Maritime ‘Bandits’: ‘Agberos’ rake in N2.16bn revenue annually from Lagos ports corridor (2)

This is the second part of a two-part report in which NURUDEEN AKEWUSHOLA examines how indiscriminate extortion and touting by hoodlums and corrupt security agencies along ports’ corridors impede the efficiency of electronic call-up system developed to deal with port congestion and restore order to that economic gateway.

Read the first part HERE

Touting frustrating digital system

To address the issue of truck congestion in Apapa and restore order to the port surroundings, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) initiated the electronic call-up system on February 27, 2021, which is designed to manage the movement of all trucks calling in the country’s ports. This system aims to provide a lasting solution to the challenge of congestion experienced in the industry.

The electronic system was designed for the hitch-free management of truck movements and access to the Lagos Ports Complex and the Tin Can Island Ports in Apapa, and ending the perennial logjam caused by articulated trucks within the port corridors.


The truck electronic call-up system, which is powered by a web application called “Eto”, is said to be responsible for the scheduling, entry and exit of all trucks in the ports.

However, The ICIR investigation shows that these flagrant acts of extortion have limited the efficiency of the digital technology aimed at containing the gridlock around the ports, as the problem visibly lingers to date.

Infographic showing some extortion points and their charges along Lagos port corridors
Infographic showing some extortion points and their charges along Lagos port corridors

The ICIR’s checks showed that trucks used to spend as long as two to three weeks, and truckers paid as much as N300,000 to access the port before the advent of the Eto Automation System. 

However, with the introduction of the digital system, the average time to access the ports should be less than one hour; but with obstruction by illegal toll collectors and corrupt security agencies, it now takes between 12 to 24 hours for trucks to access the ports.

Under normal circumstances, it costs an average of N21,500 to access the port using Eto Application, but with multiple illegal checkpoints, truckers now spend between N50,000-N60,000.

Extortion point by hoodlums at Villa Park
Extortion point by hoodlums at Villa Park

Barely three weeks before this reporter’s visit to Lagos, tragedy struck at the Trade Fair bridge, along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway as a truck crushed a policeman and two other persons to death.

Some touts had attempted to stop the truck and collect money from the driver by force, but he refused to obey. This made the violent thugs drag the steering wheel with the driver and, in the process, the truck lost control and crushed three persons to death.

Similarly, The ICIR gathered that these hoodlums attacked and stabbed a cameraman of the Channels Television, Ismail Sanusi, whilst filming their illegal activities on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway as well as around the Apapa and Tin Can ports.

This folder [HERE] contains horrid photos and videos of victims and casualties of attacks by hoodlums at Lagos ports corridors gathered during the course of the investigation. These are graphic pictures. Beware!

A Senior Research Analyst with Nairametric, Samuel Oyekanmi, explained that the flagrant acts of impunity by lawless toll collectors would impact the productivity of the Lagos ports as some businesses might be forced to relocate their operations to other business-friendly environments.

“The government needs to clamp down on the activities of the touts, either by providing them with social jobs or program that keeps them busy and productive, rather than being a nuisance and hampering the development of business in the state,” Oyekanmi said.

Thuggery and Touting: A lucrative business in Lagos

Area boys, or Agbero, is an informal name for a person, usually a thug, who collects rates, fees, tolls and other forms of illegal tax around motor parks. They are every Lagos resident’s nightmare.

In broad daylight, they levy tolls on commercial drivers, patrol potential car-parking spaces and demand illegal fees from citizens.

Lagos state governor, Babajide sanwo-Olu
Lagos state governor, Babajide sanwo-Olu

Earlier investigations by The ICIR have shown how these violent non-state actors pocket millions of Naira from wreaking havoc on commercial transporters and disrupting businesses in Lagos.

The investigation, which was carried out in 21 LCDAs shows that bus drivers, tricyclists and motorcyclists pay a whopping ₦123.078 billion annually to touts in Lagos. However, because of their networks in the state government, they have become powerful, rampant and unstoppable in the state.

According to the Trust Transit Park, over 78,500 registered trucks frequent the Lagos ports, and at least 3000 of them access the ports daily. The average amount charged by the hoodlums at these points is ₦2,000, based on The ICIR findings.

Value of extortion along Lagos port access roads
Value of extortion along Lagos port access roads

This means that the hoodlums rake estimated ₦6 million daily, ₦180 million monthly and about ₦ 2.16 billion annually from this illegal business. This is just for a single extortion toll point. 

Speaking with The ICIR, Festus Ogun, a Lagos-based Human Rights Lawyer, decried the indiscriminate collection of tolls in Lagos and called on the government to proscribe violent tolls collectors as their activities contravene the law and threaten the peace and order in the society.

“They (area boys) are one of the major causes of traffic jams in Lagos. They cause avoidable accidents. They are a law unto themselves. They place heavy illegal taxes on motorists, which are in turn paid for by innocent passengers” 

Festus Ogun, Human Rights Lawyer
Festus Ogun, Human Rights Lawyer

“A serious government in Lagos should proscribe the area boys system that has been made very strong and powerful”. 

“The institutionalised extortion of motorists by Lagos touts is not supported by law. In my respectful view, it is reprehensible, criminal and punishable under Section 408 of the Criminal Code. It further encroaches on motorists’ right to freedom of movement guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Condemning the inactions of the Lagos government in putting an end to the menace, Ogun concluded by saying: 

“Beyond the laws, it is a sad reality that they are aided by authorities. The successive Lagos government is complicit in this daylight robbery. The government profits largely from the illicit arrangement. It becomes difficult to combat them because the authorities could not have bitten the roguish fingers that feed them,”he noted. 

COMTUA bemoans government’s inaction

Speaking with The ICIR, the Chairman of Council of Maritime Transport Unions and Association, COMTUA, Yinka Aroyewun expressed displeasure over the failure of the government to find a lasting solution to multiple extortion points on the ports access roads.

“It has really killed businesses for us. We are not making profits. We are not able to repair our trucks. We are losing our members to hoodlums, sustaining injury. It’s been very tough for us.

“There’s no agency of government that is concerned that we have not taken our matter to. We have approached the presidency. We have been received by the vice president of the federal republic of Nigeria twice. We have met with the commissioner of police, the assistant inspector general of police of this zone and even the state government. They are all just promising us that something will be done. We have made every possible effort to report this matter and they have always taken it with levity.”

COMTUA chairman
COMTUA chairman

Aroyewun argued that the problem is getting worse contrary to the government’s claim that the problem has reduced.

” The extortion points are increasing on daily basis. Within and around the port area to Agbara, the points have increased to about 160 points now,” he said.

He urged the government to come up with a security structure that would put a lasting solution to the rampage of hoodlums around the port.

“Illegal collection of tolls, extortions, harassment and vandalism. All sorts of social vices are being committed by these people and nobody is doing anything about it. They have no respect for the law at all. We want the government to come to our aid,” he said.

Stakeholders seek government’s intervention

Similarly, various associations of transport operators in Lagos’ maritime industry also formed an alliance, which they called the Amalgamation of Container Truck Owners Association of Nigeria (ACTOAN) to tackle the indiscriminate extortion of truck drivers along port access roads.

Members of Amalgamation of trucks owners/ Credit: Nurudeen Akewushola, The ICIR
Members of Amalgamation of trucks owners/ Credit: Nurudeen Akewushola, The ICIR

The team said it would collaborate with the Nigerian Shippers Council’s Port Standing Task Team (PSTT) to achieve its aim.

Speaking with The ICIR, Adewale Abdulsalam, the chairman of the enforcement team, described extortion as one of the major problems facing business operations in the maritime industry.

Corroborating The ICIR’s findings, Abdulsalam said, “You are correct with your observations. It’s part of the problems that we are facing in this industry, and we have been looking for a way to solve this problem and that’s why we came up with amalgamation, whereby many associations come under the umbrella of amalgamation to see how we can solve this problem. 

“Because most of these people are not part of this industry. They are coming from nowhere, and they see the opportunity that we are not united. And when you are united, there are a lot of problems that are meant to happen in that regard. So, they see the opportunity that we are not united and nobody is checkmating their activities. They take advantage of that to oppress our people.”

He said the team just met with the presidential task team led by Moses Fadipe on how to collaborate and tackle the problem.

“Some of our members are in collaboration with those people, and we have been able to identify them. But for us not to take jungle justice, that’s why we seek the authority’s support. And as you can see, the government has already put in place the PSTT to checkmate the activities of extortion and other activities of people on the road.”

Adewale Abdulsalam
Adewale Abdulsalam

He said the PSTT has already given them their support, and the issues of extortion along port access roads would soon be history.

“For example, before you access the port from Mile-2 or maybe from Orile, before you get to port to area B here, you spend not less than ₦50,000 to ₦70,0000, and when you get to the port maybe you are being fortunate to see the load of ₦100,000 or ₦120,000, you still have other expenses to incur. By the time you calculate all the expenses, you would not have anything left. So, this thing is really affecting truckers, and that’s why we are looking for every possible way to stabilise the industry.”

Abdulsalam confirmed that the touts collude with security operatives to carry out their heinous activities, citing this as one of the aspects that the amalgamation set out to address.

“No doubts about it. Whenever you see touts extorting the truckers, you would be seeing the security agencies together with them, and those are the catalysts they use to obtain the truckers and these are the areas that we want to address, and we have started working towards that, and whoever is involved we will bring them to book,” he concluded.

PSTT blames state government

The Ports Standing Task Team (PSTT) is a body saddled with the responsibility of entrenching accountability and transparency, boosting enforcement activities, as well as to promote integrity in Nigeria’s maritime sector.

The team has carried out several enforcement operations, such as “operation free the ports corridor” to stem the extortion within and around the Lagos ports.

Speaking with The ICIR, the team’s coordinator, Moses Fadipe, pointed out that the team has been able to eradicate extortion by public officials to a large extent. Still, the menace of area boys remains a source of concern, obstructing the ease of business operations.

Coordinator of PSTT, Moses Fadipe/ Credit: Nurudeen Akewushola, The ICIR

He blamed the state government over the rampage of hoodlums on the ports access roads  and appealed to them to support their cause.

“The extortion along port access roads by public officials has now become a thing of the past. What we have now is private people that we call non-state actors and that’s why stakeholders have unanimously said the Lagos state government should do more to help them. 

“Because it’s now a case of touts along the port corridors and those touts, like I have told you during the daytime, you would hardly see them, and when you see them before you know it, there’s PSTT on the ground. 

“Let Lagos State government do more about the touts because it’s their state and that’s what we are having now as we speak but not as pronounced like before that someone would believe it’s right for them to stay on that particular path, but we are arresting them all the time and we are dealing with them.”

Fadipe added that the team is working on taking its enforcement to the next level by arresting the touts caught disrupting business operations and projecting them further for prosecution.

Police feign ignorance

The Lagos police spokesperson, Benjamin Hundeyin, when contacted, denied the knowledge of the activities of the hoodlums and urged the motorists plying the routes to report them to the police.

What has the state government done?

In an interview with The ICIR, the Special Assistant to the Lagos State’s Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu on Transportation, Sola Giwa insisted that the efforts of state governments in collaboration with the Nigerian Port Authority have led to a reduction in gridlock and extortion along ports corridors but there are still some grey areas that the government is working to ameliorate.

“With the advent of the E-call-up system, we have seen a significant increase in the movement of trucks in and out of the port,” he said.

“Extortion has significantly reduced in that axis. I’m not saying it has totally ended. The NPA and Lagos State government have been collaborating very well over the past few years which has culminated in the optimal use of the port. Before now, we used to see the backlog of trucks from Lagos port corridors up to Obanikoro and Surulere, but that has disappeared. Credit must be given where it has to be given.

Shola Giwa, SA to Lagos State Governor  on Transportation

“Before now, to move a truck to the port from Ijora, you would pay nothing less than N120,000 to N200,000 to bribe people, but we have eliminated that with the Call-up system. People that you used to see on the road, like on Apapa axis, are no more there again. Before, before you can access Tin Can Island, you have to pay up to up N700,000. You can go  and verify. The cost of moving goods from the port has been reduced to about N120,000-N140,000. It used to be N1.5million in the past.”

On why the problem persists, Giwa said, “What we are saying is that there are remnants of the old days and that’s because the small boys that collect money for the big boys are still the ones on the road. The big boys have been eliminated, and the majority of them are at the Badagry express-way and it is because of the construction.

“We have partnered with the police. We have gone there several times to raid them. We will continue to raid them so that they must not stop trucks and collect money. In fact, the Lagos State government and NPA and we went round and designated only three points where vehicles could be stopped and checked. We have reduced the checkpoints to three along both axes. 

He said the only approved checkpoints are Ijora Olopa, Ijora silver and Coconut, where the call-up systems of the trucks are to be verified.

“We have called on the police, and we are still calling them to help us continuously raid these bad elements.

“Last week, we held a meeting with a plethora of unions and associations working in the ports axis and we all agreed that they would all be under one umbrella so that when we see them we can know which union we would hold responsible. I don’t want to go into details because we have not come to the end of the negotiation.

He said following the meeting with all truckers’ associations, they have agreed to come up with one Union to curb extortion and nuisances frustrating the movement of trucks along the port corridors.

He insisted that the state government frowned at indiscriminate collections of tolls by any union or security forces on the road and urged people to report the perpetrators to the government.

    “Any government agency such as LASTMA and VIO seen stopping vehicles unnecessarily and collecting money should be reported to us. I mean the enforcement agencies under the state government. For the police, we are working with the Police CP of Lagos to stop this.”

    He added that the state government is also collaborating with Maritime police and the Department of State Services to deal with miscreants that attack trucks, especially along the port corridors.

    “We get all these reports, and as a government, we would not sit down. We would continue to do our best to achieve ease of doing business,” he said.

    He lauded the Presidential Port Standing Task Team for their efforts toward ensuring seamless port operation and urged them to work more alongside the state government.

    Nurudeen Akewushola is an investigative reporter and fact-checker with The ICIR. He believes courageous in-depth investigative reporting is the key to social justice, accountability and good governance in the society. You can shoot him a scoop via [email protected] and @NurudeenAkewus1 on Twitter.

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