By DAPO OLAWUNI
The Lagos State Wharf Landing Fees Authority (LWLFA) has accused the Hadiza Bala-Usman led administration of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) of frustrating its operations and collection of its statutory Wharf Landing Fees from all cargoes leaving the Lagos ports.
Chairman of the Lagos State Wharf Landing Fees Authority, Chief (Hon.) Gboyega Salvador-Adebayo has also raised an alarm of some wharf rats, impersonating the agency and milking money from unsuspecting port users.
Speaking with journalists in Lagos, Salvador alleged that the cold shoulders given to the agency by the NPA had emboldened the impersonators who wore fake printed vest to disguise as officials of the LWLFA and issued fake receipts to port users.
According to him, the agency recently embarked on a clandestine operation to apprehend the hoodlums and one of them was caught, wearing the fake jacket, while others escaped through the creeks.
“They are very organized and seem to have the backing from the top. The one caught who later escaped, unfortunately, was wearing a reflective jacket that bears our name and that of the Nigerian Ports Authority. It was a near-perfect imitation of our jacket,”
Salvador wondered how such levels of security laxity could be tolerated in a supposedly reformed port environment and blamed NPA management’s aloofness for this ugly development.
According to Salvador, the syndicate, mindful of the NPA’s lukewarm and uncooperative attitude towards the Authority, had exploited this gap to impersonate its officials, operate in the ports and collect huge sums of money from unsuspecting port users including big-time shippers with fake invoices.
“NPA allowed this unfortunate misdeed to happen. If we had gotten that necessary cooperation from Hadiza Bala Usman-led NPA, this large-scale extortion would not have happened. But the woman rather constituted an impediment on our way. No one knows for how long these criminals had operated before we caught up with them and how much they had illegally collected, which l assume could be billions of Naira. But I am quite sure that they could not have succeeded in their nefarious activities without the support of highly placed port officials since they conducted their operations in open daylight,” noted Chief Salvador-Adebayo.
The Chairman said the overall objective of the Authority is to improve on the Federal Government policy of Ease of Doing Business. He observed that unlike before the Fashola administration when a laden truck that leaves the port would have to pay fees to officials of different local governments including Apapa and Surulere as it traverses Lagos en route its destination, the Authority operations have been streamlined into a one-stop payment. “It is now streamlined. Once you pay and there is evidence of payment, you are free to leave for your destination,” he said.
Chief Salvador-Adebayo unfolded new operational strategies his administration will deploy to ensure more revenues are raked in into the coffers of the Lagos State Government. First, the fee collection will be technology-driven with the introduction of e-ticketing by which payment and confirmation shall be done electronically in the confine of one’s office. Secondly, the organisation will work with consultants and professionals for optimal output. Surveyors are to be paid to evaluate vessels and their consignments in order to determine the accruable fees collectable by the Lagos State Wharf Landing Fees Authority. However, the success of this largely depends on the accuracy and reliability of data supplied by the surveyors.
The Chairman said he might be jettisoning advocacy for enforcement in order to ensure compliance and good results. “We try to be open to stakeholders to cooperate, to pay. But even when we got approval from the Federal Ministry of Finance, the NPA refused to cooperate with us. And this has made the job a bit herculean. I now want to use enforcement. I have asked the Ministry of Justice for necessary back-ups like a court and prosecutors – deterrent will help, I believe,” declared the Chairman.
Chief Salvador-Adebayo, however, enthused thankfully that in spite of the coronavirus pandemic that has crippled economies around the world, the Authority has recorded an upward curve in its revenue graph. He commended corporate organizations and big-time port users such as Dangote Group and Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc, among a select, as very cooperative. “I commend Dangote Group and Flour Mills for their patriotism. They have been very cooperative and compliant, but Guinness, Coca-Cola, Leventis, and others not cooperating. We hope and pray they will listen to us and change,” said the Chairman.
He noted that other benefits of the fee are enormous and would only enhance smooth port operation. He said, for instance, efforts are in place to help rebuild some roads which port truck users ply frequently. “We all know that Lagos State Government is reputed for good road construction, we would help with port access roads if every stakeholder subscribes to Wharf Landing Fee,” he submitted.