Customs: Seal Warehouses, Impound More Vehicles

Hameed Ali, CG, Customs, Tariff and Excise.

By Stephen Ubanna

For years, the Federal government had been losing billions of naira on imports on  both Containerized and assorted vehicles  and general goods which contravened  the fiscal policy. The vehicles and general goods were said to have been but released both at Apapa, the premier port and Tincan Island port and taken to  thewarehouses opposite the later’s Ashaye gate , popular second gate  for easy tran-sloading into trucks.

Eyewitness account said three of the warehouses were sealed on Monday, November 6, 2017 by   the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, Roving team headed by Charles Okpabi Jack, a Chief Superintendent of Customs. The source disclosed that the operation lasted till the morning of Tuesday, November 7, 2017.

It was learnt that the closure of the warehouses was at the instance of Mohammed Uba Gabar, the Comptroller of the Command who has been following the activities at the agents .  The closure of the warehouses is a big blow to agents  and their Customs collaborators who specialize in doing bad jobs at the port.

Customs Impounded Vehicles

The source disclosed that five assorted vehicles were intercepted on the road  by the Customs operatives same day. It was learnt that that three of the vehicles are bullet proof. As at press time, the vehicles are still under deetention in the Command premises waiting for the importer to produce the End User Certificate issued from the  office of the National Security Officer, NSA.

He further told the Magazine that the fourth warehouse used for bad jobs around the Tincan Island axis has been earmarked for closure. The source disclosed that the team have planned to cover the warehouse with rope to bar agents and the warehouse from entering into it to carry out any transaction.

Investigation by the Magazine shows that importers   alleged to have infringed the government fiscal policy in their imports were usually advised by their  agents who are used to doing such jobs to patronize the warehouses opposite Ashaye gate for trans-loading into smaller trucks instead of taking it directly to their warehouse.

This is to avoid any confrontation with officers and men of the FOU, Zone A, Roving team or the Comptroller General Compliance  staioned along the Oshodi -Apapa express way.  including former officials of the Command  knew about the existence of the Tincan Island  port based warehouses for  bad jobs but were handicapped. The agents were always said to have used their contacts at the Customs Headquarters and the residency to handcap the officials from doing their work as expected.

The situation was so bad that  Customs officials at the port who were not ready to lose their job for standing on the way of their superiors  had no option but to join the fray in releasing  Contrabands and getting paid without waiting for orders from ”above” to do so.

A Tincan Island port base agent informed the Magazine that the  racket has been going on for years and that both past and present senior Customs officers at the ports and the Customs Headquarters had benefited from it.

The  gent stressed thaat they knew they were in for trouble when Gabar  was deployed from FOU, Zone C, Owerri Imo state, to  Zone A. by Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, NCS, with a mandate to sanitize the ports and land the land border stations.

indeed, his relationship with agents is far from being cordial as he has not thrown his office open to  Lebanese  and Chinese importers including Nigeria foreign based importers to come for any discussion over their imports. His policy remains: Agents and Importers must do the right thing or face the wrath of the Law”.

It is not surprising why, Jack , the leader of the officer in-charge of the Command Roving team has made his office a no go area for agents. A source informed the Magazine that agents found in his office are those who may have been issued a Demand Notice and had come to know what is recommended in their file to the Comptroller for approval.

Agents who have had an encounter with him over their Demand Notice, DN, would never forget their experience in a hurry. There was an case  in which an  importer had bought a jeep of a 2016 model with $240 ,000. The cost of the vehicle  exclude the cost of landing but $34, 000 was used to calculate the duty at the port. The vehicle was said to have fallen into the hand of Jack’s men on the road and a DN, of N14, million given to the importer.

He was said to have cried out that  the DN was too much but was made to know that if he could afford $240,00 to buy a 2016 model jeep, then, he should be able to pay the DN. The importer had thought he could play on the emotion of the Roving Team  leader but was disappointed. He was said to have been ordered out of the office .

There are scores of other importers whose  jeeps were said to have been impounded by the team but are yet to provide the relevant Documents to take delivery fueling speculation the importers may have abandoned them as they could not afford the DN.  The team barely a month ago impounded 5I vehicles from a hidden car shop in Ikoyi, Lagos . Out of the 51 vehicles, four were found to be bullet proof. The vehicles are still in Customs detention .

The Comptroller General Compliance team headed by Assistant Comptroller Tafida are also giving importers with their agents much trouble. A visitor to the Customs Ikeja Training School where  the team operational base is located would be surprised at the number of assorted vehicles including bullet proof   vehicles impounded in the south west geo-political region made up of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti , Osun and Ondo states.

The Tafida led team seizures may have sent a signal to  importers and agents  within the first month of  its inauguration  that it is no longer going to business as usual if they fail to comply to the government fiscal policy. The team had also intercepted scores of Containers at the port. It was gathered that agents whose principal’s Containers had fallen into the hand of the Compliance team personnel on the road may have  turned the Ikeja Training School  into their office to see how they could penetrate the rank of the officials to facilitate the release of their Containers.

TTafida, the team leader who could no longer bear the pressure from the agents was said to have given an order to his men that no agent should be allowed to come to his office to see him for any reason. He would want agents whose Containers have been intercepted on the road for infringement to wait for examination  to know the  DN , that could be given to them.

Appealing to importers to make the correct declaration in their SGD Forms and pay the right duty , he has made it clear to those  that care to listen that his men would not hesitate to intercept any Container found to have contravened the government fiscal policy.

Many believe that Tafida, the Comptroller General Compliance team leader in Lagos is toeing the line of  Okpabi Jack, the officer in-charge of the FOU, Zone A, Roving team who is married to the job and do not give room for agents to come to his office to plead for any detained or seize Container.

Tafida and Jack led teams were said to have recovered millions of naira for the government from duty pyments and demand notices on general goods that tried to circumvent the Law at seaports, airports and land border stations through wrong declarations, transfer of value and under payment of duty. The Roving team , alone ,was said to have recovered about N145 million in October for the government. This is money that had actually been lost by the government both for the intervention of the team.

In spite of the good job allegedly being done by the Compliance , the insinuation in  both official and unofficial  circles is that the  Comptroller General  team is the  ”arrowhead of  institutionalized Corruption in Customs”. They claimed  that the team personnel  openly  intimidate unsuspecting  importers to all manner of questionable queries with threats of DN. ”This is a case of Corruption fighting back the system to pull it down”, an officer remarked.

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