Customs: No Hiding Place For Fraudlent Importers And Their Customs Collaborators

By Stephen Ubanna

Barely three weeks ago that Bonniface Anniebonam, Founder, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, raised alarm  over  the  high level of frauds going at the ports, citing  false Declaration and underpayment  by Importers   in order to shortchange the government.

Anniebonnam had   enjoined  importers to  ensure they make the  correct declaration of their imports to  avoid losing their cargoes to government.   The NAGAFF Founder  had said  that the situation  has become very  worrisome as these had forced anti-smuggling  officers and Men of the Federal Operations Unit,  FOUs, across the country, particular,  Zones A and C, personnel, to beam their searchlight on cargoes  released from the  seaports.

 In the case of the Lagos axis, the FOU, Zone A, Operations and Lagos Roving Team,  Headed by Riks Lura , a  Chief Superintendent of Customs, and his men who  are stationed at strategic locations  between Mile 2 and Berger  fly over, Apapa, and other parts of the port environment  here truck laden Containers pass were said to have   several suspected Containers  which were transferred to the Command premises  detained a.

Kayode Olusemire: Comptroller, FOU, Zone C

 Until proper physical examinations are conducted on the suspected Containers   to ensure that   what was declared  on the Importer’s bill of laden and the parking list provided are  what is actually loaded into the Container that could have warranted the duty  slammed on the Container and  its Content  by the Customs  Valuation Department at the sea port, no action may be taken on it  .

 Suspected Importers   who were said to have contravened the government fiscal policy were said to have been issued Demand Notice and other Charges, running into millions  of naira while the unlucky ones have had their goods forfeited to government.

Insiders informed The Value news  that what is happening at FOU Zone A, ikeja, Lagos, south west Nigeria, where Usman Yahaya, a Deputy Comptroller and the Command  acting Comptroller, is calling the shot may not different from what Kayode Olusemire, the Comptroller, FOU, Zone C, Owerri, Imo state  and his men are doing in the south east  which also extends to Delta and Edo states, where the Command had regularly in the last one year   Confiscated Consignment that had  contravened the government Fiscal Policy.    

Recall that the NAGAFF  founder had said  that the large   quantities of impounded Containers with their Contents including other Trucks loaded with different   Cargoes detained in  or seized and dumped  at the Government ware house, Benin,  Edo  state,  premises over  alleged trade Crimes: false declaration and underpayment  , bear eloquent testimony to the rot at the ports.

 The Magazine  findings  shows  that some of thetruck laden Containers and other Trucks   and exotic vehicles,  which had had  fallen into the waiting hands of  Comptroller  Olusesemire’s Operation officers   at the Edo axis of the Lagos-Benin Express way were cargoes alleged to have been   released either  from the Lagos ports of Apapa  or Tin can Island being taken to the  south east by the Importer’s Agent.

 Investigation shows that there have been instances, where the FOU, Zone C, Area Comptroller, hadreached out to his Counterparts in the  papa and Tin can Island Commands to discuss   over  some  of the intercepted  Containers   containing prohibited items found on the importer’s Container  released  from the ports where their officers carry out cargo  physical  examinations and of cargoes and make  the  final release but nothing appears to have changed .

This may have forced the Customs Comptroller and his Operational Team to change tactics in dealing with  the  fraudulent Importers with their Agents who take delivery of such questionable  cargoes at the port, believed to be  with the active connivance of their Customs Collaborators, who are mostly  the releasing g officers within the rank of Assistant Comptrollers .

Only recently,   the Command  Operational Team personnel  stationed along   the Port Harcourt –Aba, Express way, intercepted  a  Truck  with    5,040 carto loaded  with over 5,000 cartons of  red grape fruit, believed to have beent rans-loaded into the Truck from a ‘’40’’  Container and  a ‘’20’’ Container loaded  with  143 bales  of fabrics with each bale containing ,1,200 dozens of garments smuggled into the state. The items were said to have been transferred to the Command operational base at Owerri.

 There are indications that the Consignments  may have been released  either from the Onne,  Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone  or Port Harcourt Area 1 port , but the Importer’s Agent   and the  drivers were unlucky  to encounter Comptroller Olusemire’s  men on the road  who  may have acted on credible Information to be on the location at the right time to impound  the items  and transfer it to the Command premises at Owerri. 

 Giving an insider information, the  FOU, Zone C, Owerri, Customs boss, disclosed that the importer of the impounded items  was  guilty of  false declaration, an offence that Contravenes the government fiscal policy.

According to him, the Importer’s Pre-Arrival Assessment  Report, PAAR, of one of the    imported Containerised  cargo  indicated  that it was loaded  with    Industrial Salt and Agricultural  Pressure Sprayer  but on examination, it was found to be carrying  red grape fruit and garments.

 He noted that the importer of the seized  cargo may   have felt at the back of his mind  that it will pay him better to make the   false declaration in order to  make underpayment that  will  favour  him. It was a costly trade mistake.

 Going by the Customs and Excise Management Act, ECMA, Cap 2004,   garments attracts  20 percent duty   while  that of agricultural  pressure sprayer   import duty is five percent.  Perhaps, the Importer may have resorted to make false declaration , in order   to evade the payment of the 7.5 percent   Federal  Inland Revenue  Services, FIRS, Value Added Tax, VAT, which most importers consider to be on the high side.

Appealing to importers to desist  from making  false declaration and ensure they do the right thing, Olusemire has  warned that his  anti-smuggling officers  on the road   will not hesitate to impound  items found to have Contravened government fiscal policy    which  will  be forfeited to government. The Customs Comptroller  may have  sent a signal to  the  importer of the cargoes  that were recently  intercepted  along the portharcourt-Aba  Expressway by his men   that it will be forfeited to the   government ,  described as a’’ big loss’’ by business analysts.

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