Agents Resort To Blackmail To Force Customs Personnel To Submission At Onne Port

By Stephen Ubanna

 The battle-line appears to have been drawn between Customs personnel who want to the right thing to enhance government’s revenue collection at the Onne seaport and the agents under the umbrella  of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA,  PorthARCOURT Area II, Chapter, Onne. Signs of imminent trouble at the port started  last January, when Tony Nwabunike, National President, ANLCA,  succeeded  in conducting the Chapter election of  the Executives of the south east ports of  Onne, Rivers Port, Port Harcourt, and Onne Oil and Gas  free Zone, Chapter Executives among others.

The election of Michael Ebeatu, as the Chairman of ANLCA, Onne port Chapter, had may have  confirmed  people’s fear that it was matter of time  before the port would be engulfed in crisis because of agents protest  that would be masterminded by him.

 True to people’s fear, on Tuesday, May 4, 2021, barely three months in office, he bowed to pressure from  the aggrieved members who may have supported his election  and who have  a score to settle with Customs personnel because  of the consistent interception and seizure  of their Containers over alleged problems of  false declaration, wrong Classification, Concealment and underpayment to allegedly organise a Protest AT THE Onne port.

   Ebeatu may have toed the line of his followers to avoid losing his popularity because he was said to have assured them that if he wins  as the Chairman, of the Onne port Chapter of ANLCA, described as the biggest agents Association ,   he will stop the frequent seizure of their clients  goods by Onne Customs Authorities.

There is no gainsaying the fact that over the years, the Port Harcourt Area II port, Onne,  had been known as a haven for fraudulent agents who are  used to flying Containers with the aid of their Customs Collaborators.  Being a Chip of the old block,  Ebeatu, may have wanted the old system to continue  under his leadership  but Auwal Mohammed, the Onne Command , Area Comptroller would not take it.  With the matching order given to the officers to sit up to ensure that  the right thing is done, supported with the blockage of all areas of revenue leakages  at the port,  the  Customs Inelligence Unit, CIU, and the exit  gate officers  were forced to work closely in sharing information  after the examination of cargoes.

Riding On His poularity With Agents To Allegedly Organise Protest At Onne Port

 The Value News was informed that Ebeatu knew the agents are in trouble when he found the Deputy Comptrollers overseeing the CIU and the exit gate becoming too close. Aware that most of the agents at the Onne port are not ready to do the right thing may have forced the exit gate officers, particular, to tighten  up security to ensure that that fraudulent importers with their agents do not pass with their goods.

   This may have landed some of the agents  into trouble as some of the released Containers laden into trucks for  delivery to their importers were said to have moved  from the exit gate to the Government Warehouse  over alleged infraction.

 Between January and March,  2021, despite the Asian country of China  emerged coronavirus, popular, COVID 19, a total of 12 Containers, mostly belonging to ANLCA,  members’ Clients were intercepted, detained  and subsequently seized over alleged infraction. Given the blockage of all the areas of  revenue Leakage at the port , the Command was said tohave generated N13 billion  in one  month, believed to be the highest  ever since the Command was established some 38 eight years ago. It was an indication that the Command had been losing billions of naira to agents taking delivery of their Clients cargoes  at the port over the years.

 Not many people were surprised that Ebeatu had  masterminded the Tuesday, May  4, 2021, protest at the Onne port, which they had blamed on the CIU, Officers alleged extortion and frustration of their jobs. The Onne port, ANLCA Chairman and his Co- blackmailers may not have been  happy with  Mohhammed, the    Command Area Comptroller, because of  the loses  members were alleged to be making to take delivery of their clients’ cargoes on a daily basis.

Mohammed: Refused to Be Intimidated By Ebeatu Led Agents Protest

He may have , who had worked  at the Onne Command expected  Comptroller Mohammed, to  bend the rules like  some former  Area Comptrollers of the Command  but got it  wrong. This is because the Onne Customs boss who had worked at the Port in the past know much about the activities of the agents and he has the mandate of  Hameed Ali, a retired  Army Colonel and the  Customs Comptroller General to ensure that it collects the maximum N7 billion monthly  revenue target for the Command.

     Ebeatu, according to informed sources may have mobilised his members and grounded the operations  by withdrawing their services on Tuesday, May 4, described as a black day at the Onne port because of the disruption of  port operations  by the protesting agents to force  Comptroller Mohammed and his officers to soft pedal in their action.

. Although, it may look as if only the ANLCA members had embarked on the protest, but The Magazine findings shows  shows that it cut across all the other Associations, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, The National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents,NCMDLCA, and the non –aligned  who  have an axe to ground with Comptroller Mohammed and his officers.

 Inndeed, the ANLCA officials may have expected the Onne Customs Management to invite them for Negotiation on how to resolve the crisis . Recall that they had accused the Onne Customs personnel of ‘’high handedness , which maritime analysts had  descried as ‘’ cheap blackmail’’. They were said to be particularly unhappy  with the CIU personnel, insisting that they have no  business to be involved in the Examination and Release of cargoes which delays the clearing process at the port.

A retired  senior customs Officer who spoke to the Magazine on condition of anonymity disclosed that the  ANLCA Leadership could easily mobilise his members for the Tuesday protest  because’’ they are not ready to do right thing  but to shortchange the government’’.

Container Loaded WIth Tyres Intercepted By Vigilan Officers Of Onne port, Agents Want The Old System to Continue

 They  may have presented  a pitiable case of what they are going through in the hands of Comptroller Mohammed and his officers at the Onne port in a bid to win public sympathy and  force Ali, the Customs Comptroller General to redeploy the  senior officers, including the Onne Command Area Comptroller in order to restore sanity at the port but that was how far, they could go. They could not dictate to the Customs boss which officer to remove or not, an officer remarked.

 The aggrieved   ANLCA agents had said  that the  Onne  Command,  officers could not be predicted as they  may  just wake up   and tell the agents    that they are collecting  this particular  amount for such and such services   even on normal shipment. They that this has put  many of them in a state of confusion of what  to charge their  importers to take delivery of their cargoes out of the port  without playing into hands of the Deputy Comptroller Ibrahim’ and his officers at the exit gate  who are very vigilant monitoring the movement of  cargoes and out of the port.

A similar incident had   played out  at the Federal Operations Unit,   Zone A recently, where traders who  dal, mostly, on smuggled foreign rice at the Bodija market, Ibadan, Capital of Oyo state in the south west Nigeria had taken the case of seized foreign rice to the Senate Committee on  Ethics, Privileges and Public petition to get Justice, alleging forceful  entering into their shops and carting  away their alleged  local rice and other items by Customs Patrol Team.

Yahaya: Blackmailed By Bodija Market, Ibadan,Foreign Rice Traders

 The foreign cum local rice dealers had blackmailed Usman Yahaya, the Command acting Comptroller and  Jack Okpabi, an Assistant Comptroller who was said to have laid the operation, using  Kola Balogun, Representing Oyo south  in the upper Chamber to achieve their aim.

 The Customs Authorities may have defended the oprations of the officials of the FOU, Zone A, insisting that the Customs and Excise Management Act, Cap 2004, empowers  Customs personnel to break into any suspected premises  and cart away away Contraband but that was how far they could go.

  Senator Balogun, may have succeeded  in getting the Senate Committee  to ask the Customs   Comptroller General, who was said to have been  represented  at the hearing of the case at the Committee  siiting by Muhammed Uba Garba , an Assistant Comptroller General, Enforcement, Inspection and Investigation, E.I&I, to return the alleged four trucks  load of rice  and money which the traders had claimed was taken from their shops. 

But close sources disclosed that only about 2000 bags of rice of 50Kg each , were removed from the Bodija market  by the Customs Tam, to their Ikeja  premises. This in addition to about N500,000.00  which was said to have been handed over to the station officer for documentation.

 The Committee , which is Chaired by  Ayo Akinyelure,  were said to have  given the Customs helmsman, to unlock the  traders shops  and also return  the money from their shops to their respective owners. The question of the lips of most  people was  how did the traders knew that   that money was missing in their shops when it is under Seal, which could only be opened on the orders of  the  FOU, Zone A, acting Comptroller, if not to Blackmail Acting Comptroller Yahaya and his officers.

This is where President Muhammadu Buhari, popular, PMB, a retired Army General  may have to intervene to tell the  Senate Committee members, through lawan Ahmad , the Senate Pressident, as Ali and his officers are carry ing out Executive orders that prohibits foreign rice and vehicles since January 1, 2017, from coming into the country through the Land border , which was  late extended to the  seaports to protect Local rie farmers. And encourage patronage of Nigerian ports by vehicle importers.   

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