Economic activities at the Lagos Ports Complex, Apapa, Nigeria’s biggest cargo seaport were for the later part of Thursday paralysed as truck drivers protested what they described as very harsh operating environment in the country, especially the absence of container holding bays and truck terminals.

The visibly angry drivers numbering over 50 blocked the entrance of the Apapa Port with their trucks, preventing vehicles from entering and exiting the port, thus crippling economic activities for several hours.

Trouble started yesterday when some trucks laden with empty containers arrived the main entrance to discharge their empty containers and possibly pick laden containers but were prevented by some officers and men of the Nigerian Navy and some security officials of the Nigerian Ports Authority, who alleged that they had not been called up to come to the port.

This development angered the truck drivers, who immediately beckoned on their colleagues on the long queues of trucks on Creek Road, Apapa, and so the protest ensued.

One of the protesting drivers, who spoke with BUSINESS AND TRANSPORT on the condition of anonymity, alleged that following the introduction of the call-up system introduced by NPA and managed officials of the Nigerian Navy, Police and Federal Road Safety Commission FRSC, under which the trucks remain on queue until they are invited, the drivers spend upward of two weeks on the queue before they are called.

He disclosed that they had been on the queue for more than two weeks only to be told that they cannot enter the ports, which he said was frustrating, having spent that length of time on the queue in order to be law abiding and compliant to business rule.

“We are truck drivers, through our services, we add value to the import and export trade but it is not our responsibility to provide the necessary infrastructure such as container holding bays, truck terminals and good roads be we pay tax. The roads are so bad and negatively affects our vehicles with attendant high cost of maintenance, we are faced with extortion and we kept quiet, we have been pushed to the walls and we can no longer stomach it”, he lamented.

Some of the also alleged extortion by these security officials, especially Naval officers and NPA security, alleging that sometimes they are made to pay as much as N25, 000-N35, 000 per trip in order to access the ports to do their business.

It was gathered that most shipping companies and terminal operators have defied a directive by NPA to provide container holding bays for their empty containers, a development that has worsened the situation.

President of Association of Maritime Truck Owners AMATO, Chief Remi Ogungbemi, who confirmed this development in a telephone interview, said that there are several urgent issues to protest about.

He disclosed that the problem is not only about non provision of holding bays and truck terminals, insisting that there are myriads of challenges and urgent problems faced by the business of trucking in the country.

He said that most unfortunately, policies reeled out by the NPA, Lagos State Government terminal operators and even shipping companies and terminal operators, some of which contradict the other are not working and have failed to address the problems over time, leaving the industry in shambles.

According to him, it has become increasingly difficult to operate in the country, especially in the face of decayed infrastructure, multiple and often conflicting regulations, saying that the few holding bays provided by some terminal operators and shipping companies are filled to the brim and nowhere to drop empty containers.