By Stephen Ubanna
For Years, Customs officers and other Agencies personnel involved in the examination of Containerized cargoes at Tin-Can Island port had been accused by stakeholders of creating artificial bottlenecks to extort money from them.
The extortion situation at the port and other ports in Lagos was so pronounced as agents were said to pursue Officers with their documents to facilitate the examination of their cargoes. John Elekwachi, a Lagos based clearing agent told the Magazine that Officials of the agencies had their asking price depending on the goods examined .
Elekwachi disclosed that most agents had had their clients’ Containers delayed for days at the ports before examination because of their inability to pay the amount requested by the agency Officials. The Magazine learnt that the least amount demanded by any of the Examination Officers was about N50,000.00 in order to append their signatures in the space provided in the examination document to show that the Container had been Examined and given a clean bill for release .
The agents were also said to have taken advantage of the high level of extortion by the cargo Examination Officers to slam heavy clearing bill on their clients on grounds that the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, also need to be settled for easy passage of their goods from the seaport to the importer’s warehouse without disturbance on the road.
Baba Musa Abdullahi
It was gathered that the least amount which they claimed that could be used to settle Officials of the FOU on the Road and the Headquarters newly established Strike Force based at the Customs Training College, Ikeja was N150,000.00. They may have be doning this in the past and got away . But the deployment of Muhammed Uba Garba, from FOU, Zone C, Owerri to the Zone A, Ikeja, in 2017, appears to have exposed the lies of the agents and their Customs Collaborators at the ports as scores of Containers had been intercepted along the Oshodi-Apapa Express Way and transferred to the Ikeja Customs warehouse for re-examination by the Command Lagos Roving team led by Jack Okpabi, a Chief Superintendent of Customs.
The lies of the agents against the Command may have forced Garba, the no nonsense Comptroller of the Command to be hard on officers fingered to have aided and abeted bad jobs at the port. Sources told the Magazine that several officers including Assistant Comptrollers caught in the act were said to have been invited to the Command’s office at Ikeja to extract both written and oral Statements from them . They may have played into the hand of the FOU, Zone A , Customs boss, because of their unconfirmed claims that The Command officials are also being bribed to facilitate the easy passage of their cargoes at the port.
Given the embarrassment allegedly caused the Customs Commands by suspected Examination officers and their Customs Collaborators, Baba- Musa. M.A, a World Customs Organisation and World Trained Organisation, WTO, trained officer who had replaced Yusuf Barsha, the former Comptroller of Tincan Island Command was said to have set up a Cargo Release Study team to ascertain whathad been causing the abrupt delay in the release of cargoes at the port in particular. The setting up of the Cargo Release Study Team may have informed the decision of the Comptroller to re-jig the cargo examination process at the port.
It was gathered that the Enforcement Unit which was hitherto a mere police Unit of the Command has been upgraded as the Command Cargo Examination Coordination Center. As a prelude to clearing the mess at the port, Musa, the Comptroller was said to have made it clear to those that care to all listen that Cargoes must be jointly examined at the same time by the personnel of the various agencies designated to carry out the examination of Cargoes at the port.
Many see the introduction of the joint examination of cargoes by agencies at the port as a master stroke on the examination officers who saw it as an opportunity to make cheap money at the port.
Insiders told the Magazine that since Nnadi Dera, a Deputy Comptroller of Customs took over effective control of overseeing the Joint Examination Coordination center, the usual complaints of agents of extortion by officers was said to had reduced to the barest minimum. Analysts attributed it to importers with their agents change of attitude in doing business and imbibe the culture of total and willful Compliance to the government fiscal policy measures.
Only recently a Presidential Monitoring Team were said to have visited the Command to assess the level of Compliance of the. stakeholders to the government fiscal policy measures. Eyewitness account said they were surprised that that stakeholders had fallen in line to the Tin can Island Customs boss s innovations and policy measures at the port. This is a clear indication that areas of revenue leakage at the port may had been blocked for now as the stakeholders have learnt to do the right thing.
Maritime observers, had implored Musa and his men that it is not yet time to say hurrah as most of the bad eggs at the port and the bonded terminals under the control of the Command are still much on ground doing what they know best : bad job. These alleged bad agents, according to sources also know to penetrate the rank of Customs officials at the port to do their job and exit their cargoes without problem at the port.”
This is a big challenge to Musa, the Tin-Can Island Customs boss” and other Comptrollers at Lagos seaports to be on the alert, an analyst remarked.