By Asuquo Nuwak
— Unbearable Extortion
— Worrisome Multiple Union
—Government Lacks Regulatory Agency For Transport Sector
Okafor Stephen is the General Manager of operations, National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO). In many years, he has been actively involved in transport sector, where he has demonstrated his expertise in managing the activities of NARTO. The drive to succeed and inspire change has been among the most remarkable features of Okafor Stephen’s public life. As an experienced and dynamic manager, with a broad range of experience, Okafor Stephen, had managed to restore and sustain peace in NARTO.
He came to tranport industry with a lot of hope and promises. In a chat with our correspondent said, Transport Industry has gone through a lot of turbulent for so many years. Mr Okafor Stephen, while reacting to challenges in transport sector said, the sector is still passing through various challenges ranging from multiple union and extortion, especially in the dry cargo sector.
Apart from this, he said, the Federal Government has no regulatory agency to regulate activities in transport sector of Nigeria economy. He added that the absence of regulatory agency in transport sector has made it possible for people to regard the sector as an all comer affair, where anybody can come up and register a union and body.
Beyond all these, he said, it has become extremely difficult to control multiple union and body, especially in Lagos.
Significant, too, ” we have several Union and body under dry cargo sector, which has made it difficult for Government to control and regulate.
His words: ” We thank God, the emergence of Electronic Call Up System (ETO), has helped to reducing traffic and cost of doing business to a very large extend.
Before then, the cost of doing business in transport sector was at the high side. Few people could afford movement of trucks and cost of doing business in the ports.
In his words, ” We are still having challenges and most of it are high level of extortion going on along the corridor. For instance, from Liverpool to Mile 2 and Mile 2 to Agbara area, you can not count the number of extortion points”.
He added that this extortion is done in the face and present of Government agencies and nothing is being done to make them face the full consequence of their actions. Instead, transporters are subjected to incessant intimidation and harassment by the extortionists, who performed this act with all impunity, without somebody to challenge their actions. This is in addition to manhandling, beating and destruction of vehicle accessories, while the drivers and motor boys are the escopegoats.
He said, even when they complained and cried out nobody seems to listen. Beyond this, one of the major problems in Lagos state has been extortion which has been on the high level and unbearable.
At the end of the day, he said, people who may not know the major reasons why there is high cost of doing business in Lagos may likely blame and attribute the cause to the failure of Electronic Call Up System for not living up to its expectations.
Again, in his reaction to the issue of extortion, he said, “people who are involved in extortion are not invisible but are visible”. “The set of people who are involved in extortion, said Okafor Stephen, “claimed to be Local Government agents, Lagos State Government agents, Area Boys and Street Boys, who operate in the present of the police without fear.” “The Union, he said, “have cried out on several occasions but to no avail, nobody care to listen”.
“We are calling on the Government to come to our rescue. We will appreciate the effort of Government if enabling environment is created to do our business peacefully. In his reaction towards Government response over the problems, Stephen said, “that the Federal Government has been making tremendous efforts towards adopting several means to ravage the situation”. Stephen: “Recalled that, the Federal Government in the past constituted Task Force known as LAPAMO with term of reference to clear the roads and put a stop to extortion”. Aside from this, he said, “before Electronic Call Up System came on board, efforts were made by Task Forces to ravage the situation. Though, they tried their best, but within a short period of time, the Task Forces were able to come into compromise in one way or the other”.
Stephen added: “In fact, the aim at which the Task Force was created was also defeated at last, as a result of high level of compromise. For instance, Navy Task Force, within a short period of operations, was involved in extorting money from transporters, which eventually led to petition written against the Navy Task Force.”
Again, “the Presidential Task Team, with NARTO as member, further did their best and performed creditable well. Within the first six months of operations, they made impressive impact in reducing cost of doing business to some extend, reducing traffic and clearing of roads from obstruction.”
From his own “cautious observation” of the Task Forces, Okafor Stephen, disclosed that within a short period of operations, the Task Forces again came into compromise here and there which eventually brought back high cost of doing business, just like what it used to be before”.
Okafor Stephen: “Closer observation, however, confirmed the failure of Federal Government Task Forces at a long run, for not been able to stand the test of time due to the nature of people living in Lagos. For instance, people of different characters and life style, which eventually does not allow Government initiative to stand the test of time and to last long.” Specifically, he noted that ” extortion has eaten deep into our businesses.”
His words: ” In summary, the Federal Government have tried their best, except the state Government. He believes that the Government actually have political will to get rid of this problem, if people who have conscience are deploy and assign to address the situation. ” As you already know, Ports Standing Task Team, headed by Mr Fadipe, was constituted by the Federal Government, and is regarded as one of the best Teams which have worked creditably well and has demonstrated its expertise as group of people who have conscience.”
He said, “initially, when the Task Team assumed duty they were able to make significant changes within a short period of time, ” adding that the Task Team made remarkable impact in Apapa and Tincan in tackling the issue of traffic gridlock, check points and other related issues. He believes that if the Ports Standing Task Team is given more power, empowerment and backing by the Federal and State Governments, the issue will virtually bring urgent beneficial relief to transporters in particular and transport sector in general. “Initially, there were high hope that the creation of Task Forces would go a long way towards solving the identified problems of extortion, perennial traffic gridlock, multiple union and body including check points.”
As a way forward, Okafor Stephen said: ” There is need for the Federal and State Governments to muster political will to address the factor that hamper the effective and efficient management of the transport sector.
Considering this ugly embarrassment to the Government, Okafor Stephen, suggested that the issue of multiple union and extortion should be regarded as an emergency.
It is for this reason that Okafor Stephen, therefore called on the Government to urgently initiate concrete steps towards providing regulatory agency to regulate activities in transport sector.
Given the overwhelming importance of the transport sector to the growth and development of Nigeria economy, it is imperative for Governments at all level to ensure that transport sector is not made to deteriorate and decline.