•Soldiers collect N10,000-N30,000 to escort trucks
•Police, LASTMA, FRSC hire hoodlums to collect tolls; Customs extort too
•Those soldiers are impostors, says Army spokesman
By Evelyn Usman
UNIFORM personnel made up of soldiers, policemen and hoodlums have gotten into an alliance to compound the gridlock on Oshodi/ Apapa road.
The security agents who are supposed to ensure sanity on the route have also turned the gridlock caused majorly by intimidating sizes of containerized trucks and tankers, to a money spinning machine.
Involved in this network are men of the Nigerian Customs Service and the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, who are usually seen in groups at designated points on the expressway way negotiating with truck owners.
Investigation revealed that some truck drivers who struggle to edge one another out of the queue, in their bid to quickly get to the ports or to load petroleum products from the tank farms at Berger, Sunrise and Kirikiri areas of the axis, pay their way through .
Others, on the other hand, would remain on the queue for as long as it takes to take their turn to drive into the ports or depots.
It was discovered that truck drivers who had paid the` protection fee` are usually those who display disregard for traffic rules, taking over the entire road , thereby depriving other road users access.
The mayhem on the Oshodi/Apapa axis is fueled by the Lagos state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu wrong declaration that normalcy had returned to the route.
Soldiers as escorts
To evade illegal tolls by security agencies, some truck owners have resorted to hiring soldiers to escort their trucks in and out of the ports.
But this service is not free, as Vanguard gathered that truck drivers pay between N10,000 and N30,000, depending on the number of soldiers involved.
These soldiers are usually seen in the day time and at night riding motorcycles ahead of the trucks they are escorting.
On reaching the illegal toll collection point, they indicate which truck among the lots in the queue is theirs.
Sometimes, they are seen directing drivers of the trucks they are escorting to drive out of the queue. The concerned drivers will immediately leave the queue and take over the available space, thus compounding the suffering of other road users.
Each of this toll point is manned by a team of government security and paramilitary teams that make up the Lagos State Task Force on traffic decongestion.
‘Those soldiers are impostors’
Reacting to the involvement of soldiers, spokesman for the 81 Division of the Nigerian Army, Lt. Col. Olaniyi Osoba, said, “I doubt if they are our soldiers. They are impostors. We have made several arrests of such recently.
“Our soldiers are in the barracks. We have put in place mechanism to ensure our soldiers remain in the barracks. Besides, you know that other services also use the camouflage.
“However, I will inform the Provost Commander to see if he can enhance Operation Checkmate in that corridor.”
For officers of the Nigeria Customs Service, they are often seen in a group of four or five, flagging containerized trucks with their torchlight at night.
They stop these trucks indiscriminately in the middle of the road, without recourse to the impact of their misgivings to other road users.
Thereafter, they would check documents of the truck drivers and those of Tokunbo vehicles coming from the ports, leaving one to wonder if such checks were not carried out before the vehicles were cleared from the ports.
Activities of these Customs officers usually stationed at Otto Wharf, Mile-Two and Alaba express bus-stops , outward Apapa, compound traffic on that road .
Even when other motorists hoot impatiently, they (Customs officers) carry on as though all was well.
Police, FRSC, LASTMA
For the Policemen, LASTMA and FRSC officers, they are seen in a group of five in designated points on the expressway.
On sighting an approaching truck, one or two of the policemen would stand up, wield their batons at the truck drivers to stop , pretending to be clearing the way for other road users.
To cover up their tracks, the policemen, LASTMA and FRSC officials hire the services of civilians (hoodlums) to collect the toll known as ‘PASS’ ,on their behalf.
On Wednesday night, one of their errand boys was seen arguing with a truck driver to pay before the barricade would be removed at Mile –Two .
After much delay, the truck driver reluctantly squeezed some naira notes into the errand boy’s hand before he was allowed to continue his journey inward Apapa.
Also, yesterday at Alaba express bus-stop, one of the errand boys, clad in a faded blue jean and black T-shirt, was heard boasting that nothing would be done to stop their excesses.
Speaking in pidgin English, he said, “if you like , go tell government, nothing dey happen. Dem dey collect their own share.”
The ongoing construction work on the expressway has further worsened the already bad situation, with the major expressway on both sides, from Apapa to Cele bus-stop, blocked for several months.
Consequently, the service lane now runs dual lanes. Yet, trucks take over both sides of the service lanes.
Members of staff of Vanguard are among several motorists going through pains daily on this road . On Wednesday night, some senior staff whose vehicles were sandwiched between trucks were trapped till 1 am.
Accessing the expressway from Vanguard end could be described as an impossible mission. In addition to this, are activities of hoodlums who attack motorists, including Vanguard staff, dispossessing them of their valuables..
The situation is to say the least, a sharp contrast to Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s claim that sanity had been restored at Apapa and its environs.
When contacted, a member of Lagos State Special Traffic Management Committee on Apapa, Comrade Hassan Adekoya, said the committee would begin a clampdown on extortionists next month.
“On the aspect of extortion, we have identified various extortion points and we are determined to go after the perpetrators beginning from January 2023, I assure you,” he said.
He blamed the traffic congestion on the expressway on tank farms and port operations on the axis, disclosing that the committee would also commence zero tolerance on indiscriminate parking of trucks and containerized vehicles with effect from January 2023.
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