MULTIPLE CUSTOMS CHECKPOINTS: Freight Forwarders Issue 72 Hours Ultimatum, Threaten To Shut Down Ports

Citing multiple customs checkpoints by different formations of the Nigeria Customs Service at the nation’s seaports, freight forwarders and licensed customs agents operating in Lagos have issued a 72 hours ultimatum to the Federal Government to call the Comptroller General of Customs, Col Hameed Ali to order, that such check points  be removed.

They threatened that failure to do this; they will shut  Lagos ports by next week Monday.

At a joint press briefing held in Apapa yesterday, various freight forwarding associations, including:  Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) and National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, lamented that the customs boss had allegedly deployed a team from Abuja to checkmate activities of the various commands.

The group came together under the aegis of 'Concerned Freight Forwarders' to address challenges militating against cargo clearance in Apapa port.

To buttress their agitation, the freight forwarders identified 10  units of customs constituting bottlenecks inside the port and its environs, some of them include; CG Strike Force, Compliance Team, Federal Operations Unit, Monitoring, Special Force, CG Task Force, Information Team,  among others.

The latest development which spiked tension in the port was the recent deployment of a special team from Abuja to inspect 3rd party cargoes at the port.

Speaking at the meeting, Tin Can Chapter Chairman of ANLCA, Prince Segun Oduntan said the Comptroller General committee was sent to Apapa port last week Thursday under the guise of inspecting some third party containers. He however said that the team has taken over the job of resident customs officers.

He said cargoes are now being detained inside the ports, while agents are made to pay exorbitant demurrage to terminal operators.

While stressing that 24 hours cargo clearance is now a mirage, the ANLCA boss said it is now difficult to get trucks to transport cargoes from the port because of bad access roads. 

Also speaking, Western Zone Coordinator of NAGAFF, Alhaji Tanko Ibrahim said freight forwarders have complained to the customs area controllers who appeared powerless and subsequently directed the operators to channel their complaints to the Comptroller General in Abuja.

Tanko alleged that, "last week, we saw officers from Abuja who said they were sent to the terminals to inspect some third party containers.

But since then, they have remained permanent inside the port"

"They now randomly select 'C' numbers and after cargoes have been released, they would ask you to reposition it for examination and we are made to pay for re-examination"

Also speaking, the Chairman of Tin Can chapter of NAGAFF, Azubuike Ekweozor lamented the activities of shipping companies and terminal operators in addition to the excesses of Customs.

He complained that vessels coming into Nigeria to discharge containers are supposed to return with the same number of empty containers, but that rather than obey this law; the vessels carry export to other countries.

On his part, Apapa chapter chairman of NAGAFF, Ndubuisi Uzoegbo urged the Customs CG to build trust in his officers on the field. He also said that freight forwarders should be carried along by the customs whenever they make policies affecting their operations.

He said "Many containers have been abandoned in Apapa because of high tariffs and demurrage from shipping companies and terminal operators, most offices in Apapa today are empty, shipping companies have forced many of our colleagues back to the village"

Another stakeholder, Mr. Femi Ilori   alleged that duplication of duties among customs officers have made clearing containers very difficult.

On his part, Mr. Dom Onyeka, Apapa Chairman of ANLCA urged the customs CGC to withdraw his special task forces from the port, saying that "Too many hands spoilt the broth"

"Many of the agents are dying of frustration, the activities of Customs, shipping companies and terminal operators have made turn around very difficult", he lamented.

When contacted however, the National Public Relations Officer of Customs; Mr Joseph Attah, explained that in line with the directive on Ease of Doing Business, Customs check points are located 40 kilometers away from borders and entry points.

“This is not to say that Customs can not go on information parol, this is different from check points’, he said, even as he added that the Nigeria Customs Service has three layers of operations.

According to him, the layers are: Resident Customs Officers, Federal Operations Unit and Patrol Unit, otherwise called ‘check points’.

On the calls on Customs to dismantle its operations, Attah said it was not then right thing to say. “Telling Customs to dismantle checkpoints is not the right way to go”, he said.

He however advised anyone or group with credible case against the Strike Force, Checkpoint or the FOU to come up with such evidence, assuring that the Comptroller General of Customs; Col Hameed Alli (rtd) will not shield or condone any office.