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.
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.