By Stephen Ubanna
For years , there have been rumour making the rounds that touts had taken control of Port Multi-services terminal Limited, PTML, one of the major terminal terminals at the Tin-can Island port, described as a one ship , GRIMALDI, terminal.
This is evident going by the number of agents and such touts chasing one Single Digit Drawer’s Form, SGD, job at the terminal. It was learnt that the touts, sometimes, have the upper hand to facilitate the release of the cargo, particular, vehicles, which had made them very relevant at the terminal.
Informed sources to the value News that they have great influence on the releasing officers to do their bidding. They were said to have master-mined protests to stop work at the terminal. Past and resent Leadership of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, NNLCA, including the Command Area Comptrollers, would never forget their experience in the hands of the touts that they may have decided to accommodate them for peace to reign. This is where Felix Okun, the current Area Comptroller f the Command may have to initiate extra measures to control the tots before they become a big muster to him.
The continued struggle for control of terminal between the touts, who have their Customs Collaborators and the genuine agents with the alleged loss of billions of naira which could have accrued into the Federation account due to false declaration, wrong classification, underpayment and Concealment may have informed why late Abdullahi Dikko, a one –time Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs service, NCS, had repeatedly set up ad-hoc teams at different times to raid the terminal at different times.
Many of the touts were said to have been arrested and security tightened up at the terminal as importers documents were properly scrutilised before their cargoes, are allowed to exit the terminal gate. The security measures , according to informed sources had made the terminal safe for the genuine agents and Customs personnel to do their job without interference from the touts throughout the Late Dikko’s era.
The touts may have found their way back into the terminal with the removal of late Dikko from office, by President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired army General in 2015, doing what they know best, conniving with their Customs Collaborators, to facilitate the release of cargoes, particular, vehicles.
There have been cases where one agent and four touts with fake document, machined outside or doctored documents will be facing one job. It is not surprising why some vehicles duly released from the terminal had always falling into the waiting hands of the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, or discovered by the Comptroller General of Customs, CGC, Strike Force Team A, Internet Staff , in their Apapa office, in the recent time through their lens from the terminal during Examination and had subsequently stopped the release of such cargoes until the balance of the shortfall payments are settled.
With the falsified Customs documents which, was said to have helped the importers with the agents, to take delivery of their vehicles from the terminal, without the payment of the approved duties may have informed why the terminal Customs Command have continued to lose billions of naira revenue . Take for instance, a Toyota model , where the importer was supposed to pay a N5 million duty , the Valuation document which had been faked could make the importer to pay less than a million naira to take delivery of the vehicle from the terminal and these had been the case over the years.
Investigations by The Value News shows that out of the 100 vehicles imported through the terminal, including Containers , there could hardly be 10, with correct declaration. This may have informed why Usman Yahaya, the FOU, Zone A, acting Comptroller and the Command Operations and Lagos Roving Team, headed by Jack Okpabi, an Assistant Comptroller, whose Team members had become a threat to the south west states of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo , Osun, Ekiti and Ondo, foreign rice smugglers, have beamed their searchlight at the Lagos seaports.
A senior Customs Officer who spoke to The Magazine on condition of anonymity had said that the Team members had beamed their searchlight at the Lagos ports, because of the volume of Containers and exotic vehicles from the portswithout payment of appropriate duties. Note that the vehicles, are mostly released from PTML, and Five Star, at tin can Island port.
The event of Wednesday, March 17, 2021, where the FOU, Zone A, Operations and Lagos Roving Team, intercepted an SUV4, Jeep, 2019, that was said to have been released from the PTML,, acting on information over alleged underpayment bear eloquent testimony to the illegalities going on at the terminal. The FOU, Zone A, personnel, who were said to have intercepted the exotic SUV4 , vehicle were taking it to the Command Ikeja office before they were attacked and overpowered by the touts and the vehicle was snatched from them. The touts, were said to have attacked one of the Team members with the intention of disarming him. They were not lucky as there was an accidental discharge hitting one of them on the spot., who incidentally happened to be a member of the Associations of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA.
Given the heavy traffic along the Apapa –Mile II, Express Way, the FOU, Zone A, patrol Team members, were said to have caught up with the touts around Sunrise and disposed the alleged touts of the SUV4, vehicle , which was eventually transferred to the Command premises, amidst tears of joy in the faces of Yahaya, the Area Comptroller and Jack, the head of the Operations and Lagos Roving Team.
The attack on the Command Patrol team, carrying out their legitimate duties, may have strengthened the resolve of the Customs Comptroller, that the importer of the intercepted SUV4, vehicle must pay the shortfall of N3.5million to the last kobo, before the exotic vehicle will be released.
Moreso, the Team, at the instance of the Area Comptroller, were said to have gone after those involved in the attack in order to arrest and drag them to Court as a deterrence to others who might want to attack Customs personnel on legitimate duties in the future. The ANLCA , officials may have known that there is trouble ahead that they had intervene to resolve the crisis.
Jack, the FOU, Zone A, head of Operations and Lagos Roving Team, who at the instance of Yahaya, the Area Comptroller, was said to have met with Otunba Sunday Oybola, Chairman, ANLCA, PTML, who had led a delegation to the Command in order to resolve the vexed issue, may have been told in clear-cut terms that the outstanding t N3.5 million short payment must be paid. The ANLCA, Leadership may have found their way to the FOU, Zone A, premises , to see how the issues of underpayment will be resolved at PTML, now and in the future.
As at press time, the importer has not paid the N3.5 million shortfall in duty as the SUV4, is still being detained in the Command premis es. Oyebola, the PTML, ANLCA, Chairman, is optimistic that the Noutstanding N3.5 million duty will be paid, including the 25 surcharges.
The repeated multiple offences , committed by the agents or touts , may have informed why the ANLCCA , PTML Chairman, , had said that the Association would continue ‘’to train and retrain their members to be Law abiding and never to obstruct and attack officers on Legitimate duties and to ensure that they make correct declarations’’.
Note that it was the discovery of a N3.5 million underpayment, on the SUV4,2019 model, that created the rift between the FOU, Zone A , Patrol Team and the Touts, who claimed to be agents. It is on record that the Command had recovered millions of naira from such underpayments for the government between last year and now, which could have entered into private pockets.