‘Seun Ibukun-Oni, Abuja


Ports in Nigeria lose vast sums of money because of corrupt port officials, inefficiencies, and poor infrastructure, among others. However, the brazen theft by has affected businesses and slowed the clearance and forwarding of goods.


For fear of scrutiny, many port authorities keep wholesale rot under tight guard and only release profit figures, which is a small fraction of the losses accrued. Moreover, in many cases, the websites of port authorities have not been updated with information on the activities of port rats.


A wharf rat is a person who loafs or sometimes lives around wharves sometimes with intent to steal from ships or warehouses.


For instance, customs officials at Lagos Port, one of Africa’s busiest ports, said the port generated revenue of $1.2 billion (€1,23 billion) in the first quarter of 2022.


But a joint report by the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN), a global sea trade and shipping group, and the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that Nigeria loses $7 billion annually to corruption and inefficiency, according to Nigeria’s daily The Vanguard and Business Week.


The profit and loss statements that summarize the revenues, costs and expenses accrued are hardly shared in the public domain.


Separately, in the 2020/2021 report , MACN identified Nigeria as one of the most challenging countries to do business. The organization said corrupt demands posed a significant risk to member companies that faced extortion, harassment, and threats of violence.


Moreover, regulations and procedures in ports were lacking in detail and consistency, giving authorities broad discretionary powers, the report said.


Investigation by Daily Courier shows an endemic and systemic pillaging by faceless persons in such a consistent manner best described as an organized crime. Mr Yakubu, a customs officer said all efforts to mitigate the wanton loot of imports such as vehicles and machineries have been unsuccessful.


The plight of clearing agents


Itopa Omeiza, a clearing agent at Lagos Port, told Daily Courier that it is challenging to clear goods without losing a part or chunk to the wharf rats.


“The clearing cycle is so stringent that you have to go through different layers of officials where they extort money before any goods can move out of the port, yet, one wonders how the wharf rats enter the port most times loot parts of vehicles and machineries creating nightmare for the clearing agents and importer” he said.


“They port operators keep collecting charges without even securing the containers at the port to the extent that containers sometimes are badly looted,” Omeiza added. Despite extorting money from agents, there are frequent cases of missing goods or parts of imported motor vehicles.


Some of the terminal operators as listed by the Nigerian port authority include: Apapa Bulk Terminal Ltd, ENL Consortium Ltd, Greenview Development Nig. Ltd, AP Mollar Terminals, Maersk Line, all declined to speak with our reporter on the sorry state of things.


Moses Durotolu, a resident of Lagos, told Daily Courier that there’s hardly anyone who imports anything into Nigeria without items being stolen.


“I have an Audi Q7 (2010) model at the port, whose bumper and grill have been stolen, these things happen very often, and I think it is because no one presses charges against the customs officials,” Durotolu said.


An exporter from the US who spoke to Daily Courier from Michigan, rued the incessant activities of wharf rats at the Apapa port which he described as notorious. He listed vehicle locks, mirrors, Catalytic converters, Car entertainment system, Car Logos and Badges, Batteries, and Wheels.


Some of the parts they steal are very costly and scarce in the country and the demands are on the high side. They just steal, sell and make their bucks. They can always sell them in Ladipo market; getting buyers isn’t the problem.


Due to the rampant looting, imports often protest to the port operators, and there have been frequent calls for the government to intervene so that business at the port can improve. On a previous visit to Lagos Port, Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo promised to improve the situation.


“This is a crucial economic axis for Nigeria because most of our imports and exports come through here. Therefore, we cannot afford to have the state of affairs as it is,” Osinbajo said.


“I have already drawn up some sort of a road map and a checklist of the various things we need to do in the next couple of weeks, and we are committed to making sure that it works,” Osinbajo emphasized.


The situation at the Lagos Port paints a larger picture of the systemic problems in Nigeria – Ladipo market for instance is a hub for the resale of looted vehicle parts and the security agencies simply turn blind eyes to the organised crime.