of the truckers, Julius Ekelele who spoke with Shipping Position Daily that "We are protesting because of the policy of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) it has caused damage to the drivers, drivers are always beaten up like animals. Secondly, there are many toll gates, sometimes N5,000 to N20,000 depending on how Navy would do the illegal job"
"We have said that our container report should be substituted for the call system, the illegal collection is too much. Only about three holding bays are functioning" he said
Leaders of the truck drivers associations however spoke separately with our correspondent.
Former Chairman of Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) at Tin Can chapter, Pastor Keshinro, lamented that the policy of government has caused so many damages to the drivers, alleging that they are usually beaten by Navy like animals.
Also speaking with our correspondent, Chairman of Dry Cargo section of National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) Innua Mohammed said that there is multiple extortion by the government agencies working at the port.
He also said that "We have been advocating for shipping companies to get holding bays, they told NPA that they have it, only for us to get there and find many of them filled to capacity, even some where not working, some were on third party arrangements"
"The drivers given us the owners an ultimatum and warned that if nothing is done, they will abandoned our trucks on the road and go away"
On his part, Chairman of Association of Maritime Truck Owners ( AMARTO ); Remi Ogungbemi dissociated himself and the association from the protest. He said that truck drivers were attacking him already and accusing him of being compromised by the government.
"I have been attacked severally by the truck drivers, so I don't want to interfere again, they accused me of taking bribe from NPA and Lagos government. I was called that they clashed with the Navy in Apapa and Police at Coconut, but we did not send anyone to do all that" he said.
One of the protesting drivers, who spoke under condition of anonymity disclosed that some of the drivers had been on the queue for more than two weeks only to be told that they cannot enter the ports, which he said was frustrating, having spent that length of time on the queue in order to be law abiding and compliant to business rule.
“We are truck drivers, through our services, we add value to the import and export trade but it is not our responsibility to provide the necessary infrastructure such as container holding bays, truck terminals and good roads be we pay tax. The roads are so bad and negatively affects our vehicles with attendant high cost of maintenance, we are faced with extortion and we kept quiet, we have been pushed to the walls and we can no longer stomach it”, he lamented.
Some of the also alleged extortion by these security officials, especially Naval officers and NPA security, alleging that sometimes they are made to pay as much as N25, 000-N35, 000 per trip in order to access the ports to do their business.
It was gathered that most shipping companies and terminal operators have defied a directive by NPA to provide container holding bays for their empty containers, a development that has worsened the situation.