By Stephen Ubanna
For years , clearing agents at the nation’s ports and terminals including the land border stations operated as if the Customs and Excise Management Act, CEMA, does not matter. Many of them , with the active connivance of Customs personnel shortchanged the government through false declaration, transfer of values and under payment.
The situation was so bad in the ports and terminals under the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, Zone 2 Lagos.The fallout was the establishment of a roving team by the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Command, Ikeja , Lagos to monitor the movement of goods in and out of the ports.
Members of the team are found at strategic locations at Apapa and Lekki, Lagos. Indeed. the team personnel parade the Lagos -Apapa road, Murtala Muhammed International Airport road, MMIA, and the major link roads leading to the land border stations oat Seme and Idiroko, boundary towns between Nigeria and Republic of Benin where huge seizure of prohibited smuggled goods were made.
Sources told the Magazine that most of the seizures including Containers made by the team were made possible by informants who were handsomely rewarded. It is not surprising why the team have continued to forestall attempts by agents who had taken delivery of their Containers out of the ports and terminals in readiness to deliver it to their clients’ warehouse with faulty documents.
The clearing agents consider the activities of the team as so frustrating that some of them have piled up pressure on the area Comptrollers and Deputy Comptrollers in-charge of the terminals alleging that the activities of the FOU, roving team would cripple the much talked about trade facilitation in the country.
Some of them have fallen victim to the agents blackmail by reaching out to Haruna Mamudu, FOU, Zone A, Comptroller and the Coordinator of the roving team to find a soft landing for the agents.
The question on the lips of most people was why: agents could easily take delivery of their Containers out of the port with faulty documents when there are Enforcement officers at the port who participate in examination of cargo , only to be arrested and detained by FOU Zone A roving team personnel.
It is an indication of active connivance of the enforcement officers at the port and terminals with the agents to do bad. More worrisome is the poor evaluation of cargo by officers of the valuation department , towards giving the FOU personnel the extra assignment of evaluating re-examined Containers and given DN.
Given an insider information,Jerome Attah, an Assistant Superintendent and the Command Image maker disclosed that the squad recovered over N650 million from” Duty underpayments and Demand Notices, DN”, on general merchandise goods from the seaports, MMIA and the land border stations from importers with their agents who were caught in the act.
Many believe that but for the intervention of the roving team, the N650 million could have entered into the Clearing agents private bank accounts . The activities of the roving team personnel may have forced clearing agents to sit up or lose their goods to government.
It was learnt that many of them have turned the FOU, Zone A, Command premises at Ikeja ass their office to read the mood of the roving team personnel when they are going out on operations.
Investigation by the Magazine shows that the DN issued to the defaulting importers and agents was done after the physical examination of the impounded Container at the Command’s Mechanical workshop where Mack truck carrying suchContainers, are warehoused.
Some of the defaulting agents were said to have used their contacts in the Command to monitor the movement of their files from one office to the other to facilitate the delivery of their Containers. They are more concerned when their files get to the Comptroller, Officer -in-charge of the roving team , legal and DC Revenue’s’ office.
At present, over 16 ”40” Containers impounded by the team are under detention. The Containers, according to Attah are currently being investigated . A close source to Mamudu, the Command’s Comptroller said appropriate DN would be issued to the agents found guilty or seizure effected if items stocked in the Containers are prohibited.
Insiders informed the Magazine that the leadership of the team was instrumental to the issuance of DN of over N100 million to two auto dealers/assemblers under the Customs seal, awaiting payment for infractions on their import transactions. The seal has forced other auto dealers to do the right or wait for the roving team to raid their shop.
Mamudu, the FOU, Zone A , Customs boss confirmed that the roving team close watch to what is happening at the seaports, MMIA and the border stations in south west Nigeria have succeeded in blocking revenue leakages in these areas and enhancing trade facilitation towards sustaining best International standards.
Given the revenue recovered from false declarations and underpayments, Attah said the recovered amount brought the total revenue generated by the Command to N1.3 billion in January and February 2017.
Many believe that the revenue of the Command would have gone up in the months ahead if the Senate Committee on Customs and Excise had given the nod to Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, NCS, to proceed with the proposed Motor Duty payment recently introduced by the Service.
The Magazine learnt officers and men of the FOU, nation-wide were warming up for full implementation of the policy. The Senate Committee did not hide its opposition to the Customs proposed plan from the word go.Tthe Committee members were determined to slug it out with Ali, the Customs boss ,if he had remained hesitant to dialogue with them.
Joseph Attah, an Assistant Comptroller and National Image maker of Customs said the two parties have agreed to put the proposed policy on hold as members of the Senate Committee on Customs and Excise interface with Customs for further discussion. The Senate intervention may have brought smiles to Nigeria vehicle owners who were ready to do battle with Customs personnel on the road.
It was gathered that some vehicle owners who had no particulars but not ready face the Customs trouble approached Customs formations within their reach to pay duties for vehicles they had used for years, claiming that the vehicles were sent to them by their relations abroad but have been in their garage.