By Ranmilowo Ojalumo
The case of extortion may have become a big monster that nobody can defeat in Nigeria. Truckers especially have become the victim of extortion over the years. For so many years now, the truckers in the country have been crying out to the federal government to save them from in the hand of the extortionist but nothing has happened. The problem is most especially rampant in Lagos state, especially in Apapa, home of the nation’s busiest ports, which are the Apapa and the Tin-Can Island ports.
On every Nigeria road for instance, there are countless number of road blocks mounted by the security agents, comprising of the Police and the military and in each of these spots, the truck drivers are mandated to part with certain amount and anyone who decline will end up blaming himself. The Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), Mr. Aloga Ogbogo once made an unconfirmed remarked that there are over 60 of those checking points from Lagos to Abuja.
Transportation Plus Magazine findings have also shown that Omotosho road block along Lagos- Ore Road, has become something else, as the military officers at the spot have turned themselves to demi god. They stop trucks collect money, thereby creating long gridlock, wasting travelers’ precious time. Any truck driver who is not willing to drop something will be in “hot soup”. The situation has become worrisome now, but who will save the truckers from extortion and touting?
In one of his interview with newsmen, the Chief Executive Officer of GPC Energy & Logistics Limited, Mr. Elvis Okonji lamented that the biggest headache in the trucking business in Nigeria is touting and excessive extortion. He said every state government wants to collect money from a truck owner.
He said “When you pass some states, they will want to collect money, they have their own agents. So, you see multiple taxation in the business. That is a very serious challenge to us. The touting activity is so much on the business. You are going from here to Ogun State, people will take stick and block the road and tell you to pay this amount of money. Every state you go to it is the same thing. Imagine, there is this sticker we buy from each state, if you buy it in Ogun State now, when you get to Gboko in Benue State, they will tell you that is not their own paper, and I begin to imagine, are we not in the same country? They come up with different policies.
“When you are loading, a state government will tell you that every load you carry you have to pay me extra amount of money. So it is challenging. It is killing. When I mean it is killing, it is killing indeed. When I started this business 10 years ago, I had colleagues whom I started it together with, I think all of them have gone down the drain. They have no money so they have closed shops, they are liquidated and had to shut down. Most of them are heavily indebted to banks, they can’t even pay. So right now because of the challenges in this business, we now have fewer players. Some of the policies of the government are not helping us.
“The frustration is so much. Local government will come and tell you to pay it so so amount of money. So, the multiple taxation is so much on us. Imagine, before you leave, a state will come and say they have given somebody the job of collecting money from truck owners. Every state will have that and before you know it they harass your truck, cause accident for your truck. There is a lot of touting in the business. That doesn’t happen in advanced world. So I think the government should come in and see how they can help in stopping the touting issues we are facing in the haulage business in the country. We are passing through hell”, Okonji said.
In Lagos, especially at the post axis roads, the problem of extortion has become a norm. The Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the managers of ‘ETO’ truck call-up system, Trucks Transit Parks (TTP) Limited, Mr. Temidayo Adesoye, once lamented that importers lose over N100 million daily due to extortion along access roads to the ports in Apapa and Tin-Can Island in Lagos.
The security operatives comprise of military, naval, the police and the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) officers deployed to control traffic in the axis has allegedly seen the situation as a pot of soup. The leadership of the National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) recently accused the police and the officials of LASTMA of extortion. They also decried the involvement of the two security agencies in the control of trucks into the port, saying it has worsened the traffic situation along the port access roads. Task Force Chairman, of the association, Mr. Hassan Adekoya even blamed the worsened traffic gridlock around the Mile-2 on the extortion by security agencies.
The Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO) on the first day in May, 2022, wrote a letter to the Lagos State Government, lamenting extortions by officials of LASTMA and officials of some local government in the State, including the committee set up for the removal of abandoned trucks. In the letter signed on Sunday May 1, by the Chairman of AMATO, Chief Remi Ogungbemi, the truckers lamented that they pay about N100, 000 to N200, 000 to these officials to secure the release of their trucks.
The letter said “We are using this medium to draw the attention of the Lagos State Government on the worrisome and increasing ignoble activities of its traffic agencies and some Local Governments traffic departments in charge of traffic management and control in Lagos State. Some of these agencies and their activities are as follows:- Committee on the Removal of Abandoned Trucks; LASTMA and some Local Governments officials.
“For the Committee on the Removal of Abandoned Trucks, they invade various empty container depots at midnight to hijack trucks not constituting any road obstruction on the normal single lane to either drop or load empty containers. They always go with hoodlums that are armed with dangerous weapons.
“They beat and injure drivers and their motor boys in the process of hijacking trucks. They forcefully collect trucks from drivers and drive the trucks away to their various yards while booking the trucks as being towed. After this, they slam bills ranging between N100,000 to N200,000 200k as ransom before the trucks can be released. The amount can only be reduced if you know somebody at the top.
“For LASTMA officials, they go about like Hawks searching for Chickens to catch. They arrest trucks that have not committed any traffic infraction indiscriminately and unnecessarily day and night.
“In most cases, they don’t correct drivers on following the right way. if the driver misses or is about to miss his way, instead of correcting the driver, they’ll rather hide and wait for the driver to enter the wrong way before coming out to make arrest and impose heavy penalty.
“They arrest and slam penalty on any breakdown mechanism including a truck that is inevitable. No amount of maintenance can totally prevent the breakdown of any mechanism anywhere in the world. “The breakdown has become their means of bread and butter. They always impose N100,000- N150,000 just for removing a broken down truck from the road whereas we normally pay N20,000 to N30,000 to private towing operators to move our broken-down trucks depending on the location and distances. “Also, some local governments are also involved in blocking and arresting trucks on federal and state roads in order to impose tickets on truckers in collaboration with hoodlums.
“Most of the traffic agencies work with Street Urchins (Area boys) all over the State metropolis. Apart from working as their informants, these hoodlums sometimes deliberately immobilise trucks by loosening truck breaks, deflate tyres, remove truck battery and container hooks in order to force drivers to settle them or invite LASG traffic agencies to come and arrest, tow or drive them to their yard under such questionable circumstances and slam outrageous bills. “Therefore, in the light of the above, I considered it necessary to use this medium to draw the attention of our Governor to the devouring activities of traffic agencies in Lagos State in collaboration with hoodlums otherwise, it might lead to another crisis like the ENDSARS protest in Lagos State.”
Barely six days after the letter, in response to several complaints of extortion and harassment of members of the public by Committee on Removal of Abandoned Vehicles (RAVC), which is causing embarrassment to the State Government, despite several reviews conducted on the operational guidelines of the team, the Lagos State Government placed an indefinite suspension on the entire on Removal of Abandoned Vehicles (RAVC) operating in the 20 Local Governments (LGs) and 37 Local Council Development Area (LCDAs) in Lagos State with immediate effect.
The suspension was contained in a directive issued to the Commissioner for Transportation Dr. Frederic Oladeinde by the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanw-Olu. The directive warned that any ad-hoc team found operating after this notice will be handed over to the Law Enforcement Agencies for trial and prosecution in accordance with the Law of the State as captured in the Traffic Sector Reform Law (TSRL) 2018.
The directive while requesting the general public to take note of the order also advise abandoned vehicles owners which hitherto pose as environmental nuisances, security and traffic impediment to remove them from the roads as this directive is not an excuse for negligence of the Traffic Laws of the State.
Aside from the security operatives, the area boys, some of who have been allegedly fingered as members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), especially in Apapa area of Lagos State, are also allegedly subjecting truckers to extortion.
For over five years, the truckers have been crying against this monster, but it appears the monster is bigger than the federal government, the Lagos State and other state governments across the country. In some cases, the State and Local Government initiated the extortion, but who will now save the truckers from this MONSTER call extortion?