Customs: Agents Cry Out To Buhari: We Are Suffering

By Elizabeth Chukwuma

Between last August and now,  Scores  of Importers with their Agents  whose truck laden goods  are trapped at the  Seme/Krake  joint  border, regarded as the busiest in the African Continent  are said to have either   died or suffering from High  Blood Pressure, HBP.

At the last count , there  are about  2000 trucks laden goods trapped  on both sides of the border worth billions of naira due to the border closure which had entered its sixth -month  awaiting to be cleared.   The  worst  part  of it  was that  most of the trucks which are carrying the   transit  goods ranging  from two to three Containers loads transferred into one truck  have started producing maggots   due to several months of being at one location, an indication  that the Consignments  had spoilt.

The situation  at the Seme  Border is  so  bad that Tony Nwabunike, President , Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, who was at  the land Border last December to see thing for  himself was said to have  made  another visit to the border  Community last January.

The ANLCA  members  who may have   run  out  of patience  were said to have taken their case to    Nwabunike  at the Association secretariat  pleading with him to do everything within his powers  to draw  government attention to their plight. Eyewitness account said the aggrieved agents who could not hide feelings  were almost in tears as their million naira worth of goods had  suddenly became a waste.

Most of the transit good importers were said to have paid the duties and other agencies fee on the trapped goods to the Nigerian  Customs  Service, NCS, which formed over the N1.3 tr. That was collected by the service in 2019. Investigation by The Value News shows that many of the transit cargo importers who could no  longer bear  it were said to  have engaged the services of smugglers to bring  Consignments  into the country through unapproved routes.

 Some of them  may have moved from fire to frying pan  as their smuggled  Consignments which are I piecemeal  had fallen into the waiting hands of  the C. D.  Wada. A Deputy Comptroller led  Seme  Command Patrol Teams who are everywhere at the Border Community  and its environs in the last six moths..  The  Seme resident officers who are  supported by  the Border Drills  and  the Comptroller General  of Customs, CGC, Strike Force,  personnel, appear to have made their case  worse.

Worried at the plight of importers  with their Agents  at the land borders across the country  and  the Operational Challenges of those at  the seaports  Nwabunike, the ANLCA, President, had mobilised his  National Executive Committee , NECOM, members, to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, where they had the  Opportunity of  meeting  of Boss Mustapha, Secretatry  to the Government of the Federation, SGF, on Monday, February 28, 2020.

Given an insider information on why  the Association  leadership took the initiative to see the SGF, believed to have the ear of President Muhammadu Buahari,  an aggrieved Nwabunike said , ‘’ it is to draw the attention of the Presidency to the   pains and agonies of  maritime operators, particular the  importers with their  Agents at the seaports and those at the land border Areas j whose cargoes are trapped  due the border closure.

He cited   the infrastructural decays,  the Apapa pprotracted  traffic  gridlocks caused   by poor access road to the two makor Lagos ports: AApapa and Tin Can Island the poor state of the south eastern ports of Calabar, Cross River state and  Warri, Delta state. Appealing  to the SGF,  who was a one-time Managing Director of Nigerian Inland Water ways Authority, NIWA, to use his good offices  to ensure  the dredging  the south eastern  ports,  stressing that it the only way to attract big  ocean- going vessels to the ports. For now the Calabar ports too shallow to accommodate big vessels   but  flat  bottom ones could sail to the port with encountering any  problem.

This is where Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman, Mnaging Director, Nigerian Ports Authority may have  to take it up with Rotimi Amaechi,  the minister of Transportation  in order to address the port  Challenges. The News making  the  rounds that the Warri port has  been Concessioned  to SIFAX, which has make a  mark  at  its ports and Cargo Terminal, at Tin  Can Island port , may make the difference.

Nwabunike  is optimistic that the pains currently being witnessed by Agents in moving their Containers  in and out of the Lagos  port  could be a thing   of the past if the Chinese Civil Engineering and Construction Company CECC, handling the Rehabilitation of the railway project across the country  could expedite action   it to facilitate the movement of cargoes from the Lagos ports   to the hinterland.

He  may have alluded to good works of   Hajia Usman led NPA, for  engaging the services of some  barge Operators  to evacuate Containers from the Lagos ports to the Inland Container Terminals at ikorodu, Epe , Mile 2 and other  parts of the state  using tug  propelled barges.  He confirmed that  that  it has reduced the pressure  on the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway as  over 2000  Containers  were said to have  been  moved by the barges, within the lagos axis Lagos axis  in the last three  years.

The ANLCA President was said to have brought to attention of the SGF, the non –  availability  of functional  scanner equipment  at the ports  to expedite action in the examination  of cargoes at the ports.  The ANLCA  boss who could not hide his feelings  noted the resort  by Customs  and  other  security agencies  personnel  involved in  cargo examination to physical examination    makes the process very ‘’cumbersome and time consuming with undue turnaround time delays.

Senator Gbemisola Saraki: Minister Of State, Transportation

 Given the government reluctance to  embark on provision of  scanner machines at the port now because  of other competing   demands,  The Association  was said to have suggested  that companies  with good  track records  of involvement  in the scanning  processes  and procedures  , both within and outside the country be contacted  to supply the scanners  at  no cost to the government  as they could easily  recover their cost  from the fee that would be  paid by a Agents to use their facilities.

Tony Nwabunike: President ANLCA

They were said also  suggested that   Companies  should be mandated  to train Customs personnel  on how to operate the scanner machines to avoid a repeat of what happened in the past when COTECNA, and other service providers left the  scene p, thus paving the way for Customs personnel to take over. The fallout , was the breakdown  of the Containers which litter the port premises. From the Lagos ports to the south east ports , the story is the same: broken down scanners. He insists  that  engaging a  private firm  to procure  the scanning  machines  will favour the country that asking  the Hameed  led Nigerian Customs Service,  NCS, to contract the firm that  would supply the scanners and  only be involved in the operations of the scanners.

ANLCA officials may have taken advantage of the visit to Mustapha, the SGF, to canvass for the Katsina state  born Nigerian President to appoint  a Special Assistant on Maritime matters  in order  keep him abreast on the happenings in the all- important sector, which is next to the oil sector, in revenue generation for the government.

 This year, alone, the government has set a target of N2 tr for the service. It is not surprising why Nwabunike could boldly say that  ‘’ Importers with their Agents  hold the face  for International Trade  between Nigerian and the rest of the world’’. He noted that without  maritime  , ‘’oil business will be grounded  as ships  are the only source  of moving cargoes  across the globe, which accounts for about  90 percent  of International Trade  while the Airports and Land borders account for the remaining 10 percent.

Prior to the  ANLCA officials visit to the SGF, they had met with Gbemisola Saraki, a   former   Senator of Federal Republic of Nigeria,  and now minister of State, Transportation, to acquaint her of the problems of the nation’s maritime and the practioners, particular the A the imports with the Agents. The minister was said to have promised to meet the Agents  if they could speak  as a group.  There  are indications that Nwabunike  has begun underground moves to reach out to Boniface Anniebonam , the Founder of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, and the leadership of other Associations in order to burry their difference and  speak  as a group whenever they have Opportunity of meeting Saraki, the minister of  State, Transportation , overseeing the Maritime sector. . He described the  ALCA NECOM  visit to the two top government functionaries of the All Progressive  Congress, APC,  government as being  very rewarding.

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