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Maritime Editors, Publishers accuse Customs CG, Officers of worsening corruption at Ports

CG strike force allegedly
collects N100,000 per 40ft container, N1 million for contraband container

*FOUs use syndicate to
collect bribe to avoid seizure of containers
*We want evidence, specific
cases to punish officers, say Customs image makers
The League of Maritime
Editors weekend raised daring allegations of wrong doings, massive corruption
in the port system against the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs
Service (NCS), Rtd Col. Hammed Ali, officers of the Strike Force (SF) created
by his office and others at the nation’s ports and border stations.

In the case of the CG, the
League, which comprises seasoned journalists who have contributed to the
development of the maritime sector and the economy accused Ali of compromising
President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade following series of
activities that have been taking place in the Service.
In a Quarterly State of the
Nation’s Review on the activities at the ports, the Editors said Ali had failed
as far as reform is concerned in the Customs Service.
The Editors said the system
in the ports has remained worsening corrupt practices in which importers are
extorted to the marrow by members of the Strike Force and Federal Operations
unit (FOU) in another round of malpractices when the former had been cleared
and authorised to take delivery of their goods.
The League described the
high revenue generation by the Service as simply a ruse since there has been a
drastic fall in inward cargo throughput coupled with the depreciation in the
value of the Naira.
Part of the state reads:
“For over three and half years as Customs CG, sitting on several billions of
naira as annual budget, Col. Ali has awarded contracts in contravention of the
due process and in the absence of a constituted customs board and does not ever
report to the Minister of Finance, who should be the supervisory minister. He
singlehandedly awards contracts with President Buhari’s approval sometimes, as
claimed. No Customs contract has ever been openly tendered for since Col. Ali
assumed office, findings have shown. Can the CG provide details of the
beneficiaries of the contracts?
“Findings have also
revealed that the CG in a most corrupt fashion has usurped the powers of the
Customs board in the conduct of examination and promotion of senior officers of
NCS such that he singlehandedly promotes officers at his whims, thereby raising
the question of how transparent he could be. It is the statutory duty of the
customs board to conduct promotion test and ratify the promotion of senior
officers-from one star, Assistant Superintendent of Customs (ASC) to the
Comptroller cadre., while the customs management is empowered to only promote
people from Customs Assistant cadre to the Inspector cadre. But the CG approves
all promotion since assumption of office.
“The League of Maritime
Editors wonder if the CG does not rather encourage corruption among officers
and men of customs service when officers on transfer to other stations are
denied transfer benefits such as transport fare and accommodations when the law
provides 28 days accommodation payment pending when he or she gets accommodation.
Also, against the law, officers are invited to sit for promotion exams without
transport fares, accommodation and feeding allowance.
“Investigations show that
goods on which import duties have been paid are intercepted on the roads by the
officers of the Federal Operations Unit(FOU) and the CG’s Strike Force headed
by his Principal Staff Officer(PSO). The only exemption is when the importer or
his agent “settles” the officers.
“The CG’s Strike Force
collects N100,000 per 40 feet container to cover for under-declaration,
concealment while contraband containers pay as much as N1million before being
allowed to exit both Lagos and Eastern ports. 20 feet containers pay N600,000.
The PSO allegedly singlehandedly nominated members of the Strike Force and insists
that the coordinator reports to him.
“The FOUs, it was gathered,
have organized syndicates made up of clearing agents who collect money
illegally on their behalf to avoid interception of containers. In Lagos, a
leader of a leading freight forwarding group based in Lagos represents the FOU
Zone ‘A’. Importers and agents drop between N100,000 and N150,000 with the
syndicates for the FOUs.
“Also, the seeming high
revenue generation by the service has been a ruse as there has been a drastic
fall in inward cargo throughput coupled with the depreciation in the value of
the Naira, presupposing that N1.01trillion generated in 2017 fiscal year and
previous years’ figures loomed large because of the exchange rate difference
and policy distortion.
“Although the vision of the
CG through the task force is to stop the extortion of money, the outfit has
compromised its objective as the CG relishes the distortion premised on huge
returns to both personal and government coffers.
“On valuation, the service
has also compromised itself as officers collect certain amount of money from
importers, a development which promotes underpayment by importers and their
freight forwarders, hence the seizure of most released goods from the ports.
This creates rooms for extortions by both the FOU and the ‘Strike Force”.
“Our findings have also
shown that the Benchmark policy on imported vehicles is rooted in corruption as
customs officers toy with the intelligence of importers and their agents even
as there is systemic corruption arising from wrong classification of import
duty rates.
“Observing that the NCS is
supposed to be facilitating trade as enunciated in the World Customs
Organization(WCO) policy for customs administration globally, the League noted
that the NCS has failed to deliver this value at the seaports with its adverse
effect on Ease of Doing Business policy of the Federal Government.
“It is on record as
recently corroborated by the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports
Authority(NPA), Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman that the NCS has refused to comply with
the Ease of Doing Business policy in cargo delivery process.
“According to the League of
Maritime Editors, investigations have equally shown that Customs authorities
still allow prohibited export items such as thick wood and scrap metals for
export in Apapa,Tin Can and Onne ports.
“Findings have also
revealed that despite the Federal Government’s claims that it has stopped
importation of foreign rice in to the country, foreign rice still flood the
local markets because rice are now mainly being imported through containers via
seaports, no longer land borders. They are declared as fishing nets, mosquito
nets and building materials in collusion with the Strike Force and FOUs and are
cleared unhindered at the seaports.
“Have Nigerians asked why
there seem to an increase in importation of arms into the country in recent
times? All sensitive positions in customs currently are manned by a section of
the country, thereby raising the fear of gross incompetence or compromise at
seaports, land borders and FOUs.
“It was gathered that the
issue of closure of warehouses in the Lagos industrial areas of Ilupeju, Ijora,
Amuwo-Odofin, Iganmu, among others, that drew the attention of Alhaji Ahmed
Tinubu, the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress(APC), who called
on the attention of President Buhari was also as a result of the extortionist
tendencies of the Customs officers.”
Reacting to the allegation
on extortion of importers, the Public Relations Officer of the Service, Deputy
Comptroller of Customs, Mr Joseph Attah said the allegation raised by the
League was a compound one.
Attah said what the Service
wants was a specific case or evidence of wrong doing by any officer to be able
to take action.
But he added that the
Service would carry out investigation based on the allegations raised and bring
erring officers to book.
On the allegation of the CG
usurping the powers of the Board of Customs and single-handedly awarding
contracts, the image maker said this was not true.
According to him, the CG
only sought the approvals of the President on specific jobs when there was no
Board, adding that this was no longer so.
He claimed that with the
presence of the Board, the CG has stopped going direct to the President.
The Public Relations
Officer of the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) Ikeja, Mr Jerry Attah who reacted
to the allegation of corruption against officers claimed this was a fallacy.
Attah also claimed that this was mainly to dent the image of the Unit since it
had no room for compromise.
Attah insisted that the
Unit would continue in its anti-corruption war, adding that no amount of
distraction will stop the Unit.
He however challenged
anybody with specific case involving officers on corrupt allegation to make it
available to the management.
 Shipping Day.

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