The Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), yesterday accused shipping companies in Nigeria of culpability in the rising cases of illegal arms importation into the country. The Customs boss who spoke at a meeting organised by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) for maritime industry stakeholders in Lagos, also reiterated the need for synergy among all stakeholders to ensure maximum security and block importation of prohibited items into Nigeria. The Customs boss also stated that the Presidential Executive Order on ease of doing business in Nigeria has come to stay, stressing that the sooner stakeholders synergised on compliance and implementation, the better for all. He told the gathering about the need to cooperate. "We are here to discuss security issues concerning import and export and we all have a role to play. The executive order has come to stay and for that order to be properly executed we need to come together and discuss the areas of concern. You all are our trading partners and if we are not on the same page, there is nothing we can achieve in the executive order. And I believe that we can come together, discuss these issues and look for a way to execute the order and to maximise what we need to achieve in terms of security". Col Ali warned shipping lines to ensure that they identified cargoes on board their vessels, stressing that the Nigeria Customs Service will no longer tolerate any manifest without a clear definition of its content. Speaking on the alleged culpability of shipping lines in the importation of questionable items into the country, he said, "There is this manifest that you will come across when shippers will pick up a container and in the manifest you will see, ‘said to contain’ and the shipper will now say that the container is said to contain. For God's sake, if I load a bomb and I wrote said to contain steal doors will you like to carry them on your ship, the answer is No. So I believe shippers know the content, especially this technology era where scanners are all over the places. There is no shipping line that will carry a cargo without knowing what it is. So this manifest coming to us as said to contain does not make sense. If we find illicit items on the ship, we will hold the shipping lines responsible. Before you accept a cargo you must know what is inside" he concluded. Ali also warned shipping lines against acceptance of altered manifest, saying that in the case of importation of arms, there are evidences pointing to the involvement of shipping lines in alteration of manifests. "Also shipping lines are responsible for illegal shipment in Nigeria. I said this with all sense or responsibility, because what we discovered in the case of arms was that the containers are shipped. Like, when we want to Turkey we discovered that they (the containers) were sealed as pump action riffles but there was no certificate in Turkey indicating their arrival because to them they do not know that these pump action riffles are in restricted in Nigeria. Therefore they do not need to contact us to know if these cargoes should be allowed to come in, but the importers of these weapons know that it is prohibited in Nigeria" Shedding more light on how the arms were deceitfully shipped into Nigeria, the Customs CG said, ‘’when they got to Morocco, they changed the manifest and concealed the weapons and only listed the steel doors and sanitary wares’’. ‘’Then the question now is, why will the shipping lines accept a change in manifest in the cause of transportation. That is a critical question, because we have under our own regulations that shipping lines transmit manifest to us in the cause of destination to Nigeria, when they are heading to our country. So I want us to discuss how we can stop this change of manifest on way, when they are already heading to Nigeria" He called attention to the security threat that proliferation of illegal arms importation poses to Nigeria and neighbouring countries. "Let me also draw your attention to some of the areas I feel we can also discuss. Let me start with the current issue which is the illegal arms importation which has become the biggest threat problem we have had in the recent past. As you are all aware, from January till September we have been able to intercept 2,671 pump action riffles between Apapa and Tin-Can Island ports and that has caused concern not only to us as a country, but to our neighbours’’. He affirmed that ‘’proliferation of small arms into Nigeria endangers the security of our neighbouring countries". "So these weapons I can say by the grace of God that we have intercepted, but there is no way I can stand in the presence of anyone and say that this is the quantity that has entered this country. There would be so many we are still investigating to know the ones that have escaped us and their destination. But before we arrive at that, I think we need to discuss where these loopholes are, where these importers are using. We should be able to identify and block them and If we do that it will help the security of the nation, that of our neighbour and further foster ease of doing business", he added. Meanwhile in his opening speech, Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, Mr. Hassan Bello, said that the essence of the meeting is to have critical stakeholders proffer solutions and offer suggestions on how to address various issues in the ports like arms importation. He also said that the more these dangerous items are prevented from there shores of the country, the better for the economy and security of the nation. "I must commend the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service for having the thought of engaging critical stakeholders on this issue. Our role at the council includes bringing stakeholders together to discuss issues pertaining to shipping and transport, in general. I believe that when we come together we easily find solutions. The solutions to the problems in the Nigerian ports do not lie with the Customs alone, or any other stakeholder in isolation. We all have a stake in the ports and it is when we come together that we can proffer solutions", he stated.