I will say yes when one considers the number of containers being released daily from the ports. Physical examination is not enough to check all the products in the containers. Once the officers suspect that a container might be loaded with goods that are sub-standard then it can be intercepted anywhere whether on the highway or in a warehouse. The seaport is one area many people have described as a corrupt zone. The reason is that there is hardly any importer that is ready to abide by trade regulations. Most of them are involved in cutting corners by using the customs agents who liaise with resident customs officers to have their way. Most times, the customs officials are handicapped because of the pressure on them to succumb to taking bribe from the importers through their customs agents. The situation is that customs officials, who are benefiting from these corrupt practices have found it difficult to penalise offenders. Even when they do, it is not enough to stop the importers. For instance, when an importer is nabbed for concealment, under-declaration and under-invoicing, it becomes a deal for some customs officials treating his document. The value of the demand notice (DN) that the importer gets depends on how he is able to settle. If his settlement is reasonable, he gets a lower DN. This certainly encourages the same crime again and again. With all these, I feel Customs should continue to intercept goods on the highway to curb sub-standard goods in the country.
Customs officers have no right to seize containers on the highway. What is their function on the highway especially on Coconut Bus Stop Bridge? The bridge leads to the port and it is about two metres away from the port. It is a pity that these are officers the nation expects to go into the bush and creeks to combat smuggling. Rather they are harassing innocent and law-abiding importers and truck drivers on the road thereby killing the trade facilitation programme of the Federal government and causing unnecessary gridlock on the road. This happens in the day time and the Customs leadership is yet to call them to order. If there is a problem with what the truck drivers took from the port to the main road, who do we blame? Who is responsible for the release of cargo from the port? Is it not Customs? Is it because of their own negligence and inefficiency that the rest of us would not be allowed to carry on with our businesses? I know Customs said the Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) was introduced to make cargo clearance easy from the port, but what we are seeing on this road daily is not what we expected from the scheme. We had hoped that since Customs has taken over cargo clearance, the issues of falsified documents, under declaration, over invoicing and other import related problems, would be resolved when the goods are still inside the ports. This is an aspect of trade facilitation the Customs boss must address.
No, they should stop intercepting goods on the highway. There have been several interface that have risen over this issue and it is not good for Customs to release goods at the port and these same officers will also intercept the containers on the road. This does not speak well of the service. It is the function of the service that whatever is done inside the port is in order and I consider the interception of goods on the highway as extortion. I am not in support of it. If Customs wants some officers to check the activities of what is done in the port either the container has been cleared or not, they should find a place closer to the port and stay there and not stopping trucks at every junction or bus stop to check or investigate their goods, thereby causing huge gridlock on the road. Customs officers are not really interested in making money for the government but their own pockets, every move they make when they are clearing your goods is a way of getting you hooked so that you settle them. At the end, they create serious delay. In addition, I will say goods that come from the border can be intercepted on the highway because our borders are porous.
Based on credible intelligence, I would say yes but not by mounting road blocks as they do at Mile 2 and inspecting goods on the highway. This has a lot of implications such as exposing the contents of the container to the public. Who knows who may trail the container thereafter? Creating artificial gridlock to the already existing one, and putting the integrity of the Agency and their officials to disrepute. Their practice is not in line with international best practice of trade facilitation, rather it impedes trade facilitation. Agreed they have made some brilliant interceptions which were based on tip off but stopping every container on the road amounts to encouraging extortions. Their emphasis should be on promoting the ease of doing business in our ports which the Executive Order 001 is all about.