Customs: Why The Headquarters Strike Force Are Involved In Examination Of Cargoes At The Seaports

By Stephen Ubanna

Agents clamouring for the Abdullahi Dahiru Kirawa, a Deputy Comptroller, led Head quarters Strike Force, to be removed from the seaports  by Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, to forestall their involvement in the examination of cargoes  would be disappointed .

 This is because  the Kirawa team, are the only Headquarters  group  allowed to operate inside and outside the seaport by the Customs Authorities. Officers and men of the Federal Operations Unit, FOU,Zone A, Ikeja, and Zone C, Owerri, Imo state, could only come into  the port for an operation on a special invitation or directive  from the Headquarters. Take for instance, the invitation that was  extended to the Command last year  when about 40  Containers   of ”40′ each loaded with Tramadol, a banned Pharmaceutical product ‘ was discharged at the premier port, Apapa. The Customs Authorities may have involved  the FOU, Zone  A, Command  to move into the port to sort out the Containers. 

At the instance of Mohammed Aliyu, the Area Comptroller, the operation was said to have been led by Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs and Head of the Command Operations and Lagos Roving Team. For almost one week the team members  were at the port  to carrying out the special assignment without  noise.  Other members of the Team were said to have been  placed at strategic locations between Oshodi and Apapa port leading to the interception of  one of the ”40” Container load of Tramadol which was transferred to the Command premises for examination.

 Ali may have known that agents could easily penetrate the ranks of officers  at the  seaport to take delivery of Containers which had contravened the government fiscal  policy that he had allowed the strike Force members  to also be on the road.

Maritime watchers believe that if the Customs personnel  at the seaports were doing their work as it ought to be done  there would not have been any need for the strike Force personnel to be on the road to complement the efforts of the FOU  personnel. Many believe that  the Customs Comptroller General, took a wise decision to have established the Strike Force to operate both inside and outside the port to checkmate the activities of fraudulent importers and agents.

IInvestigation by The Value News shows that over the last one year,  the adhoc team , had seized many Containers at  Apapa and Tincan Island  ports in Lagos as well Port Harcourt Area 1 and Onne port, in Port Harcourt , Rivers state

. Insiders informed the Magazine that  the Strike Force , may be making much impact both inside and outside the seaport   despite the  gang up of the resident Customs officers and the agents. The Customs Headquarters  Information Patrol team, another adhoc tea,, was said to have been providing credible information to the team to operate bot within and outside the  port which had facilitated the seizure of many  suspected Containers. The Team , on its own was said to engaged other sources of getting information on what is happening  at the port, which  had put many importers with their agents introuble.  

Suspected Containers which could not be picked inside the port were said to have been  intercepted on the road and transferred to the government warehouse.  The seizure of such Containers which had contravened the government fiscal policy is more noticeable in  Lagos , where Salisu Shuaibu, an Assistant Comptroller , in-charge of the Strike Force, Lagos Zonal Command, are giving a good account of being on the road.  Take for instance a recent seizure of a ”40” load of new Jeans material declared as use Auto spare parts released from the seaport which fell into the waiting hands of the team.  Jeans is not a banned  material but  the agent may have facilitated the ranks of the examination, releasing, Customs Intelligence Unit, CIU, releasing and gatekeepers to take delivery of the item.

The question on the lips of most people was why such suspected cargoes could be released from the port when the Strike  Force personnel  were also  involved in the  examination of  such cargoes at the port?. A police source at the port  who spoke To  The Value News  disclosed that  most of these  suspected Containers that fell into the waiting hands of the Strike Force at the port and on the road , may have been released  without their knowledge. He  confirmed that the Unit alone has recovered millions of naira  which had entered into private pockets through issuance of Demand Notice to importers with their agents caught in the act of shortchanging  the government through transfer of Values for the government, thus, following the footsteps of the various FOU’S across the country, particular FOU, Zone A and Zone C.

Deputy Compt. Abdullahi Kirawa: National Coordinator, HSF.

According to him,  members of   the Strike Force  may  not  be  perfect but their presence at the seaports and on the road , have brought some level  of sanity  in the clearing proces at the port. He stressed  that the  Customs personnel at the terminals and the Bonded warehouses including the  fraudulent importers  are the ones who are   pushing the agents  to use their contacts at the  Customs Headquarters, Abuja, to fight  for the removal of the Strike Force personnel  at the seaports and on the road.  There grouse was that they are frustrating trade facilitation but  analysts  believe  they have something to hide. It was gathered that agents settle between N50,000.00 and N150,000.00 on each Container examined by  officers at the port depending on the port. The HSF ,  members of the examination team , it was gathered were not always carried along as they are kept in the dark to avoid exposing the dirty deals . It is not surprising why the Strike Force personnel  join the FOU personnel to lay ambush for them on the road.

  The  police source gave kudos to  the Tin can Island Compliant Unit headed  by Mahmood Ibrahim, an Assistant Comptroller,  which had forced many  importers with their agents who are used to doing bad jobs in the past to turn a new leaf  in order to be included on the list of those  benefitting  from the Customs Fast Track policy to avoid delay of their Containers at the port   as such Containerised cargoes  are taken to the importer’s warehouse  where it would be examined by Customs officers and othe security agencies deployed to do so..

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