By Stephen Ubanna
When Ahmadu Shuaibu, a Deputy Comptroller of Customs and Coordinator, Comptroller General of the Customs, CGC, Strike Force, Team A, and his boys exposed the age-long Cross- release of cargoes at the Lagos seaports, the importers with their agents and their Customs Collaborators at the Lagos port may have laughed over it, believing that noting would happen to them.
Unknown to them, the CGC, Strike Force , Team A, Coordinator, which has the mandate of Hameed Ali, a retired army Colonel and the Customs Comptroller General to block al the areas of revenue leakage at the Lagos ports which is within its jurisdiction .
Shuaibu and his Team members may have known that they would face a very strong opposition from the agents and their Customs Collaborators at the ports and the bonded terminals in Lagos because of their strong connections but they were determined to succeed.
The Team may have been strenghtened to fish out the fraudulent importers with their agents at the Lagos ports with their Customs Collaborators with the support of the experts in the Information Communication Technology, ICT,. Given the expertise of the ICT personnel, to track the ships and what they are carrying from the port of origin to the port of embarkation, the Lagos ports may have led to the discovery of the cross-release of cargoes fraud at the Lagos port of Apapa, particular.
The Officers involved in making such cross-releases cargoes may not have known that, the Coordinator of the ad-hoc Team forwards two reports on its weekly activities to Ali, the Customs Comptroller General for necessary action .
The Value News findings shows that the Customs boss may have picked interest in the Team A, reports, that was said to have highlighted how eleasing officers at the APM,terminal at Apapa port, described as one of the biggest private Container terminal in the West African sub-region.
Investigations by the Magazine shows that they may have Compromised their position to bow to pressures from the desperate importers with their agents to such such cross-release of their cargoes where General Merchandise goods were released as vehicles.
theTin-can Island Command officers on Releasing Seat may not have been involved in such cross-release of cargoes because of the tight measures that was said to have been put in place by Baba Abdullahi Musa , the Area Comptroller, to checkmate the activities of the officers at the various terminals under the control of the Command to ensure that the right thing is done without Compromise.
Informed sources at the Customs Headquarters told The Magazine that Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, could not understand why Releasing officers at the premier port who should understand better the interpretation of the Customs and Excise Management Act, CEMA, cap 2004, better , could involve themselves in such fraudulent act and allowed themselves to be deceived by importers with their agents. This may have informed why he had sent a signal to the Customs Police to further Investigate matte and report back to to him.
Between February and now,some of the Releasing Customs Officers who were said to have been indicted by the CGC Team reports , were said to have been shuttling between their Apapa office and the Customs Training College , Ikeja, on the invitation of the Customs Police to answer to the issues raised on the cross-release of cargoes at the port and what they knew about it.
An insider sources told The Magazine that the cross-release of cargoes deal had been going at the Apapa port over the years until it was finally exposed by the CGC Strike Force, Team A, ICT , through alerts, which gave Shuaibu, the Team Coordinator an insider information of what had been happening at the Lagos APM terminal. This may have informed why the Team had beamed its searchlight on other terminals in Lagos.
Attempts by some of the powerful agents and their Customs Collaborators at the Apapa port to penetrate the ranks of the CGC Strike Force, personnel in order not to take their report to CGC’S office because of the implication may not have been frustrated by the officers who were not ready to enter any discussion with them as the Team report directly to the CGC and must not be seen to withhold any information from him because of the trust reposed on them.
With the exposure of the cross-release of cargoes at the Apapa port by the CGC Strike Force, Team A, and the invitation and interrogation of some releasing officers from the APM terminal at Apapa port, by the Customs Police at the instance of the Customs Comptroller General’, fear appear to have gripped the other releasing Officers at the Tin can Island port, Port Multi-services Terminal Limited, PTML, Kirikiri Lighter Terminal, KLT,phases I & II, including those at the bonded Terminals in Lagos.
Many believe that ever since the CGC Strike Force Team A, started following closely what is happening at the Lagos ports, going by its mandate over the last four months, sanity somewhat has returned to the ports, particular, at the Tin can Island port, which was noted for its Maichine Outside, popular, MO, to faciliate the release of cargoes in the past.
It is instructive to note that while Shuaibu and his boys are still battling to contain the activities of the cross –release officers at the Apapa port, importers with their agents involved in taking delivery of their Consignment by making underpayment the Lagos ports would never forget their experience in the hands of the Team members, over the last four months in a hurry because of the huge amount that have been recovered from them in the last quarter of last year.
This may have informed why the Team Coordinator could beat his chest that based based on the lost revenue which could have entered into the the agents’ pocket in the last two monhs alone, it would hit the N1 billion target by the end of March, 021.
Investigations by The Magazine shows that based on the CGC Team A, Strike Force ICT alerts in January and February, 2021, the Team had recovered over N800 million, lost revenue for the government. A break down of shows that the Team recovered N429.12 million in January while N371.6 million was said to have been recovered in the month of February February. Efforts by The Magazine to collect information on the amount that had been recovered by the Team in the first two weeks of March , 2021, proved abortive. But an insider had reassured that that the Team would hit the N1bilion target of recoverable lost revenue in the set three months of this year.
According to the source, the Duty payable on the cleared Consignments in the month of January, was N420 million while the duty that was paid in the month of February by the, imports was alleged to be about N80 million. The source further disclosed that the value of the January imports was N2.11billion and about N260 million in the month of February, showing how the government have been loosing billions of revenue at the Lagos ports over the years.
Besides blocking the areas of revenue Leakages at the Lagos ports of Apapa, Tin can Island, PTML and KLT , phases I&II, and giving the smugglers a run for their money in the south west ego-political region, the smart alec importers who had contravened government Fiscal policy through wrong Classification, False declaration, Concealment and other crimes at the Lagos ports have a cause to worry as their Containers were said to have been seized foring Contravene the government fiscal policy.
Unconfirmed reports shows that the Team intercepted and seized some 13 Containers of, ‘’40’’ each loaded with different cargoes, mostly from the Asian countries of China and India,in the month of Januar., the Team wee said to have also intercepted and seized eight , ‘’40’’ Containers each was seized in February.
The guilty importers with their agents caught in the act who had expected to see their seized Containers at the Customs Training Collage, Ikeja office of the Team in order to give them room to start using their contacts to put pressure on the Coordinator to reverse his decision would be disappointed.
This is because the Shuaibu, led Ad-hoc Team, from the onset had started using the Ikorodu Lighter Terminal, ILT, used to warehouse overtime cargoes to to keep its seized Consignments.
It is not surprising why the CGC Strike Force office, Team A, at the Customs Training College, Ikeja, is devoid of the usual crowd of visitors, particular agents, found in some other Interventionist Units across the country to lobby to pay the necessary charges and penalty in order to take delivery of their goods.