Port business was temporarily paralyzed, while operators scampered for dear life, as security operatives short sporadically into air, following a disagreement among truck drivers, who on Wednesday blocked the Lagos Apapa Port gate.
The development whIch came, less than 24 hours after the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Managing Director, Mallam Habib Abdullahi had declared the ports’ environment corruption-free, while delivering his account of two-year stewardship, reportedly developed because some of the truckers said they could no longer endure extortion.
Trouble, according to eye witnesses began, after a trucker who had allegedly paid varying sums of money before arriving at the Port’s Main Gate was asked to further pay another N500 and he refused, resulting in his colleagues backing him up, even as the ports security officers, backed by men of the police, on ground also refused to open the gate or allow entrance.
Consequently, tension soared, as parked trucks ignited a traffic gridlock which stretched from Apapa Wharf to neighbouring Ijora, creating a “mother of all gridlock”, which took severe toll on easy movements at Ojuelegba and Igaanmu, at Orile,.
The truck drivers, who weree under the auspices of Association of Maritime Truck Owners Operators(AMARTO) operating within the nation’s premier ports in Apapa, subsequently down tools, with many of them calling for total strike, just as some of them who had jobs on hand ttried to build bridges of understanding.
The eye witnesses who spoke on conditions of anonymity also said the sporadic gun shootings came to be after an OP MESSA Unit got tired of talking to beligerent truck drivers who appeared to be more interested in escalating the crisis.
An agent who spoke in the same said when they started, it cost about N5,000 to get a truck inside the Apapa Port, until the demand for settlements gradually grew to become N20,000.
“The collection of fees at the Lagos port gate has become a regular occurrence at the gate of entry”, he stated, stressing that successive NPA Managements had kept a blond eye, while the decay festered.
However, when the Lagos Ports Manager, Mallam Nasir Mohammed was notified, he denied being aware of any allegation of fee collection by his men.
“I am not aware of any fee collection by my officers, although there has been complains of delays from the AP Moller Terminals”, he posited, cautioning against listening to drivers and their assistants who were mostly unread.
“You should also know that many of these people are touts and motor boys who capitalize on any little thing to cause chaos but we have been able to put all situation under control”, he said..
Similarly, the leadership of the two truck drivers’ association resident in the port also denied knowledge of the protest.
The Chairman Apapa chapter of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners, (AMATO), Onyeka Emechebe, said he was not aware of the protest; just as the National president and the General Secretary of the association were equally not aware, because they were all “outside the state”.
“I don’t know what is happening and I don’t think the National President, Chief Remi Ogungbemi is aware because we are all ouside the state.”
When asked whether they planned the protest before leaving Lagos, he said no and explained further that he could not give details of what was happening in Apapa since he was not on ground to know the reasons for the protest.
Similarly, a high ranking member of the National Association Of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) also indicated that his association was not aware of the protest.
“Am in the office now and I don’t have any report of our members going on protest. There’s nothing like that for now,” he said.
The Executive Secretary of NARTO, Barr. Emmanuel Gowon also said he was not aware of the protest because he was not in Lagos but assured he would try to find out from field officers.
The NARTO ES was however, yet to confirm the position of the association on the protest, as at the time of going to press.
Efforts to obtain the official position of the NPA management on the crisis and the alleged reason behind it also proved abortive as the image maker, Assistant General Manager, Musa Iliya said he was also not aware, when his view was sought at 5.25pm; when text messages sent to the Managing Director was not responded to.
However, the Divisional Police Officer of the Apapa Port Police command, Adeleke Smith confirmed the protest, affirming that the situation was also under police control
The senior police officer said his men were on top of the situation, adding that the truckers were actually going about the protest in a peaceful way.
“There was protest by the truckers at the Apapa gate and they were going about it peacefully with no cause for alarm. It is under our control and the truckers are also cooperating with the police”, he indicated.
Peace however returned, when at about 12:30pm, a worker at one of the terminals confirmed that the strike had been called off and the gate of the port had been opened.
“The strike has been called off and the (port’s) gate opened”, he stated.
Ironically even after the crisis lifted, commuters who were caught in the middle of the protest still had to trek long distances before they could get to their various destinations as traffic remained at standstill while the protest lasted.
A freight forwarder, Austine Nwakpa said he had trekked a long distance to get to Apapa after seeing the heavy traffic jam which was occasioned by the protesting truckers.
“Gridlock on Apapa road was nothing new but that of today was too much . I will say the last time I experienced something like this was about three months ago, I have to trek from Ijora to Apapa just because I want to clear a job, this is really annoying,” he said.
Speaking in the same vein, a journalist, Folashade Alli said she had to trek from Iganmu to Apapa when she could no longer bear the traffic anymore.
“I had an appointment to catch up with the director of a leading company in Apapa; but when I got to Iganmu, the road was blocked and I was told that it was from Apapa. So, I had no other option than to start trekking because I just couldn’t go back home”,’she explained, further affirming that the crisis was felt, far beyond Apapa area.