By Stephen Ubanna
Between September 2020 and now, the unusual importers with their Clearing agents at the Onne port, Rivers state, have been much concerned about the increasing Customs monthly revenue generation which had revealed the high level of smuggling Container loads of cargoes out of the port and evasion of duties. The fraudulent activities of the importers with their agents at the port had resulted in the loss of billions of naira revenue over the years by the government as the parties smile to bank.
Comptroller Auwal Mohammed, who was said to have known much about the activities at the Onne port over the years and who was deployed to the the PrtHarcourt Area II, Command, as the Area Controller last September, was said to have mobilised his officers and men at the terminals and the exit gate to enhance the monthly revenue generation of the Command.
He was said to have put in place robust security and policy mechanisms put in place which Mahmood Ibrahim, a Deputy Comptroller and Head of the Onne port exit gate, described in Customs circles as ‘’Mr. Compliant’’, and his Committed and diligent officers and men had cashed on it to meticulously scrutinize all documents of the mporters’ trucks laden Containers at the exit the gate to ensure that the right thingwas done.
The Asian country of China emerged coronavirus, popular COVID 19, may have forced Comptroller Mohammed, and Deputy Comptroller Ibrahim, overseeing the Onne port exit gate to go back to the drawing board to come up with new layers of checks that would further curb areas of revenue leakages at the port.
This appears to have paid off, going by the increasing monthly revenue generation of the Command over the last six months which has said to have won the heart of Hammed Ali, a retired army Colonel and Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs, NCS, led his Management Team, that Deputy Comptroller Ibrahim, the Officer overseeing the Onne port exit gate was said to have been recommended for elevation to the next rank of Comptroller in appreciation of his outstanding contribution to the increased revenue generation of the PortHarcourt Area II, Command, which have never happened in the history of the Command over the last 37 years.
Although , the Command had generated N13.11 billion, in September, 2020, being Comptroller Mohammed first month in office, which was said to have sent a signal to the importers with their agents that the era of Collaborating with officers and other security agencies personnel at the port to smuggle Containers load of prohibited cargoes and evade payment of duties was over.
A Statement by Mrs. Ijeoma Onuigbo Ojukwu, the PortHarcourt Area, II, Command, spokesperson shows that in the month of June alon alone, the Command had generated N14.55 billion, which had surpassed the September 2020 figure of N13.11, described as the highest revenue to have ever been collected by the Command since it was established.
Given an insider information of the activities of the Command between January and June, 2021, an elated Comptroller Mohammed had said that the Command generated the sum of N78.17 billion, which he said was a 67.52% increase compared to the N46.66 billion collected for the government within the period last year.
The Onne Customs boss, who could not hide his feelings had said that ‘’the feat was achieved through the usual strict enforcement of governmnt Fiscal policies, uncompromising implementation of government directives and diligent trade Facilitation measures and other strategies among others that had been put place by the new Management over the last nine months.
Indeed, many see the month of June , for the Onne port based importers and agents as a very trying period for those who had contravened the government fiscal policy through wrong Classification of their goods, false declaration, Concealment and underpayment had found their Containers turned back at the exit gate and taken to the Enforcement Unit, where the Head of the Unit, in turn had taken it to the Government Warehouse for detention or outright seizure.
Informed sources told The Magazine that some of the agents once they take delivery of their clients’ Containers load of cargoes at the West African Container Terminal, WCT, their heart start beating once they approach the exit gate for fear that Deputy Comptroller Ibrahim and his boys might find fault with their document and detain it until the unpaid duties including penalties are paid.
The meticulous check of cargoes at the exit gate in Collaboration with the officers at the Command Enforcement unit, was said to have resulted in the seizures of 18 Containers loaded with different goods ranging from the Asian countries of India and China manufacture Tramadol drugs and Foreign tiles which were said to have been loaded into hundreds of cartons. The 1,387 cartons of the seized tramadol, alone was said to be worth N3.7 billion was said to have been Concealed in 1,000 cartons of Foreign tiles in a Container intercepted at the exit gate in the month of May, 2021 which was a big boost to Deputy Comptroller Ibrahim records at the Onne port exit gate as a diligent and committed officer.
The Command was said to have also seized two units of fairly used Mitsubishi buses,210 bales of second hand clothing, 4,029 used tyres, 16 units of used engine gear box and auto spare parts including 310 pallets of laser ketup,124 cartons of tapendol, 956 Jerry cans of Foreign processed Vegetable Oil of 25 litres each, 750 cartons of super gold candle, , 2,970 cartons of Foreign soap, 39 cartons of wine and 89 bales of fabrics. Also seized by the Command during the period under review were 500 cartons of Medicaments.
Inspite of the fact that the Command may not have shared any border with any neigbouring West African country like Republic of Benin by sea or Niger by Land, except the Central African countries of Cameroon and Democratic Republic of Congo, by sea, the Command had seized 2,721 bags of Foreign par boiled rice of 50Kg each. The seizure of the Foreign par boiled bags of rice have fueled the speculations making the rounds that the transit foreign rice importers the Autonomous port of Benin and Bollore port in Benin Republic as well as the Duoala port of Cameroon, now smuggle foreign par boiled rice into the country in Containers from the neighbouring Benin and Cameroon as the Interventionist units Comprising of the Federal Operations Units, FOU, Border Drills and the Comptroller General of Customs , CGC, Strike Force , have become too hard for them on Land to carry out their nefarious trade.
The good news was that five suspects were arrested by the Command in connection with the seized items, and are at various states of investigations and prosecution in Courts. Appealing to the importers with their agent ‘’to imbibe the culture of true and proper declaration, Comptroller Mohammed , opined that it is the only to avoid facing any harassment or losing their cargoes to government as his men at the exit gate and the anti-smuggling officers are equal to the task .
There is no gain saying the fact that the Command had recovered about N8.3 billion, lost revenue which could have entered into private account through the eagle eyes of Deputy Comptroller Ibrahim, who is in-charge of the Onne port exit gate and his officers and men during the six months under review of its operations.
In a related development, the following Agricultural export cargoes such as sesame seeds, ginger, cocoa beans, hibiscus, fluorite ore, lead ore, palm kernel shell, cotton, aluminum, ingot , among other items, worth NESS, value of about N260.15 million , as the total tonnage of the said export was said to have stood at 331,356.39 tonnes with a Free On Board, FOB, of about $14million.
The export figure through the Onne port, according to informed sources could have been much more than the 331,356.39 tonnes and what was recorded at the Onne port and the Lagos ports of Apapa and Tin can Island, during the first half of the year but for the rejection of the Nigerian exports by other countries, particular, in Europe and Asia.
Geofrey Onyeama, minister of Foreign Affairs was said to have opened up on the problem being faced by the Nigerian exporters at a recent meeting in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, with Olusegun Awolowo, ground Child of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Executive Director of the Nigerian Export Prmotion Council, NEPC.
The minister, who could not hide his feelings had said that ‘’the quality of products,especially Agricultural products, do not meet the export standards of many countries’’, urging the NEPC boss, to do something about it. He had said that Nigeria has a Comparative and unique advantage against other African countries that its Agricultural products for export ought to be physically present in over 100 countries in the world’’.
He noted that ‘’ there are a number of countries around the world that are not as blessed with the natural resources that the country have but yet , through trade, have transformed their societies and hav become major economic powers’’. This may have informed why he had said that ‘’the government will focus on strengthening economic diplomacy in ensuring Nigeria benefits from countries it has formal relationships with’’.
It is not surprising why Awolowo, NEPC, helmsman, had expressed his optimism that with the renewed government’s efforts to support the Nigerian exporters,’’ the agency’s hope of realizing the sum of $30billion from non-oil eports in 2025, would be achieved’’.