By Stephen Ubanna
Those who think that the strike by members of the Association of Nigeria License Customs Agents , ANLCA, and other Associations against the bad state of the Apapa road and alleged extortion by Customs personnel which paralysed operations at the ports and land borders for almost two days had an impact may have to do a rethink. This is because the strike made no impact on the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, revenue collection or the shipping Companies and the terminal operators as it is still business as usual.
Investigation by the Magazine shows that despite the strike all bills accumulated within the period of the strike still waited for them. This had to do with payment of duty, Shipping and terminal Charges. For the one day which the agents closed the ports for operation, It was good business for the terminal operators. For instance, agents who had ”40” Container to collect at Sifax Shipping and Cargo Handling Company were said to have paid N9,000.00 each into the coffers of the Company each. It was bad news for the agents as the terminal operators never gave shelved the bill. What Sifax charged the agents for not taking delivery of their Containers as expected was what other terminal operators charged them at Apapa, Port multi-services terminal limited, PTML, Kirikiri Lighter Terminal , KLT, phases one and two and Lilipond Container Terminal, Ijora.
The speed at which the agents rushed the ports when the ports were reopened for operation on Tuesday, May 16, 2017, with their hired trucks to take delivery of their trucks speaks volume. Insiders told the Magazine that agents were ready to pay any amount to facilitate the quick loading of their truck to avoid additional demurrage. For the first time , there was much queue of trucks laden with Containers going to bonded terminals and individual wares.
With the return of work at the ports, the question on the lips of most people was whether the alleged extortion by Customs personnel and other security agencies stopped? Sources told the Magazine that it is still business as usual as the agency personnel still collect their entitlements at the terminals and gates in spite of paymenyment of the relevant terminal Handling Charges, terminal delivery , NIPOST NGN Stamp Duty, Documentation,Customs Examination, Clean Charges HC, Container Deposit, Line Agency Fee, SLAC, and other additional charges.
Terminal Handling Charge attracts a fee of N120,000.00,terminal delivery, N10,343.00,Customs examination, N38,750.00 among other. This is in addition to the payment of duty based on Customs valuation.
A senior Customs official told the Magazine that agents should be blamed for the alleged extortion at the ports and land borders. He disclosed that no Customs officer would ask for gratification from an agent who has correct documents . He stressed that the issue of corruption arises because of false declartion, wrong classification and under payment.
H e noted that given that the agent who had collected much money from the Importer and may not want the Cargo delayed at the port, he goes a step further to bribe his way to get it out of the port. But the agents alleged that Customs and other security agencies at the ports and land borders are not bordered whether the documents are correct or not but are interested in the cash that follow it.
The story is the same from the seaports, Airport to the Land border. Many believe that by accusing Customs officers of extorting too much money from them by agents, it is an open confrontation on the Customs. The Customs personnel appear to have taken it as a challenge .
For now, agents are no longer finding it easy to break into the ranks of Customs personnel to do their dirty job.gents The agents who are hard hit are those whotake delivery of Contraband goods like Ulphostry Chairs which, sources said are cleared through the central clearing system with the payment of about N4.5 million . In executing the deal, the Examination and releasing officers are protected as the Consignments are discharged at a neutral ground and smaller trucks used in taking it to the importer’s warehouse to avoid falling into the waiting hands of Federal Operations Unit, FOU, personnel, , the Magazine was told. This has thrown agents into confusion as Customs personnel are no longer ready to compromise to avoid Hammed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, NCS, sledge hammer.
Given the directive of the Customs boss to the Comptrollers and their men to sit up and ensure that the right thing is done, Yusuf Bashar, Comptroller Tncan Island Command has set up a Dispute Resolution Committee to resolve the frequent crisis between agents and Customs personnel at the Command in the discharge of their duties. The Committee , according to a source , sit daily to attend to cases. A The source informed the Magazine that several cases have been attended by the Commitee in the recent time. Officers found guilty have been punished as a deterance for others. It was learnt that agents who have been made pay demurrage as a result of the high-handness of the officer have been made to pay the demurrage by Bashar. ”This is with a view to practically demostrate trade facilitation in line with global best fitted practices”, an official said. It is also an indication that Ali, the Comptroller General Change Ideology is working at Tincan Island Command, John Chukwukadibia, a Lagos based clearing agent had said.