The Association of Maritime Truck Owners AMATO, is recounting its ordeal during the dark days of Apapa gridlock under the chaotic manual truck management system supervised by the Presidential Taskforce, saying its members were made to pay between N150, 000 and N250, 000 per truck in order to access the ports to pick or drop consignments.

This is coming about 18 months after the introduction of the Electronic Truck Call-Up System codenamed ‘ETO’ by the Nigerian Ports Authority, which came on stream on February 27, 2021. In addition to curbing the worsening gridlock in Apapa, the new system has also reduced the cost of operation for the truckers.

Speaking recently in Lagos, Secretary of AMATO, Sanni Mohammed Bala, noted that as against the N250, 000 spent by members then largely due to the extortion by operatives of the Presidential Taskforce headed by a former Lagos State Commissioner for Transport, Kayode Opeifa, the truckers now spend less than N30, 000 under the ETO regime.

He also disclosed that due to the high incidences of extortion by operatives of the taskforce and other security agencies, the cost of moving a container either from Apapa Ports Complex or Tin Can Island Port to any part of Lagos metropolis then increased to over N1million, which gave rise to a serious outcry by importers and exporters, who require to send various types of consignments not only within Lagos but also across the entire length and breadth of the country.

He also narrated the ordeal of the truck drivers and their motor boys, many of who were severely beaten up by some members of the taskforce and agents of the security operatives in a bid to extort money from them while their trucks were destroyed and vandalised.

In comparing both systems, he said: “Prior to the introduction of ETO call system in order to address the problem of chaotic gridlock in the maritime ecosystem, the old manual call up system of passing trucks was characterised by violence, disorderliness, gangsters, favoritism, shunting, cabalism, cronyism, inefficiency, circumvention of rules, operational irregularity, and bribery.

“During the time of Navy and Presidential Task Team, we are all living witnesses of how truckers used to pay between N150,000- N250, 000 for manual call up ticket tag for a single truck to access the ports, and without guarantee that the truck would reach the port gate without being turned back after several weeks of waiting on the queue due to road blockade.

“Then, access to the ports was personalised by some cabals in collaboration with security officials. No one enters the port except through them.  The truckers, who were members of the powerful cabal always gained upper hand in accessing the ports, the weaker transporters then were left at the mercy of the cabals and security operatives. The right of movement of trucks into the ports under the old manual call up system was not only flagrantly abused but also heavily monetised by a group or few individuals.

“Under the old manual call up system, all of us sitting here are living testimony of how the costs of moving a container from Apapa or Tin Can Island Ports to any other part of the city of Lagos rose to over N1million as a result of road blockage and extortion by security officials who instead of solving the traffic problem, decided to compound the problem for personal gains. By then, most of the access roads into the Ports became refuse dump and toilets for our drivers, as they could neither eat nor sleep well.

“On many occasions, our drivers were mercilessly beaten and turned back by the security personnel, and our trucks were badly damaged, windshield damaged, side mirrors destroyed and tyres deflated. Many of our drivers collapsed and died under such traumatising and dehumanising conditions on the roads. It was in the same period as a result of chaotic gridlock arising from road blockage that many containers were trapped in the ports and ships had to stay at anchorages for several weeks or months, and were incurring all manner of surcharges.”

While praising the new ‘ETO’ system, which has addressed these anomalies, he disclosed that truckers now pay less than 30,000 to access the ports in contrast to the N150,000 to 250,000 paid under the old order, which has also led to a drastic reduction in haulage charges to about N200, 000-N250, 000 per container within Lagos.

It was also gathered that truckers, irrespective of their unions and where they are coming from now pay equal booking fee under the new ETO call up system without aligning themselves with any transport cabals, movers, security operatives or bring letter from Abuja, high profile politicians or Traditional Rulers to access the ports, among several other benefits.

He however listed some challenges under the new system to include the existence of multiple checkpoints and human interference along the port corridors, which slows down the movement of truck released from pre-gates into the ports and the menace of some uniformed and non-uniformed people along port corridors, who collect money from truckers despite having ‘’ETO’ call up tickets to access the ports.

Other challenges include those associated with manifest of trucks released from pre-gates to guide against indiscriminate release of trucks from pre-gates to flood the ports corridors as well as the fact that trucks are not released from pre-gates based on demand from the terminals, adding that if trucks were released from pre-gates based on demand from terminals, long queue of trucks would not be visible on the road, among other challenges.