Blame Game

Empty Truck-Ladden Containers

By Stephen Ubanna

Officials of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, and National Association of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, NAMDLCA, have a big task at  hand: to convince their followers that they had not betrayed them by hobnobbing with officials of APM terminal, the Concessionaire running Apapa port.

Agents had accused their leaders at an interactive session organized by Apapa Command on Tuesday, November 28, 2017, during the official visit of Aminu Dahru, an Assistant Comptroller General and Coordinator, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, Zone A, Lagos of being on the pay roll of APM, thus finding  it difficult  to protect their interest at the port .

They had lambasted the Association  leaders and Jibrin Musa, Comptroller Apapa Command of collaborating with the Concessionaire to muscle them out of business. One of the agents who spoke at the interactive session cited a job  being handled by his Company. He disclosed that the Company had about 300 Containers of frozen fish to clear at the APM terminal but regretted that the Concessionaire had not made it easy for them to take delivery of the Consignment, causing the Company to lose millions of naira daily.

A female agent who could not hide her feelings stressed that if the Association leaders and Musa, the Apapa Customs Command Comptroller, had been alive to their duties, APMT management w could have been properly controlled to respect the laws of the land . According to her the Company are only interested in ripping off Nigerians as they smile to bank daily with their millions of naira.

Another major issue raised at the interactive session was the return of empty Containers to the port. They lamented that many of them had lost thousands of naira as APMT is not ready to extend any concession to them despite the bad state of the Oshodi-Apapa Express way.

It was suggested that the Company should as a matter of urgency enter into a working arrangement with Lilipond Container terminal , Ijora which has space to handle empty Containers and other offshore terminals within Lagos.  At present, Containers being cleared at the terminal are being transferred to it by APMT, an indication that the Concessionaire has a strong hold on the terminal.

There are indications that Unity Terminal, one of the Offshore terminals along the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway had already been engaged to keep empty Containers by APM. Agents are encouraged to ensure that Containers returned are properly receipted. Sources told the Magazine that it is easy to use the terminal to warehouse empty Containers because it is owned by one of the big time importers at APM.

Indeed, the accusation that Musa is sympathetic to the cause of the Concessionaire may have forced to open up. H e admitted that that the Company had not been fair to agents but this management is not just watching at them. He confirmed that the Command had written series of letters to the Company which resulted in various meetings. He said the decisions reached at the various meetings are still a closely guarded secret.

The contentious  empty Container issue may have drawn out the attention of Dahru, the ACG, who believes that the problem associated with the return of empty Containers to the port started with the Concession of the ports in 2006. He noted that prior to the Concession of the ports, the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, had its holding bay outside the port. He disclosed that that the arrangement was killed that year, forcing the Concessionaires to accept empty Containers from individual agents.

Hadiza-Bala Usman: NPA, Managing Director

He lamented that the cost implication of  individual agents  making arrangement to return  their empty Containers is enormous, thus making the Nigeria port, one of the costliest of doing business in the world.. He confirmed that individual agents are losing about N13, 000.00 daily on empty Containers as some   spent between two to three weeks on the bad Oshodi-Apapa Express way  with their truck laden Containers.

Hadiza Bala Usman, a Human Rights activist and Managing Director of NPA was said to have brokered a deal between APMT and Nigeria Railway Corporation, NRC, in carrying empty Containers to the port instead of promoting individual arrangements. The arrangement had  kept the Corporation busy for much of October 2017. That much was confirmed by APMT Representative at the interactive session who disclosed that the Corporation delivered about 730 empty Containers to the port.

The train facility appears to be getting popular with the agents.  on Tuesday, an agent was said to have sent an application to the Assistant Comptroller in-charge of the gate to carry 30 of his client’s Containers from the port. The officer was said to have asked the agent some salient questions on the fast-track cargoes ranging from payment of duty, charges to compliance to government fiscal policy. The agent was said to have confirmed payment.

A source told the Magazine that  the confirmation of the application is not a blank ticket for the agent  to load the Containers into the train coaches without being sighted  by officers  the gate. It is not surprising  why the Assistant Comptroller told the agent to alert the gate  when he is ready to carry the Containers for proper examination.

Insiders told the Magazine that when it was the turn of APM  Representative to speak, he claimed that the Company is doing everything within its powers to ease the cost of doing business at the port .

perhaps, one information that may have gladdened the Zonal Coordinator was the closing remark by Gaya .Y.M. , a Deputy Comptroller in-charge of  the Revenue Unit, that the Command is security Conscious and that the agent are compliant in their clearing procedure. Gaya was said to have assured the Customs boss, who is on a tour of  the 16 Customs formations in the south west geo-political Zone under his  control and supervision that the Command would remain a pace setter in the Customs monthly revenue collection. His optimism is based on the revenue generated between January and October 2017.  The Command had  generated, according to Awala Ijeoma, an Assistant Superintendent of Customs in a press Statement  about N300 billion, the highest in the last 10 years.

A Analyst see the impressive revenue generation as nothing to cheer about. This is because of the exchange rate used in calculating the duty  on imported goods into the country . At present, the official exchange rate is N305.00 to a United States  Dollar, which therefore translates into higher revenue for the government and a higher inflationary rate in the economy.

Mohammed Opaluwa, a top official of APM took advantage of the Apapa organized interactive session to give an insight on the migration of Customs from Information Communication Technology version 91 to the higher and integrated version 92 which has zero tolerance for Corruption. He  disclosed that agents had been fully trained at Kirikiri Lighter Terminal, KLT, phase 1 while the training for agents at Tincan Island is ongoing. The APM official said the  training of agents would soon begin in confirmation of what Musa, the Comptroller had said. The official disclosed that no officer has been trained on the facility for now.

But agents are kicking against the Customs migration from version 91 to 92. There argument is that there is no way the plan to e-modernize Customs operations would work at Nigeria ports when the scanners are not functional. They would want the  NCS management to ensure that the scanners are at the ports are in good working condition before contemplating of migrating to ICT version 92.

But Musa has assured the agents that they have no reason to worry. Given an insider information about the position of scanners at APMT, Musa, The Apapa Customs boss disclosed  that the Customs and the Concessionaire are equal to task  in keeping the scanners on shape. He stressed that whenever  there is problem with any of the scanners at the terminal, they quickly mobilize resources to fix it. It is not surprising why APM could boost of functional scanners  which had translated to less fraudulent activities at the port like wrong and false declarations. This may have given Mohammed Uba Garba , Comptroller Federal Operations Unit , FOU, Zone and his men in the Roving team  less job to do at Apapa port except pursuing the bad eggs at Tinca Island, Port Multi-services Terminal Limited and KLT , phases 1 and 2.

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