National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu, has described the Tin-Can Island Port Command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) as “the most unfriendly customs command in the federation.”
Reacting to complaints by agents operating at the Tin-Can Island Port Complex (TCIPC) of alleged extortion and intimidation by personnel of the command, Shittu told SHIPS & PORTS DAILY: “Our attention has been drawn to the incessant complaints of operational difficulties at Tin-Can Island Port Command. It is an issue that has to be urgently tackled, because Tin-Can Customs Command has become the most unfriendly customs command in the federation today. Officers come late to work … officers continue to take advantage of those operational difficulties in extorting money from agents. Example is the multiple alerts system, which, I understand, the CAC (Customs Area Controller has tackled, but that is one out of many. What about releases, what about CIU (Customs Intelligence Unit)? And then many of our agents also seize advantage of the situation in colluding with Customs officers to shortchange the system that is why cases of underpayment and additional DN (Debit Note) is more rampant in Tin-Can than elsewhere. So, something has to be quickly done.”
The ANLCA boss urged the Comptroller-General of Customs Dikko Inde Abdulahhi to split the Tin-Can Island Port Customs Command, as presently constituted, into two, noting that the TCIPC has too many terminals for the Customs clearance procedures to be supervised by only one Area Controller.
Shittu stated: “We’ve suggested to the CG that creating a new command out of Tin-Can by splitting it will allow for effective supervision. If Lilypond can be a command, KLT (Kirikiri Lighter Terminal) can be a command, why can’t Tin-Can, that has numerous terminals, be split into two? The Area Controller can’t take his table to all the terminals. As soon as he turns his back, he is on his own!”
He further said: “Part of the solution we are seeing is diversion of cargo. Because of the opportunity we have of going to international fora, we are going to let people know that Tin-Can is unfriendly, while Apapa (Lagos Port Complex) is underutilised because of low volume of cargo going there. Tin-Can continues to receive patronage, not because the terminal operators are more efficient than APM Terminal. But for whatever reasons, more cargoes go to Tin-Can now than they go to Apapa. So, if the CG wants to solve this problem, the best thing is to split the command and hold the CACs responsible.”
In a related development, clearing agents operating at the TCIPC have threatened to divert patronage to the LPC over what they complained as the inhuman treatment being meted out to them by certain Customs personnel there.
“Their extortion and intimidation is too much for us to bear! They don’t deserve our patronage! I have started advising my importer to use vessels with berthing right at Apapa instead of Tin-Can. That way I can have peace of mind,” one of the agents told SHIPS & PORTS DAILY.
Comparing the benefits of working at the two ports, most of these agents posited that there are more incentives clearing their cargo through the LPC than the TCIPC.
Meanwhile, the CAC, Tin-Can Island Port Command, Comptroller Tajudeen Olanrewaju, has directed that on no account should any consignment processed for clearance through the command receive more than a single alert from the Customs Headquarters, Abuja.
Olanrewaju was reacting to complaints by clearing agents operating at the TCIPC over alleged incidences of receiving multiple alerts on any particular consignment.
He explained that the System Audit Alert form is only a measure put in place by the Service to check fraudulent agents who are in the habit of giving false declaration.
“We have different duty rate for every consignment, but an agent will, for example, bring in aluminum metal which has a higher duty rate of 20 per cent and say it is aluminum roofing sheet, which pays at five per cent. So, it is the System Audit Alert form that will be sent to the Releasing Officer to be on the lookout for such consignment that has been falsely declared,” the CAC said.
The Customs Public Relations Officer of the command, Deputy Superintendent of Customs Chris Osunkwo, quoted the CAC as saying that any officer who issue alerts without his consent will be prosecuted. The Tin-Can CAC has given assurance that he is going to address complaints of extortion and high- handedness leveled against officers of the command.
Olanrewaju told SHIPS & PORTS DAILY last Friday in his that such complaints and allegations will be discussed in an open forum where concerned parties will state their respective positions. In his words” I am not going to defend anybody here but I know we have a long way to go. We on our part we see to it that we do everything possible that we can to address these complaints.”
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