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Tears, sorrow and blood on Apapa ports corridor as hoodlums terrorise, extort truck drivers

— NPA promises to tackle the menace
The Apapa port corridor has become a theatre of undisguised extortion, exploitation, intimidation and harassment of port users, especially the hapless truck drivers who are daily being subjected to inhuman treatment by the hoodlums who operate freely despite the presence of NPA security operatives, LASMA and other government agencies who are accused of collaborating with these urchins to torment the legitimate workers.
The International Centre for Investigative Reporting(ICIR) details how the activities of these hoodlums can harm maritime trade at the Lagos ports.
As he headed out to work one sunny afternoon in November 2022, Chidera Ajaekwe, a truck driver, was filled with anticipation akin to the blazing sun in Lagos. He hoped to make a sufficient income to send to his parents in the village. Unfortunately, the trip turned out to be a horrible experience.

The 29-year-old, along with his fellow truck drivers, were transporting goods from a warehouse to the Tin Can Port when they were intercepted by a group of miscreants at an illegal checkpoint in Agboju. The thugs demanded a fee of ₦1,000 per truck, but the drivers were unable to comply since they had already expended their funds in settling the demands of previous groups of criminals at prior junctions.

Chidera Ajaekwe sustained serious injury when thugs attacked them when they couldn’t pay the extortion fee.
Enraged, the thugs resorted to using force to compel compliance with their demands. In a violent outburst, one of them threw a big stone at Chidera’s eyes, causing him to collapse. Chidera cried out in agony as his eyes bled. As soon as the thugs saw what they had done, they fled the scene.

Chidera’s colleagues rushed him to the garage, and then to the police station to report the incident. However, when they got there, the police said it was not within their jurisdiction, advising them to visit another police station.

To save his life, his colleagues took him to the hospital, but by the time they got there, his eyes were already swollen, and he had lost a lot of blood.

Today, Chidera still lives in pain that reminds him of the ugly encounter, but his attackers still walk freely on the streets of Lagos.

Extortion points on Apapa port corridor
“I have been having sleepless nights since the incident occurred, as the eyes still pain me any time I wish to sleep,” Chidera said, trying without success to cushion the tears trundling down his face because of the excruciating pain that resulted from the injury.

Chidera’s boss, who identified himself as Kayode, told The ICIR that he had spent over ₦100,000 in treating his eyes and that they had plans to go to a specialist hospital, where they already knew they would expend more money to secure treatment for him.

“The government is not doing well. If we talk about it, they would say it’s the government that put them there. They would be saying they are Sanwoolu boys,” he lamented.

Like Chidera, many truck drivers who frequent Lagos ports have been victims of attacks by these violent toll collectors in Lagos who harass businesses and collect illegal taxes from them. They generally create unwarranted bottlenecks in the import and export businesses conducted at the ports.

The open impunity 

Findings by The ICIR show that several extortionist stations operate publicly along the Apapa and Tin Can ports corridor. Unfortunately, their activities are aided by security operatives, especially the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), a Lagos State-owned agency under the Ministry of Transportation.

Some victims who spoke with The ICIR identified non-state actors at the centre of this sharp practice as Lagos touts, members of the Road Transport Employees Association( RTEAN), Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Maritimes Workers Union(MWUN), National Union of Road Transport Workers(NURTW) and Lagos State Parks and Garages (LASPARK).

While the complicit state actors are officers of the Lagos police, Lagos State Traffic Management Authority and the Federal Road Safety Commission.

This act of impunity by state and non-state actors which continues to frustrate the digital system and port operations has also led to several ghastly accidents which claimed the lives of citizens.

Data collated via independent oral testimonies from over 20 truck drivers operating at Apapa and Tin Can ports shows that there are about 15 channels of extortion along the Tin Can terminal axis and about 21 along the Apapa Port axis, and each truck driver said he pays at least N30,000 daily in settling thugs, popularly called Area Boys, before reaching their destinations.

The roads leading to the ports in Lagos were heavily congested on the bright afternoon of Saturday, November 26, 2022. Numerous trucks and fuel tankers lined up in extensive queues, vying to reach their intended destinations.

Disguised as a truck driver, this reporter embarked on an investigative journey on some of the routes associated with the ports. Findings show that the touts, who mount checkpoints at different stations leading to the ports, make thousands of naira daily from truck drivers.

The reporter visited various stations in Amuwo Odofin, proceeding from there to the Fatgbems junction and Mile-2, before heading to the Tin Can and Apapa ports.

Thug wields dangerous weapon on a public road in Apapa/Credit: Nurudeen Akewushola/The ICIR
During the two-day exercise, The ICIR independently verified about 12 channels where touts and arm-bearing agents enforce the collection of illegal tolls and taxes from truck drivers doing their legitimate business.

As for the thugs, they can easily spot them by the roadside, wielding dangerous weapons like daggers, pipes and pieces of wood. At some stations, they barricade the street with their bench, making it impossible for any truck to pass without their consent.

LASTMA liaising with thugs to fleece drivers

Within Amuwo-Odofin, which contains several routes leading to the Apapa Expressway, our reporter discovered six points of extortion where touts collect between ₦2,000 and ₦5,000 from truck drivers.

One of the major roads leading to the ports is Fatgbems junction. Although the reporter had earlier visited various points where the racket takes place, this junction stands out as officers of LASTMA connive with area boys to extort the drivers.

This reporter spotted two LASTMA officers working with the touts, who brandished their weapons to ensure that no trucker bypassed them.

Rather than regulating the gridlock, which halted hundreds of trucks on the road, the officers busied themselves with collecting N2,000 from trucks passing through the junction. This reporter observed that the LASTMA officers and the touts share the money.
This reporter later approached one of the men who wore a LASTMA polo and cap to enquire how much it costs for a truck to pass through the junction. The thickly built dark-skinned man, who appeared to be in his late 30s, said it was ₦2,000.

The reporter quizzed him further, pretending that he had six trucks coming towards the junction.“Each vehicle is ₦2,000, not all. For the six trucks, it’s ₦12,000, when you reach up there, you would pay ₦500,” the LASTMA officer responded without hesitating.

LASTMA officer collecting money from truck drivers at Fatgbems
When contacted, the General Manager of Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), Bolaji Oreagba, denied the open impunity and unprofessional conducts by the officials of the agency.

“Please, that is not correct. No LASTMA official collects tolls along Apapa corridors. Our officers are always in uniform,” he claimed, adding that the agency frowns at the collection of tolls on the road.

At Mile-2 Junction, one would have expected that the presence of two police officers, identified as Ofen and Oliver, would curb the activities of the toll collectors. Rather, they sat comfortably while the thugs forced the truck drivers to cough up illegal levies.

The ICIR gathered that the police officers also take their cut from the money collected by the hoodlums, the reason why they feign ignorance.

The name of the young man manning this station is Belief. While his eyes were bloodshot, one would easily fathom the cause as his breath reeked of Indian Hemp.

When this reporter asked him how much they charge, he said ₦1,000 for a truck and ₦6,000 for six trucks.

Going forward
The next day, this reporter would proceed to Sunrise Junction.

Manning the Sunrise station were four men—two sat, flanked by their standing comrades. The sitting men donned Barcelona jerseys whilst the other two wore Ankara and a green native dress, respectively.

“Each truck is ₦4,000,” one of them responded to this reporter’s questions about the amount he would pay for his trucks to pass through their station.

When this reporter protested that the previous junctions had charged around ₦1,000 per truck, one of them, who identified himself as Baba Oja, explained that their station is an amalgamation of four bodies, namely Road Transport Employees Association( RTEAN), Maritimes Workers Union(MWUN), National Union of Road Transport Workers and Police and that the ₦4,000 would be split amongst them.

“We can only remove ₦500 for you. ₦3,500 per truck,” Baba Oja said.

After prolonged haggling, they eventually agreed that they would grant a waiver to one of this reporter’s four trucks and that he would pay ₦4,000 for each of the remaining three.

At Coconut Junction, this reporter encountered four young men. Two of them slept under a fuel tanker while their comrades sat down, wrapping Indian hemp. They inclined their pipes, which they use to stop vehicles, against the tanker.

“It’s ₦2,000 that you would pay here if you are going. From where you were coming there; you know they said ₦2,000. When you reach there too, you would pay ₦2,000. And there’s another one there; it’s also ₦2,000. There’s another one called Maritime; it’s ₦1,000. This place is called coconut,” said one of them, who identified himself as Wasiu Ila.

This reporter arrived at the Tin Can second gate to find out who charged even higher. They charged ₦5,000 on each truck entering the port.

Upon requesting an audience with them, the thugs directed this reporter to their leader, who identified himself as “Alfa.”

“It is ₦5,000 on each truck. But as they (this reporter’s trucks) are now many, if they follow one another, I would collect ₦4,000 on each,” Alfa said.

Lynched by OPC
Forty-five-year-old Lawal Ahmed would always remember April 27, 2022, as a day of gloom.

Ahmed and his colleagues were transporting containers along the Babangida Road, heading to the Tin Can Port, when they encountered some men he identified as Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) members. The men approached them, asking for ₦2,000 per truck, and expectedly, they cooperated.

The OPC is a Yoruba nationalist and vigilante group dominant in the six states of Southwestern Nigeria and Kwara in the North-central region.

Minutes later, another set of hoodlums under the same umbrella approached Ahmed and his colleagues for money. They told the new faction that they had already paid their colleagues. However, before they realised it, the hoodlums had already punctured their tyres.

This led to an intense argument between the drivers and the thugs. While the drivers grabbed one of the thugs, insisting that they repair their tyres, his companions ran away.

The drivers did not know that the thugs left to fetch arms until they heard the sporadic shots that announced their return. Everyone in the area, including the drivers, scampered for safety, but, unfortunately, Ahmed was not lucky enough to escape.

“The guys trooped down with sticks, guns and cutlasses and started hitting me with them. They descended on me and whisked me away to their zone and my people started looking for me,” said Ahmed while narrating his experience in the hands of the thugs.

Ahmed spent a day in their custody, where they subjected him to different forms of torture before the policemen eventually came to his rescue. He nursed his wounds for several weeks, but his attackers, who were arrested by the police, were released a few days after.

“The police could not conquer them because the OPC boys were more than them. It’s the policemen that we knew that usually collect bribes, but here, it’s the OPC boys that are everywhere. They should help us to talk to Gani Adams. The government should invite Gani Adams because anytime the boys want to talk, they usually say it’s Aare that sent them” he noted.

Illegal toll collectors raking millions in Lagos
The maritime industry is the backbone of international trade and the global economy. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), over 90 percent of the volume of international trade in goods is carried by sea.

The sector serves as a significant source of income for the nation and provides employment opportunities for millions of young people. In 2022 alone, Apapa ports generated a remarkable revenue of N1.02 trillion for the nation. The industry generated and remitted N870.39 billion to the Federal Government’s account the previous year, while N518.4 billion was recorded as revenue in 2020.

One of the key players in this supply chain of goods and services is the haulage industry, which caters for the transportation of goods, by road, to ports for export and from ports to various local destinations.

However, despite its economic contribution, the haulage industry and the entire nation’s import and export business are threatened by the activities of these extortionists, which include constant harassment and exploitation.

Some of the truck owners and drivers who source for livelihood at the mercy of these marauding touts narrated how their businesses have fared after losing chunks of their income to the toll collectors spread across the port corridors.

A truck driver, Toyin Akinjobi, narrated how he was beaten blue-black by thugs over his refusal to cough up ₦2,000.  They also destroyed his truck.

“The problem we are facing is that from Ijesha to the second gate of the port is that there are area boys at numerous points where they forcibly collect money from us.

“The last trip that I went for, I was beaten mercilessly by the hoodlums because I couldn’t give them money. And they stole some engines in my car.

“The amount we are spending for extortionists is uncountable. Like the trip I went to now; when my call-up didn’t come up on time, the boys collected ₦3,000 while waiting for a call-up. In the morning again, the police and others too also collected ₦2,000 from me before they left.”

While narrating how this has affected his business, 45-year-old Taiwo Alarape, told The ICIR that it costs at least ₦35,000 to settle the extortionists on the road while entering or leaving the ports, depending on what the truck carries.

He narrated how LASTMA officers connived with thugs to beat him and collect a sum of ₦130,000 when his truck developed a fault on the road.
“As it stands, there isn’t much profit in this trade anymore. Personally, I have two wives and four children, but the frequent demands for money by the numerous boys on the road make it increasingly difficult. We spend up to two days on the road, and from Mile-2 to MOB, there could be as many as 15 of them demanding payment.

“There are times that we spend between ₦5,000- ₦10,000 from our earnings as a driver for these boys,” he added.

Kayode, the truck manager whose driver is on the verge of losing his left eye, no thanks to the brutality of the touts, expressed concerns over the inaction of the Lagos State government, which, he believes, has given the touts the immunity to do whatever they wish on the roads.

“The government of Sanwo-Olu should help us evacuate these boys. They are just too many. There’s no amount that we can give to the driver to give these boys that they will not exhaust before they reach the warehouse. The drivers, too, are not animals. When they are moving, they would have to spend so much money. Anybody going to Alaba would spend nothing less than ₦100,000.

“We have made several attempts to report, but what they keep saying is that they don’t have the power. When they make an arrest, and they call them from the top, there’s nothing they can do. We have arrested several people and fought as regards to it but we had to give up.

”The major problem that all of us are facing is this area boys because when the work you do worth ₦200,000 and ₦100,000 ended up in the pocket of thugs on the road, the money would have finished.”

 However, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA), Mohammed Bello-Koko, has promised that the agency will ensure that the menace is tackled and decapitated.
Culled from the ICRC news portal
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House of Reps gives NIMASA green light to disburse CVFF –appoints audit firm to coordinate, monitor  disbursement

Hon. Legor Idagbo
The eyewitness reporter
The House of Representatives has given the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) a clean bill of health over the controversial Cabotage Vessels Financing Funds(CVFF) and consequently directed the agency to disburse the funds.
It would be recalled that the lawmakers, a few weeks ago, halted the planned disbursement after long and painstaking groundwork made by the Ministry of Transportation and NIMASA towards the disbursement process.
The House had raised concerns over the funds, said to be about #700m, and decided to ask its committee on Nigerian Contents Development and Monitoring to investigate the funds.
This followed a motion during its sitting last month on the matter and subsequently directed the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to stop the planned disbursement of the fund.
However, after concluding its investigation, the House found tenable the need to disburse the funds to the eligible indigenous ship owners.
Addressing journalists in Abuja Thursday, the Chairman of the committee, Hon. Legor Idagbo said that its investigations indicated that due process was followed, informing that the disbursement can now be made.
“The House of Representatives at its sitting on Tuesday, 4 May 2023, deliberated on a motion on the Planned Disbursement of $700 Million Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund, and investigate the Total Accrual of the Fund, and referred same to the House Committee on Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring to, amongst other resolutions, investigate and urge the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to immediately stop the planned disbursement of $700 million to Nigerian citizens and companies and to lay before the floor of the House, an audited statement of account showing all monies that have accrued to the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund not later than fourteen (14) days from the date of this resolution.
“The Committee requested the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency and the Ministry of Transportation to provide detailed information on the total amount accrued to the Fund and disbursements since inception.
“The Committee met with the Minister of Transportation and the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency ({NIMASA) on Thursday, 11 May 2023 to find out about the details concerning the matter.
” After a thorough analysis of the various submissions on the matter coupled with the explanations given by the Ministry and NIMASA, the Committee discovered that due process was followed in the planned disbursement of the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund.
“The Committee notes that the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF) is a fund that was set up in 2003 by the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act.
” The Fund was established for the purpose of developing indigenous ship acquisition capacity, and to provide financial assistance to indigenous shipping operators.
“The Committee further notes that there is a lack of Capacity amongst indigenous/ Domestic Coastal operators in Nigeria, thus the reason Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited (NNPC) still awards contracts to foreign shipping Companies in contravention of the Cabotage and Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development (NOGICD) Act.
“Some of these awards have been previously investigated by the Committee which led to their cancellation.
“It was also discovered that the total funds of $360m in the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF) account with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) represents 50%, while the remaining counterpart funds of 50% is from stakeholders and Banks which is 15% and 35% respectively.
“NIMASA should go ahead with the disbursement of the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF) in compliance with the extant laws and laid down guidelines for the said disbursement.
“To ensure the disbursement does not violate any of the extant laws made by the National Assembly, the following persons were nominated to supervise the disbursement process:
“Rt. Hon. (Barr.) Legor Idagbo  – Chairman ii. Hon. Henry Nwawuba – Member iii. | Mrs. Kehinde Bolade Olaiya – Committee Clerk.
“An Audit firm, Stratford Hill and Co. was appointed by the committee as the coordinating enforcement auditor for the CVFF.
“The Committee applauds NNPC for its commitment to awarding the shipping contracts to indigenous companies that have built capacity to the level where they can successfully execute these contracts.
“The Committee is grateful to the leadership of the House for the confidence bestowed on it to carry out the investigation”.
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President Tinubu appoints Gbajabiamila Chief of Staff

Gbajabiamila , Tinubu
 President Bola Tinubu has appointed Femi Gbajabiamila, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as his Chief of Staff.

An authoritative source in the Presidency confirmed the development on Thursday.

The source said the president finally made the decision after wide consultations on the contending candidates.

Gbajabiamila has been a member of the House of Representatives since 2012 and has just been re-elected to the House in the last elections.

The choice of Gbajabiamila by the president is not a surprise to many political pundits as he has been a very close ally to the president.

They are part of the brains behind the formation of the All-Progressives Party (APC).

He will now have to forgo his seat in the House of Representatives if he accepts the appointment.

Olufemi Hakeem Gbajabiamila CFR, is a Nigerian lawyer and foundation member of the APC.

He has been a member of the House of Representatives since 2019.

Gbajabiamila was born in Lagos in 1962 and attended Igbobi College for his secondary education and the University of Lagos as part of his education.

He is married to Salamatu Gbajabiamila.

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Maritime media, NUJ mourn as Ray Ugochukwu passes on to glory

Ray Ugochukwu
The eyewitness reporter
The media confraternity of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Lagos State Council and the maritime media, was thrown into a deep shock and mourning Thursday at the sudden demise of Mr Ray Ugochukwu, a crack journalist of international repute.
The entire members of the NUJ and the maritime media, his immediate constituency, received the news of his death, which was broken by Mr Leye Ajayi, the Chairman of the NUJ Lagos council, in a terse message posted on the council’s WhatsApp platform, with mixed emotion of sadness, shock and disbelief.
Shell-shocked, most colleagues of the deceased, who thought the announcement was a joke taken too far, make frantic calls to the NUJ council officials who confirmed the unfortunate incident.
As the rude reality of the death of the erudite maritime journalist sank in, many of them paid glowing tributes to the man widely regarded as the encyclopedia of the maritime press and a repository of wise sayings.
In its statement on the death of Mr Ugochukwu, Leye Ajayi eulogised the huge reportorial qualities of the deceased who has practised journalism for over 30 years
“With heavy hearts, we mourn the death of a media giant, a versatile Unionist and a brilliant journalist, Mr Ray Ugochukwu who passed on on Thursday.

“The death of Ray came as a big shock to the union.

“We are going to miss his courageous attributes and mentorship.

“He was also one of the pillars of the Lagos Council of NUJ and served the union meritoriously in his capacities as the Chairman of, the Seminar Committee; and as a Member, the Committee on Milestone Recognition of Media Icons In Nigeria.

“He spent most of his life in ensuring the advancement of Maritime Reporting as well as the welfare of Journalists.

“He worked in several media houses.

“Among his giant strides, he was a former President of the Maritime Reporters’ Association of Nigeria (MARAN); President, Maritime Journalists Association of Nigeria (MAJAN); and a former Chairman of the Daily Times Chapel of NUJ.

“The legacies of Ray are indelible and will exist forever.

“May God grant his soul eternal rest” the Lagos NUJ said in a statement signed by Leye Ajayi, the Council Chairman and Tunde Olalere, the Council Secretary.

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