By Stephen Ubanna
The sensitisation Campaign embarked upon by Ahmadu Shuaibu, a Deputy Comptroller and Coordinator , Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, Strike Force, and his Principal key officers at APM Terminal, described as one of the biggest Container terminals in West African sub-region appears to have started yielding result in less than three months.
Given the overwhelming evidence on ground showing that that most of the infractions that had been discovered by the CGC Strike Force, Team A, Information Communication Technology , ICT, personnel, within a few weeks of assumption of office with the reconstitution of the Teams , across the country, last October, Ahmadu , overseeing the Team A, was said to have considered it necessary to meet with the releasing officers and those at the valuation, Import, Export and the vehicle Seats at the Lagos ports, with a message: to ensure that that they do the right thing to forestall importers with their agents from shortchanging the government through false declarations and wrong Classification of their imports and exports or faking the year of manufacture of imported vehicles to evade payment of correct duties .
The interception of over 20 Containers , mostly ‘’40’’ Containers , loaded with different prohibited cargoes, ranging from bags Ankara , textile materials to the Asian country of Thailand par boiled rice speaks volume. through intelligence at APMT, particular, which is under the close watch of Comptroller Mohammed Abba-Kura, speaks volume.
Ahmadu , was said to have read the riot Act at the import, export and vehicle Seats officers at the Lagos ports that any officer found Collaborating with the importers and their agents to shortchange the government would be dragged to the office of the Comptroller General for disciplinary action.
Aware that the CGC Strike Force Team A, Coordinator and his Team members meant every word of what he had told them may have informed why the officers were forced to sit up and decided to put the nation’s interest first in their dealings with the importers. This may have informed why the officers at the imports, and exports Seats at the Lagos ports of Apapa, Tin cancan Island, Port Multi-services terminal Limited , PTML, Kirikiri Lighter Terminal, phases I and II, including those at the Bonded terminals attached to the seaports have been alive to their duties to ensure that only what is approved in the government fiscal policy for imports and exports are allowed to enter or leave the country’s imports. The fallout was that the Lagos ports terminal officials , particular, APMT, who may have learnt their lesson , from their experience last year, between October and December , 2020, in the hands of the CGC Strike Team A, may not have wanted a repeat of such in 2021.
An eyewitness account disclosed that between January 1, 2021 and now, importers and exporters with their agents using the Lagos ports with their Customs Collaborators with their Customs Collaborators are no longer finding it funny. The worst hit are those involved in export business. There have been rumours making the rounds over the years that the Apapa port , is where all sorts of prohibited items are allowed into the port for export to China with the support of the APMT export officers who shield the exporters.
Shuaibu and his CGC Strike Force Team A members may have injected fears on the Customs officers that no one wants to play into the hands of Hameed Ali, a retired Amy Colonel and the Comptroller Gneral, NCS. The recent seizure of 162 sacks of Pangolin scales and 57 sacks of mixtendangered species loaded into a ‘’20’’ Container with registration number CSCU 2362640 for export toHaiphong, Vietnam, close to China, through Apapa port by the Abba-Kura officers on the Apapa Customs Command exports bear eloquent testimony of the rot that has been going on over the years at the APMT, otherwise the Pangolin exporter would not have the courage to dare the Customs Operatives on the export Seat aware that he might lose the Consignment if aught by another Customs Team .
The question on the lips of most people was how the ‘’20’’ Container loaded with the Pangolin scales and 57 other items of endangered species scales found its way to the port through the Apapa port official gate to be positioned at the APM Terminal to be examined for export despite the tight security mounted by Federal Operations Unit , FOU, and the Border Patrol, Lagos Zonal office personnel along the MILE 2 and Apapa Express Way which is still under reconstruction. Many believe that there may have been an insider Compromise that had facilitated the movement of the ‘’20’’ pangolin Container into the Apapa port.
The exporter may have thought that it is it business as usual at APMT where anything goes that he had taken the risk to beat the tight security at the Lagos port to take the cargo to the port for export to Haiphong Vietnam, where adequate arrangement had been made with the buyers to be ready to take delivery immediately it arrives the Asian country port of delivery on the agreed date.
The pangolin scales exporters and the oversea buyers were, however, unlucky as the deal was said to have been punctured by Customs personnel at the Apapa Customs Command export Seat , who were said to be mostly new on the Seat as they were said to have deployed from other Customs Command to the Apapa Command during the recent wave of mass transfer of officers from one Command to the other.
Perhaps, this may have made it impossible for both the exporter and his agent to penetrate the ranks of the officers to bribe their way to facilitate the export of the ‘’20’’ pangolin and 57 other mixed endangered species scales to the Haiphong, Vietnam, dealers. Abba-Kura, the Apapa Command Customs Comptroller, had said that the ‘’20’’ Container of pangolin and other mixed items were detected and arrested on Thursday , January 1st, 2021, ‘’ based on credible information by the Command export Seat officers’’.
The Apapa Customs Comptroller had said that the exporter had falsely declared the ‘’20’’ Container of pangolin scales and other mixed endangered species scales as carrying furniture components in an attempt ‘’to evade arrest’’ but the officers insisted on examining the Container. The outcome of the physical examination of the ‘’20’’ Container was the discovery of the over N952 million worth of 162 sacks of pangolin weighing ,8,000Kg, and 57 sacks of other endangered species ivory/animal horns and lion bones.
With the seizure of the ‘20’’ Container of pangolin and 57 other endangered species items, which is in line with the Customs and Excise Management Act, CEMA, Cap45, 2004, the Apapa Customs Comptroller has sent a signal to exporters dealing on such animals which the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES 1973, had revealed accounts for as much as 20% of all wildlife trade across the world, that it is no longer going to be business as usual.
He has made clear to other dealers of such dangerous endangered animal species that as long as he remains as the Comptroller of Apapa Command, ‘’all efforts will be geared towards ensuring that such dangerous and harmful environmental export are detected and prevented. Before now, Pangolin scales seizure was the exclusive preserve of the FOU, Zone A. Recall that in January 19,, 2020, the Command under the close watch of Usman Yahaya, a Deputy Comptroller, Operations and Lagos Roving Team , had made a N10.26 billion seizure 147 sacks of Pangolin scales, weighing 9,504 Kg, loaded in a two ‘’20’’ Containers, destined for export to the Asian country of China. The to pangolin scales of ‘’20’’ Containers were said to have been abandoned at a warehouse at an Estate in Isheri , Alimosho local government area of Lagos state. The informant had confimed that some Chinese were planning to export the Consignment through an undisclosed Lagos port out of the country.