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.
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.
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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