By Stephen Ubanna
For years, there had been pressure on the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, from different maritime quarters, including the Container Truck Owners Association of Nigeria, COTOAN, and the Association of Maritime Truck Owners, AMATO, to provide a transit truck park for them.
The need for the provision of a transit Truck Park by the Authority for use by the truckers as a way of solving the Apapa gridlock became manifest because of the incessant clash between the truckers and the hoodlums over the later’s financial demand, regarded in maritime circles as extortion or illegal fees .
Sources told the Value News that the demand for the Transit truck park by the trucker became pronounced about four years ago when Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman, an activist, was appointed the Managing Director of the NPA by President Muhammadu Buhari.
After several Consultations with the stakeholders, the Authority were said to have closed the old Lilypond Container Terminal turning into a temporary Transit truck park for the truckers.
Indeed, the decision by Hajia Usman and his Management Team to secure a temporary transit truck park for the Truckers may not have gone down well with the hoodlums who have been milking them for years as they devised strategies to make their existence at the port environment relevant.
Recall that port users had often complained about the gridlock at Apapa caused by the truckers and tanker owners, forcing the NPA and security Operatives to step in at different times in the past years to solve the problem but that was how far they could go.
The government may have begun moves to solve the Apapa gridlock and enhance the ease of doing business at the Lagos ports with the establishment of the Presidential Task Force by President Muhammadu Buhari, last year. The Task Force was said to have been placed under the control of Yemi Osinbajo, a Professor of Law and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN,who is incidentally the Vice President. But the day to day operations of the Presidential Task Force was handled by Kayode Opeifa , the Vice Chairman.
The Opeifa controlled Task Force had unveiled its Operational guidelines for the truck owners, forcing them to relocate to the NPA Transit Truck Park facility at Ijora without further dragging of their foot
Prior to the relocation of the Truckers to the Lilypond Transit Truck Park provided by NPA, Remi Ogungbemi, the AMATO Chairman, had cried out about the activities of the hoodlums around the port environment which was said to be causing the APApapa gridlock.
Many had expected the relocation of the truckers to the Lilypond Transit Park to save them from the hands of the hoodlums. They got it wrong. It was therefore not very surprising to them when law and Order broke down within the port environment and its environs on Thursday, October 24, 2019, as members of the Lagos state Environmental Task Force raided the Ijora under bridge to clear the hoodlums and the street urchins, popular ‘’Alayes or area boys’’ s but were said to have been resisted by them.
Eyewitness account disclosed that the hoodlums took advantage of the raid to enter the NPA transit Truck Park, brandishing machetes, daggers and guns to scare the people away. The truckers and the people found at the premises were said to have scampered for safety.
The hoodlums attack on the Truckers at the Lilypond Transit Truck Park Terminal was said to have spread like wide fire in Lagos Metropolis, forcing motorists coming to Apapa from Oshodi and other locations through the Ijora access road to divert their movement to other routes to avoid been caught in the quagmire.
The hoodlums who may have prepared for the attack on the Truckers at the NPA Transit Truck park as they were said to have destroyed property worth millions of naira including the Authority two operational vehicles, one of which was attached to the Commissioner of Police,CP, in the Presidential Task Force on the decongestion of the Apapa gridlock parked in the premises.The crisis was said to have led to the death of a trucker who was caught up in the attack.
Ogungbemi, the AMATO Chairman, disclosed that the recent attack on the truckers was not the first time they have been attacked by the hoodlums at the facility. Christopher Mathew, a businessman, said the hoodlums and the street urchins succeeded in paralyzing economic activities at the Apapa area as many Companies and shops were forced to close to avoid being looted
It is instructive to note that the Hoodlums attack on the Lilypond Transit truck park may have forced NPA management to review its security measures around the port environment to avoid a repeat of such incident in the future in order to protect lives and property. More so, the police and security Operatives were said to have been positioned at strategic locations at the port environment and put on the red alert to crush any protest arising from any area within the port environment that might disrupt the smooth flow of traffic or ease of business at the port.
There had been wide condemnations of the hoodlums and the street urchins attack on the Truckers at the NPA facility at Ijora. The Management of NPA, who could not hold back their anger were said to have described the ‘’early morning invasion of theLilypond transit truck park by the hoodlums’’ who were said to have resisted the activities of the Lagos state environmental Task Force operations in the area as an act of gross irresponsibility.
The Task Force personnel, according to sources, were said to be on a ‘’mission of restoration of law and order on the port access roads and the environment before the Hoodlums challenged them and eventually saw it as Opportunity to attack the truckers at their lilypond facility.
But the hoodlums may not have been completely lucky to get away with the attack as two women who were alleged to have been selling dry gins under the Bridge with the Hoodlums being their major Customers.
Appealing to the general public to remain calm, Jatto dams, the Authority General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications was said to have assured Nigerians, particular, those who have their businesses at Apapa or resident in the area that ‘’there was no cause for alarm’’, stressing that ’’the situation is under control’’.
In Olumide Omotosho, the NPA General Manager in-charge of security, has enjoined port users and other security operatives to continue to be law abiding to avoid a total breakdown of law and order in the port environment that may lead to further loss of lives and property.
In spite of the assurance, the AMATO boss, who could not hide his feelings about the continued attack on Truckers by hoodlums has made it clear to members that ‘’it is high time they vacate the Lilypond Transit Truck Park as it has become apparent that certain persons have vested interest on the NPA facility.
Only “recently, the World Bank reportedly said that Nigeria had moved 15 steps from 146 in the Ease of Doing Business index’’. In the ports.This should gladden the heart of the Katsina state born Nigeria President and NPA Management to do more in improving the security situation t the country’s seaports.
The World Bank report may have force the Hajia Usman led NPA to call on the government to ‘’build on the successes achieved in this regard so far’’ , insisting that ‘’all hands must be on deck in order to sustain this momentum’’. The NCS has kept to its promise of ensuring that importers take delivery of their cargoes within 24 hours of arrival at the port, particular, Tin-can Island Command under the close watch of Abdullahi Musa, popular, MBA the Area Comptroller.
Many believe that whatever complaints that may have been raised by the importers with their agents in the recent time as working against the ease of doing business at the seaports at the moment is the handiwork of the Terminal Operators who are the custodians of the cargoes discharged by the shipping Companies at their terminals.
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