By Stephen Ubanna
Importers with their Clearing agents at the Onne port which is under the close watch of Auwal Mohammed , the PortHarcourt Area II, Command, Comptroller are no longer finding it finding it funny to practice their old tricks of doing bad business at the Onne port.
This is because of the tight security mounted at the port exit gate and the eagle eye of the Customs Intelligence Unit, CIU, on the releasing officers to ensure that the right thing is done without Compromise. This may have informed why importers with their agents and their Customs Collaborators who aid and abet false declaration, wrong classification of cargoes and concealment are no longer finding it easy to exit their Containers suspected of infraction out of the port.
Those who were said to have made attempts to exit their suspected Containerised cargoes at the West African Container Terminal , WACT, would never forget their experience in a hurry as they were said to have succeeded in forfeiting the cargoes to the Federal government.
Take for instance what had happened between January and March, 2021 as Mohammed the Command Comptroller, who has earned for himself a nickname in maritime circles as’ a non –Compromising officer’ had continued to truncate all the tricks that have been applied by the agents, to exit their cargoes suspected of having Contravened the government Fiscal Policy out of the port. It is on record that between January and March, 2021, importers using the Onne port to take delivery of their Consignment had forfeited 12 Containers over alleged infration to the government.
Mike Ibeatu, Chairman, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs agents , ANLCA, Onne Chapter, who may have been under pressure from members to do something fast to force Comptroller Mohammed and his officers, particular, the Deputy Comptrollers in-charge of the exit gate and the CIU, to give them a soft landing to take delivery of their cargoes that that have cleared with the payment of all the necessary duties and Charges instead of subjecting their Containers to another 100 physical examination on spurious allegations.
The agent withdrawn their services from the port on May 4, 2021, to force Comptroller Mohammed to bow to bow to their pressure to do their biddings. Thy got it wrong. Their plan may have backfired as the agents protest may have forced the PortHarcourt Area II , Onne, Customs Comptroller and his men to go back to the drawing board on how to further tighten security at the port and block areas of revenue leakage.
This may have worked out going with the seizure that was made at the port recently by the Command. The eagle eyed Customs officers at the port and the exit gate were said to have facilitated the seizure of 1,387 cartons of Tramadol, a prohibited Pharmaceutical Product because of its negative influence on the youths who take it. Ifeoma Onuigbo Ojekwu, the Commmand spokesperson had said that the 1,387 cartons of Contraband tramadol tablets were concealed with 1000 cartons of Ceramic tiles.
Given an insider information on the seized cartons of tramadol, Mohammed, the Customs Comptroller disclosed that the contraband cargo was found in a ‘’40’’ Container with Registration No. MRKU0764717 that was identified for thorough search as a result of intelligence gathering from international security network. The seized Container and its content were said to have been transferredto the government warehouse for 100% physical examination.
The PortHarcourt Area II ,Comptroller, may have sent a message to the importers with their agents using the Onne port to take delivery of their cargoes that they will continue’’ to conduct a 100% physical examination on Containers at the Onne port to ensure that the right thing is done whether they approve of it or not .
The Customs Area Comptroller who could not hid his feelings had told the agents that they will not be forced’’ to do anything in a hurry’’ against what is contained in the Customs and Excise Management Act, CEMA, Cap 2004. He was emphatic that ‘’the clearance procedure is well explained in the act, noting that the metculous way the officers conduct the 100% examination which is one of the key aspects of the clearance procedure at the ports in Nigeria’’ had resulted in uncovering of frauds at the port.
Appealing to importers with their agents’ to desist from making unclear or false electronic declarations’’ , the Onne Customs Comptroller pointed out that such fraudulent steps will not guarantee an easy way out for their cargoes as very Container that had arrived the south east port must undergo the mandatory 100% physical examination process after the relevant duties and charges have been paid into the Federation Account.
He noted that if the various security agencies personnel including the Customs officers had carried out surface examination of the ‘’40’’ Container Concealed with the 1,387 cartons of tramadol tablets, there is no way they could have discovered that the same carton that was used to package Ceramic tiles could be used to package tramadol drug. He may have given kudos to the examination officers at the port when he disclosed that ‘’the meticulous way they have always conducted their physical examination of Containers at the port bear eloquent testimony to the fact that there is no hiding place for fraudulent importers with their agents. It is not surprising why they were able to separate between the items used for concealment and the genuine items. This is evident with the Ceramic tiles which was the actual Consignment in the ‘’40’’ that had arrived the port this May which was used to package the prohibited tramadol in order to push it into the Nigerian market.
As a prelude to fishing out the racketeers, the Command was said to have initiated investigations to unravel all those who had masterminded the importation of the Concealed tramadol with the Ceramic tiles into the country, including the importer, agent, who was supposed to take the delivery of the Consignment on o behalf of the importer and their collaborators, both within and outside the Customs Formation.
Already, Comptroller Mohammed has assured those that cares to listen that all those who may indicted in the ongoing probe of the 1,387 cartons of concealed tramadol with ceramic tiles would be prosecuted in a Competent Court of Law while assuring that that the Onne Customs officers under his close watch ‘’will continue to abide by the Law and shun any form of Compromise.
The situation at the Onne port may be different from what is happening at the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, under the close watch of Usman, Yahaya. The Customs Deputy Comptroller and incidentally the acting Comptroller, who has less than three months to be in office and his anti-smuggling Patrol Team officers who are giving the foreign rice smugglers tougher time appear to have shifted their focus to poultry product smugglers in order to protect local poultry farmers which included Olusegun Obasanjo, a one former President, in the south west geopolitical region. Acting Comptroller Yahaya, who is described as an anti-smuggling expert, among his Contemporaries was said to have laid the ground work for Assistant Comptroller Okpabi and other Patrol Team Leaders to operate and achieve result.
They are said to be giving the smugglers a run for their money in the region, thus forcing the foreign rice and poultry products smugglers to cry out like the fraudulent importers with their agents at the Onne port.
The Value News had cited the FOU, Zone A, acting Customs Comptroller on Wednesday, May 19, 2021 and his Departmental Heads at the premises inspecting the two vehicles that loaded with thousands of cartons of poultry products who are being watched closely by Comptroller Mohammed and his men.
He may have taken a cursory look at the cartons of poultry products brought out from the two muddy vehiccles, which was the means of Conveyance, showing that it may have been smuggled into the country through the Ogun Creeks. Many believe that the hundreds of cartons of poultry may have been smuggled from Ogun state into the country because of its too many illegal routes. There indications that the FOU, Zone A, acting Customs Comptroller, may have contacted the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration , NAFDAC, for the destruction of the Contraband Poultry products.
A former Area Comptroller of Ogun I , had confirmed that that there are 100 illegal routes used by smugglers to carry out their nefarious activities in the state. This may have given the outgoing of the FOU, Zone A, Comptroller, who may be promoted on merit over his outstanding achievements and Okpabi, the Commmand , Head of Operations and Lagos Roving, Okpabi, to patronize informants who are always available to provide information on the smugglers, which had severally facilitated thespectacular seizures that had been made by the Command in the recent time.