By Stephen Ubanna
For much of 2017 and now, officials of the Association of Maritime Owners, AMATO, led by Remi Ogungbemi, the national president, haven been holding series of meetings with the Customs Authorities to facilitate the release of their trucks detained in in various Federal Operation Units, FOU, across the country.
Investigation by The Value News shows that there are over 100 of such AMATO trucks currently been detained in FOUs Zone A, Ikeja, south west geo-political region, Kaduna, Zone B, north west, Owerri, Zone C, sou-south, and Bauchi, Zone D, north east.
It was learnt that most of the trucks had been had been intercepted and detained at FOU, Zone A, Mechanical workshop, turned government warehouse and thee old Government Ware House used by the Command to keep such intercepted trucks laden containers in the past because of the volume of the volume of import through the Lagos seaports, particular, Apapa, Tincan island and Port Multi-services terminal , limited, PTML.
The bad news was that most of the arrested trucks were found to have carried Conatainerised Cargoes from China, India and Turkey. It is not surprising why the Customs Authorities after profiling the importers and found to have been involved in making false declarations not paying the appropriate duty for their imported Consignment had been a searchlight on imports from such countries over the years. This may have informed why most of the AMATO drivers are having problem with FOU or Customs adhoc team on the road.
The Customs Authorities have every reason to keep the AMATO intercepted in the premises over alleged contravention of government fiscal policies as they could not claim that they did not know what is loaded in the Container laden in their truck, an indication that they have themselves to be Compromised by the importer with his Clearing Agent.
The Value News findings shows that past and present Management of Customs had made several attempts to invite the leadership of the Association to various Customs Conferences across the country to enlighten them on the sections of the Customs and Excise Management Act, CEMA, that dwell extensively on trucks laden Containers and what to happens to the truck if it was found to be carrying Container which content were falsely declared by the importer.
The Law , according to Customs sources, was very clear on this: both the truck and the Container were liable to seizure. It was not surprising why there are several trucks in FOU premises across the country awaiting for Court condemnation to be converted to government property.
The initial quarrel of AMATO with the Customs Authorities was why their trucks hired out to clearing Agents to deliver their importers Container in their various warehouses across the country could be seized over alleged false declaration of the Consignment while the ships belonging to the shipping Companies that brought the Consignment were allowed to leave country’s seaports unquestioned.
The Association members were said to have also queried the Customs for not arresting those that loaded the Containers into the Ship instead of taking over their trucks when the drivers knew nothing about what they were carrying.
AMATO officials may have seen reason why they should make peace with the Customs Authorities to facilitate the release of the truck or risk losing the detained trucks to government as it had Contravened the CEMA Act. This may have informed why Ogungbemi and other members of the national Executive of AMATO are now courting the friendship of the Customs Authorities to soften the ground in order to facilitate the release of the trucks, as many of them were said to have lost thousands of naira over the last two years for not putting their trucks to work.
The two parties may have reached a truce as the Customs Authorities were said to have promised to have promised to release the detained trucks. That much was confirmed by Ogungbemi, the AMATO, President.
Maritime watches believe that the Customs Authorities had succeed in drumming into their mind set that their enemy are the importers with their Clearing Agents and the Customs who are only implementing the Law to generate revenue for the government from non -Oil imports.
Appealing to the importers and their Customs Collaborators to make correct declaration in order to make the appropriate duty payment to get out of Customs trouble, he opined that that is the only way they would stop endangering their truck which is their only source of income.
Many believe that the leadership of AMATO May not be able to control the activities of members as they do not know the actual membership of the Association . Recall, that the AMATO National president had once described the Association as a Political party with ‘’free entry and free exits’’.