There is no other way to describe the recent shooting of a clearing agent at the Mile 2 end of the Apapa-Oshodi expressway, than to call it a classical example of arbitrariness on the part of operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service.
Citizen Adeyemi Quadri, a clearing was shot by a trigger-happy customs officer serving with the Federal Operations Unit Zone ‘A’ in Ikeja, while driving out a Toyota Rav 4 2019 model, that had been duly cleared at the Tin Can port in Lagos.
Giving his own side of the story in a chat with the media, he said: “I was coming from Tin Can port with Toyota RAV4 2019 model when the roving FOU team stopped me at Berger Yard. One of the officers approached me and asked me to wind down the window of the car.
When I wound down, he asked for the document of the car which I gave to him. Thereafter, without any provocation, he brought out a jackknife and wanted to stab me, but I dodged.
“He then used the barrel of his gun to hit me and shouted “get down, I say you should get down, give me the key”.
“I opened the door and as I was stepping down from the car, he shot me in the leg and I fell down.
“While groaning on the ground, I said” Oga, you shot me” and he answered “yes, I wanted to kill you”
“As I was trying to crawl away from him, my boss called me to inquire about my whereabouts but while still in pain, I managed to tell him that a FOU officer has shot me.
“When the officer heard that I was receiving a call, he snatched the phone from me and put it in his pocket.
“I was left in the pool of my blood with other officers who are the colleagues of the one who shot me watching me groaning in pain. He even said he would put me inside their van and give me water so I could die.
And sadly, while justifying the action of its men, spokesperson of FOU Zone ‘A’ of the Nigeria Customs Service; Mr Peter Duniya, said the officer acted in self-defence.
He also tactically glossed over the possibility of early prosecution of the trigger-happy officer. He said that the officer who shot the clearing agent could only be prosecuted after investigations have been completed.
When asked if the Customs Act allows an officer to shoot an unarmed civilian, he averred that the Customs Act does not allow that, but stated that what the officer did was an act of self-defence.
“The Customs Act does not permit that, but the circumstances that led to the shooting, this is an officer that is armed and was out to do his lawful duty, and there was an issue where someone tried to disarm him, so I don’t know if it would have been better for the officer to be disarmed and the arm used against him or the same riffle used against other Nigerians, what the officer did was an act of self-defence”, he insisted.
For us as a maritime media organisation, we are deeply concerned about the unbridled corruption in the port. It is the corruption from within the port by government officials in charge of revenue collection that led to the face-off that eventually led to gunshots.
The Customs officer who stopped the RAV 4 which the clearing agent was driving, reportedly claimed to have detected a case of underpayment of customs duty, an allegation which the clearing agent reportedly denied.
There would have been no need for the ambush which Customs operatives lay along the roads from the ports in Lagos, either at Tin Can or Apapa port, if the Nigeria Customs Service had trained its personnel to be professional, abide by extant rules of engagement and also be honest in their dealings with importers and clearing agents.
It is common sight to see gun-wielding customs officers lay this ambush. In the process, only those who could not play ball or who ‘offences’ are too weighty in the estimation of the officers get picked and taken into Custody.
The questions which the Nigeria Customs Service has failed to answer are: Is the Service not one; in which case those who work in the port have a different template from those who lay ambush? Two; why is it that its officers who rate these consignments and approve the supposedly questionable customs duty on are never sanctioned. But the consignments get seized!
There is no doubt that, Customs officers use a lot of ‘discretion.’ in the process leading to payment of duty and exit of consignments from the port. Sadly, the use of discretion is the main cause of corruption in the ports.
There are reports that revenue loss to the use of discretion by government officials amount to as huge as N2.5Trillion annually and there are allegations that a huge chunk of these go into the pockets of Customs officers.
We align our position with a recent report that, “Customs officials have enormous discretionary power and this can easily be exploited for pecuniary gains including gratifications and bribes. Customs officials and port officers have influence on ports operations by law and function in the bureaucracy which they can manipulate as either enablers or disablers depending on interests per time.
The report by Integrity Organisation Limited, GTE and its private sector facing arm, Convention on Business Integrity (CBi) revealed that there is massive corruption in the port and it fingered personnel of Customs.
Integrity Organisation Limited is an anti-corruption research, advocacy and consulting organisation concerned with issues of accountability and transparency in public and business life.
For Customs officers, the fact that they have full information on shipments, shippers and also have the powers of assessments and valuation make them able to manipulate ports processes if they so desire.
What happened recently and for which the clearing agent was shot, would not have happened if only Customs valuation officers are not allowed the use of discretion.
We also think that the leadership of the various freight forwarding associations should rise up to the challenges being faced by their members.
Finally, the Nigeria Customs Service should expedite action in its investigation of the incident that led to the attack on the hapless clearing agent.