Customs: Who is Lying Over The Import Of 33 Containers Load Of Rice At Tin Can Island Port?

By Elizabeth Chukwuma

  For now Importers who think they can bring prohibited cargoes  into the country, particular foreign par boiled rice   in Containers through the seaports    because of  the tight security at the land borders  with the neighbouring countries of the Republic of Benin, Niger, Tchad and the Central African country of Cameroon   may have to do a rethink.

 A security Operative who spoke to the Value  News at Tin can Island port disclosed that the importer  may succeed in shipping the Consignment  through any of the country’s seaports   but may   not be able to take delivery of it as Hameed Ali , a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, appears to have shifted his attention to the ports as the land borders have become a no go area. From the borders Communities in the  south west, south-south, North west and Central geographical regions, the story is the same: tight security. It is not surprising why the  importers , particular, foreign rice importers  turned smugglers have found the seaports as the last option to carry out their nefarious activities with the use of Containers.

The recent seizure of 11 Containers load of foreign par boiled rice at Port Harcourt Area II in Rivers state speaks volume. The value of the II Containers load of rice was put at about N102.4 million. Note that prior to the Port Harcourt Area  II Containers load of rice seizure, there was a case  of 33 Containers load of rice  allegedly seized at Tin-Can Island port, on Tuesday , October 29,2019.

 Abdullahi Musa, the Area Comptroller, of the Customs Command,  and  a World Customs Organisation, WCO, trained  Valuation and Classification officer, who was said to have given a free hand to his key  Operation officers: Dera Nnadi, a Deputy Comptroller and Head of the Command  Enforcement Unit, Murktar Ibrahim, an Assistant Comptroller and Head of the Compliance Unit, described in Customs Circles, as a revenue mobiliser, and the  Deputy Comptroller in-charge f the Command  Alert Unit, to do their  work.

 The trio  were said to have been working closely together , thus making it  difficult for fraudulent importers to ship any  prohibited Consignment that contravenes the government fiscal policy through the port or take delivery of it.  The seizure of the dread Pharmaceutical product, tramadol is a clear indication of Musa’s intolerance to smuggling activities at the port using the Officers to the work. Also, the recent case involving  Masters Energy Commodities Trading  limited, owned by  Uche Ogah, the minister of Solid Minerals and Steel Development, over the alleged  importation of 33 Containers  load of rice from the Asian country of Thailand  bear eloquent testimony to the Command aggressive drive to checkmate fraudulent activities at the port.

The  alert was said to have  triggered off  putting  Nnadi, the DC.Enforcement and his men  on the red alert.  The officers at the  Command exit gates  were also said to have been  put on the alert to ensure that the Containers load of  foreign  rice did not exit the port.

Given an insider information, Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller and NCS Spokesperson,  disclosed that the discovery  of the Containers load of rice  which were  stacked at the Tin can Island  port  came as a result  of the painstaking ‘’profiling  of un-utilised  Bill of Lading  and unclosed  manifests’’.

Attah noted that when the cargoes were subjected to physical examination, by all the relevant agencies personnel at the port, it was found to contain the Asian country of Thailand expired  par boiled rice. He revealed that some of the ‘’50’’ bags of rice carry Nigerian address coming from outside the country. Some of the Nigeria  address that were said to have been used by the importer include: No. 31 A Remi Kayode  Street, GRA, Ikeja, Lagos,  and Yunee International Trading Company  limited, 103 Ebitu Ukiwe Street, , Jabi, Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.

Hameed Ali: CG, Customs

The 33 Containers load of rice imports, the Customs Spokesperson further sad had  played into the hands of Musa’s men at the port because ‘’it was not declared by the importer’’.  Insiders told The Value News  that  the importer  may not have brought the Containerised  rice import without taking the  documents  to the appropriate Customs Units  for proper  Valuation and assessment in order to cut corners  . There are indications that the  Company  may have  plotted on how to compromise the port officials  , Customs and security Operatives to facilitate the exit of the Consignment out  of  the port without harassment by the Enforcement  and the exit gate officers.

The intensified security check at the gates  was said to have led to a holistic ‘’ audit of all Manifests and profiling of all n-utilised  Bill of Lading which was said to have led to the discovery of the33 Containers load of the rice cargo. It was bad news for the officials of Masters Energy who felt embarrassed.

 Recall that  li, the Customs Comptroller General  had told the Media on Tuesday, October 29, 2019, that of the 33 Containers load of rice intercepted at the Tin can Island port, only 25 actually belonged  to the Masters Energy Commodities Trading, the Company at the center of the containers load of rice imports. 

Investigation  shows that  the Company  had been on the watch list of the Customs Authorities since 2016 and 2017 when it was alleged to have  imported 30 Containers  load of rice into the country through  the Tin-can Island port. The  30 Containers load of rice  were said to have been promptly seized at the port on the orders of Ali, the Comptroller General.  The  Containers  load of  rice shipment were said to have been declared as  Yeast, by the company , an indication that  the company has a way of shortchanging the government in its rice imports through alleged false declaration with the active connivance of Customs personnel.

This is evident going by what Destiny  Impex Limited , the agency that had won the contract to clear the Consignment   for the  trading Company at the port. The agency had confirmed  that the 2016 Containers  load  of rice imports were physically examined at the port and Demand Notice,DN, raised  for it with the knowledge of the then Comptroller of the Command and the DC. Enforcement.

The agent  disclosed that  he was about to settle the DN, when  information filtered out that Ali, the Customs Comptroller General had ordered  that  the  Consignment should be seized . In apparent response to the Comptroller General’s claim that 33 Containers load of rice arrived the port last Tuesday, The  Company on Wednesday , October,  30, 2019,  was forced to broke its silence on the matter,  Speaking through its Lawyer, Monday Ubani, it had admitted that the Containers load of rice belonged to it  but were those  seized in 2016 and not  in 2019, as alleged  by the Customs Comptroller General.   

Abdullahi Musa: Comptroller, Tin Can Island Command

The Lawyer had sad said   that  the cargoes were seized  in 2016 due to   the inability of the Company handling the clearing process  to pay  the correct import duties   on the commodity .He  disclosed  that  the trading  company which was miffed by the action of, Destiny Impex Limited, the  Company hired to handle the clearing of the Consignment  had reported to the Customs Authorities about the false declaration made by the agent . The Company may have reported  the  agency to the Customs Authorities in order to sanction it as the owner of the agency had obtained its Operating License from the Service in order to serve as a deterrence to other agency that may want to corners at the port.

According to him, when it was discovered that the Clearing agency had made   false declaration which had affected the release of the cargo at the port by Customs  personnel, the company  indicated  its willingness to pay the shortfall in the duty payment  as the agent was  paid  the  full  money  but decided to  cut  corners  in order to avoid  paying full value  of the tariffs.

 The Lawyer, however,  faulted the Customs Comptroller General’s claim that the Containers load of rice import was with a Nigeria address. Given his knowledge of the tractions, he revealed  that  it was purchased  from a Thailand  Trading Company  known as  Asia Inter Trade  Rice Export  Co. Limited with a fixed address , stressing  that the’’ Consignment has  a Bill of Lading’’. 

 He revealed that ‘’the quantity  of the Containerised rice cargo  that was discharged  at the Tin Can Island port, by the shipping Line that cassied it were 60 in all but 30 were initially seized  by the Tin can Island  Customs Command  due to under declaration’’ . The Lawyer  explained  that the  remaining 30  Containers load of the rice imports    had arrived at the port   at a time the government  has put Commodity  as one of the 41 items  that will no longer be allowed to access  the  forex market.  The Lawyer  noted  that due to the government  policy  the 30 Containers load of rice  that arrived later were left  ‘’uncleared and abandoned ‘, noting that the Containers load of rice had remained stacked at the port since 2016.

 Business watchers believe that  the inability  of the Company to clear the  30 Containers load of rice which arrived the Tin Can Island  port after the government policy Statement on rice and 40 other items as  regard to accessing the official Foreign Exchange market in 2016 and stacked at a corner at the port   may have given the current Customs Authorities at the Command the impression when it was profiling  the un-utilised Bill of Lading  unclosed Manifests  last Tuesday  that it was imported this year.

Critics  had averred that  since the forex used in importing  the 30Containers load of ice shipment was sourced  from unofficials sources, li , the Comptroller General, ought not to have given his men the go ahead to seized it. They have their reason. Godwin Emefiele, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN,  who implements  the government fiscal and monetary policies has not come out to tell Nigerians that foreign has been banned from coming into the country through the seaport by the government.

It is on record that President Muhammadu Buhari had banned the importation of foreign rice through the land border on January 1, 2017 as the CBN stopped issuing Letters of Credit , LC, to rice importers  by June of the same year. This may have forced many  individual and Corporate importing rice firms like the Stallion Group and Olam to back out from the business and relocate to Republic of Republic  which has liberal economic policies that allows  importation of foreign par boiled  rice through their ports for re-export to the land locked countries of Niger and Tchad and which still found their way into the Nigerian markets through unapproved routes .  How the Customs and Masters Energy Commodities Trading Limited case would end  remain to be seen.

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