RACKETEERING, MAJOR CAUSE OF GRIDLOCK ON PORTS ACCESS ROADS
—- DR. BASIL NWOLISA
Recently, the Editor of The Prestige Blended Magazine Online and print, Mcanthony Udochukwu Onuoha, engaged the President of Association of Nigerian Customs Brokers-ANCB and Convener, Concerned Nigerian Registered Freight Forwarders- CNRFF, Dr. Basil Chudi Nwolisa, in a no- holds-barred exclusive interview. The maritime practitioner vehimently condemned the criminal activities being perpetrated by some unscrupulous elements in connivance with shipping companies to make ports access roads impassable for ports users, which results in accumulation of demurrage and loss of container deposits. He talked about the involvement of Shipping Companies, the Lagos State Ministry of Transportation, the NURTW, Local Government Tax Force, some NPA staff and security agencies in Billions of Naira monthly racket on the ports corridor.
Enjoy the excerpt !
ON SHIPPING COMPANIES AND TERMINAL OPERATORS :
As far as l am concerned, Shipping Companies and Terminal Operators can be described as terrorists. A set of business people who don’t care about others, their policies in Nigeria can not be implemented anywhere in the world, not even in Africa, not even in the 4th World country if at all we have any country of such status. It is only in this country that we see a shipping company pressing the neck of clients to put them out of business, no rules and regulations for the game. Shipping Companies and terminal operators that would refuse to give you your consignment because they lack functional equipment to do that. And they start charging you demurrage for not giving you your consignment in real time. A terminal operator that tells you that since you have ten containers, you can’t position all for examination in one day; that you can only position two because you are not the only one importing, and takes ten days to examine ten containers and still charge you demurrage for wasting your time. It is only in Nigeria that you see such awkward things happening. You see a shipping company charging demurrage on already exited container, where else does such thing happen if not here.
Why would anyone charge me demurrage on my consignment in the port, and after l have left the port and taken the goods loaded in it, finding it difficult to return the empty box due to the condition of the access road, the shipping company would be charging me for a conspiracy they are part and parcel of. Lagos State Ministry of Transportation and various tax forces on that corridor are all involved in the racket. If you don’t return the empty box in real time due to gridlock, it is their gain. If one million naira was deposited for the container at shipping company and you don’t have access to return the empty box, your deposit would have been grossly depleted or forfeited completely for payment of demurrage. It is an organized crime and it is paying them heavily. That is why they will always frustrate every effort made to ease gridlock on the access road for both human and vehicular movement.
The shipping companies have the yam and the knife, they cut as they wish. Go to PTML, they have virtually sent freight forwarders to Coconut Bridge, a place where animals can not even habit safely. This same PTML set up a process where you can only access their offices with an electronic card. If l have problem at PTML as an importer and want to solve it, l will have to spend not less than a month to process the access card to be able to get to their office
where my problem would be solved. And after that l will have to pay demurrage on that consignment for 30days, if l can’t do that, it means l have to accept whatever option given to me because l am being held to ransom. When l say that they are operating like terrorists people say l am being harsh on them, there is no better word to qualify them. They hold you hostage with one policy or the other, and refuse you access to them for discussion. As long as l am not able to access them for discussion because for me to talk with them, l must be allowed into their office on their approval. And it takes not less than a month for one to have the access card, with thousands of Naira exchanging hands. Before that, demurrage would have accumulated. Take for instance, l am fighting for a downward review of 200,000.00 naira they gave me as handling charge because l didn’t see it as being justifiable, and coming again to spend 30 more days trying to access their office and discuss with them, the demurrage would have risen to 1million naira; it means l will be forced to pay the 200,000.00 whether l like it or not since l can’t access their office. So, tell me where else you can face such humiliation if not here. And they are aware that officials from the Ministry of Transportation are collecting money to allow them park along ports access roads. They know that it is virtually impossible for any one to return an empty box within a stipulated time, and having failed to do that, whatever deposit you made becomes theirs. Do we call that a standard business policy, and when you probe further, you find out that even politicians, members of the National Assembly, people in government are benefitting from the racket because they are Board members of these companies. Some are pariah directors who are somewhere defending their evil practices for selfish interest; he has his commission or bonus at the end of the day. Take for example, somebody brought a case to my office stating how he had an agreement with a shipping line, that if he brings his consignment which is bulk cargo, that it would be carried by barge within 7 days and the agreement was sealed. After the expiration of the first three days and shortly after they started carrying the goods, everything stopped halfway as they started complaining that their equipment had broken down. Before they started again, seven days had expired already, and they gave him charge of about $300,000.00., till date, the goods are still held by the shipping line, and they are perishable goods. For more than one year now the goods are still there; who knows if they are still in good condition. I want a situation where government starts looking into the activities of these people, though Lagos State Ministry of Transportation can not be exonerated from the conspiracy. They are helping the shipping companies to achieve their sinister aim which is making sure that the road to the port is impassable. Stationing themselves collecting money for goods that have already been exited from the port is criminal, they make trucks that have been cleared already to park along the corridor thereby making it impassable for port users.
SIR, ATTEMPTS HAD BEEN MADE IN TIME PAST TO CLEAR THE ACCESS ROAD BUT THE UGLY SITUATION SEEMS TO HAVE DEFIED EVERY SOLUTION, WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON THAT ?
Let me tell you the secret, there is no way they can clear that corridor for easy access to the port, it’s not going to happen in a long while, that corridor is their ATM, it’s their gold mine, it’s their money making factory. 200 trucks paying N20,000 each , that’s what they make on trucks on daily basis. That’s why they allow them park on the road, the so called tax forces set up by the governments are strongly involved in the racketeering, those trucks that pack on port access road are helping them to keep their own part of the bargain with shipping companies, and that is why they keep frustrating every effort by truck drivers to return empty boxes to the ports in real time, so that whatever is your deposit for the container will be depleted or not refunded to you as it goes into demurrage. It is a 100billion naira monthly racket. Nobody can stop it except a legislation or a committee that will be all encompassing, agents, importers and transporters inclusive because they are the ones feeling the pains, they are grossly affected.
Once they have any idea of Presidential visit to the port, the corridor becomes deserted by truckers, everywhere becomes very free, and less than one hour after the official visit, the gridlock returns. It is a lucrative venture, the tax forces continue to share the money while shipping companies keep benefitting immensely too. Truck drivers spend up to N100,000 to get to Mowe, and because of the multiple taxation in day time, they prefer loading in the day, then come out and park on the road till night before they move. The next day another set will come and line up again for the same reason.
The port corridor used to be very free and passable years back before the racketeering started years ago. And having discovered that it is one of the most lucrative ventures, they vowed to sustain the criminality. In life, people make discoveries, and until you discover something you won’t know about it. This criminals never knew as at that time that they could come together and begin to create bottlenecks along ports access roads, and with recklessness and intimidation, their criminality becomes a daily money spinner, billions of naira monthly racketeering. It will only need an iron hand to stop that criminal venture backed by a cartel.
You can’t drive a fairly used (Tokumbo) vehicle from Tincan to Mile 2 without mapping out N10,000 for settlement along the road unless you want to lose your side mirrors and some parts of the vehicle badly dainted by miscreants and road urchins who aggressively confront you for money. And they collect these monies without issuing any receipt. Apapa Local Government Tax Force, Lagos State Tax Force, NURTW, NPA, the Police, Navy, and Customs all show up at one point or the other demanding money from port users right from the exit gate. Who is that person that will not compromise if sent to investigate the criminal activities going on on port access road, it is difficult to tell someone to investigate a case he is secretly involved in.
It will shock you to know that up to 50% of Senior Officers in the military, paramilitary , agencies of government and some leaders of maritime associations benefit from the racketeering going on on ports corridors while some others enjoy some largesse from shipping companies and terminal operators. Each time they are confronted by a committee set up by government or its agencies, the Committee head is given a mouth wathering offer, they tell him, “Oga this is what comes in, can we give you this percentage weekly or monthly for you to keep quiet?” That is why they keep increasing their charges every now and then, it is to accommodate their new partners in crime. Why l am talking is because l want Nigeria to be good for all of us. Why is it that our way of doing things is different and we are often referred to as a rogue nation, why must we continue in the direction of doom; is there no room for repentance ?