By Stephen Ubanna
The last may not have been heard about the touting activities at Port Multi-services Terminal Limited , PTML, at the Tin-can Island and Mile2 terminals. Recall that On March 17, 2021, the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, under the close watch of Usman Yahaya, a Deputy Comptroller, Operations and Lagos Roving, Patrol Team had intercepted an SUV4, 2019, model released at the Mile 2, terminal around the Lagos State waterworks at mile 2.
The vehicle , which had an outstanding duty payment of 3.5 million was said to have been transferred to the Command premises where it is currently being detained. The issue of the touting at the PTML, which is under the close watch of Felix Okun, the Ondo state born Customs Comptroller, became exposed as a national issue when the alleged touts attacked the FOU Zone A,Patrol Team and snatched the SUV4, vehicle from and even made attempts to disarm one of the Customs Inspectors. But luck ran out of them as they were caught up by the Courageous Jack Okpabi, an Assistant Comptroller, boys, at SunRise, due to the heavy traffic, along the Mile 2 and Apapa road and the vehicle recovered from them and quickly transferred to the Command where it has been detained.
Joseph Attah, a Deputy Comptroller and the National Public Relations Officer of the Nigerian Customs Service,NCS, may have spoken the mind of Hameed Ali, a retired army Colonel, and Customs Comptroller General, at an event organised by Ahmadu Shuaibu, a Deputy Comptroller and Coordinator, of the CGC,Strike Force Force, team A, to showcase the Team interceptions and seizures, in the month of February, on Tuesday, March 29, 2021, that’’ the detained SUV4, vehicle will not be released to the agent of the importer until the N3.5million outstanding duty payment is paid to the last kobo’’.
Appealing to Nigerians to protect Customs personnel carrying out their Legitimate duties and endeavor to volunteer information to help the service track the smugglers, both at the seaports and the Land borders, he described as wrong for a group of people to gang up to snatch a vehicle intercepted by a Customs Patrol Team.
Mohammed Yakubu, a Deputy Superintendent of Customs and spokesperson PTML, may have spoken the mind of Comptroller Okun, who has been very angry over the first story that had appeared on the The Value News Website: Touts Take over PTML, on Monday, March 28,2021, had said that there is no way that the Comptroller or any releasing officer would have known who is a genuine agent or not as they have the PTML access card to the terminals to carry out their transactions.
He had said that the Command only ‘deal with Licensed Customs agents and not touts’’. The question on the lips of most people was: how did the issue of touting came about at the terminal that it dominates the discussion of the genuine agents at the terminal.
Recall that Attah, the Customs spokesperson , had repeatedly said that the genuine agents sublet their Operating Licenses to the touts, and equally avail them the Opportunity of using their access card to the terminals to do their own jobs, which had often landed most of them into trouble. This may have been what happened with the recent release of the SUV 4, 2019 model that had resulted in the vehicle being detained at FOU, Zone A.
Comptroller Okun, who is still boiling with rage over The Value News story may have told his close Associates and the Loyal officers, who may have drawn his attention to the story that he cannot stop any Reporter from doing his work, so long as he knows within his Conscience that he is doing’ the right thing’’.Some Journalists who claimed to be members of MARAN, were said to have taken advantage of the story to visit him , forcing him to voice out his anger against The Value News. The Magazine was informed that he had planned to counter the Value News report by organizing a press Conference but stopped at the last minute.
Yakubu,,an image maker of the Command , may have introduced a new dimension to the problem of touting at the PTML terminals when he told The Magazine that the era of ASYCUDA , is over, where the importer and the agent decides who would handle their job is, an indications that there is nothing like touting at the PTML two terminals where their officers are working.
He disclosed that under the present e-Customs, the only contact the Command have with the agents are with the Valuation and Releasing Officers, as much of the clearing process are done by the agent who makes the declaration. The Value News findings shows that there 10 Assistant Comptrollers at the Command, doing the releasing of cargoes.
Given an insight on how cargoes are released at the terminal including vehicle, Yakubu, who may have seen the Value News as the enemy of PTML, given the impression of the Area Comptroller for not also drumming the positive sides of the Command had said that the system decides which Assistant Comptroller or releasing officer would handle any job, unlike the situation in the past.
Many believe that if the CGC Strike Force, TEAM A, officers are allowed to mount road blocks like the FOU, Zone A, personnel, and with the regular alerts coming from the ad-hoc Team A, Information Communication Technology, ICT, Unit, it would have been making more of such vehicles seizures with low duty.
They noted that the Team had saved comptroller Okun, the Valuation and the releasing officers of the embarrassment it may have caused them with the seizure of such vehicles by the Team. The CGC Strike Force, which is intelligence driven as it gets the Manifest of the ship before its arrival into the country, gives the Team ICT officials, an insight to know what the importers are carrying in their Containers and the Value slammed on the Consignment or vehicles by the relevant Commands at the Lagos ports and the terminals put under their control.
Aa Agent who spoke to the Magazine on condition of anonymity, confirmed it. He had said that those who have been found wanting based on the multiple alert raised on the imported cargo, had been given Demand Notice, DN, which are paid before the cargo could be allowed exit the port.
It is not surprising why the ad-Team had recovered about N1.2 billion for the government from underpayment in the month of February 2021 from cargoes that had been exited and tor detained at the Lagos ports until the Agent resolve the issues raised in their alert with the Team: False declaration, wrong Classification and under-payment.
The Management of PTML, may have known that the alleged touts parading themselves at the terminals, in the guise of being as Licensed Customs Agents are giving them bad name, because of the interception and seizure of vehicles released from their Terminals, particular, the Mile 2, terminal , may have informed why they have tightened up security at the Mile exit gate to control the movement of peoples in and out of the terminal.
There is no gain saying the fact that with the tight security at the PTML, Mile2, exit gate, and other plans which the Authorities have at hand in the future to make the terminal as a truly modern port model in Africa, would make it extremely very difficult for the touts to find their way to the PTML terminals in Lagos. This should gladden the heart of Comptroller Okun, who is under intense pressure to control the touts, who according to an insider been there before his deployment to the Command.
John Okafor, a Lagos based importer had said that the only to control the touts who are all over theLagos ports of Apapa, Tincan Island, and KiriKiri Lighter Terminal Phases 1|&2, is for the Customs Authorities to delist any genuine Agent’s operating License sub-let to any support who have no license to operate as an Agent inside the port that runs into produce due to infraction of government fiscal policies as a deterrence to others who do so.