Apapa gridlock: Customs revenue may further decline in second quarter

As major commands of the Nigeria Customs Service situated in Apapa battle to recover the shortfall recorded in the first quarter of the year -which the Customs management attributed to the uncertainties that surrounded the just concluded general elections and changes in the exchange rate – the chaotic traffic gridlock in Apapa, home of the two biggest seaports in Nigeria which in the last three weeks has taken another dimension, may further impact negatively on the revenue generation of the commands, reports Shulammite Olowofoyeku.

The port city of Apapa has become synonymous with traffic gridlock. The influx of petroleum tankers along the Oshodi/Apapa expressway and the Ijora axis to load petroleum products has further worsened the traffic situation in the area and its environs. This is even as more tankers head for Lagos.

The situation in the past three weeks has become a cause for worry and concern not only to residents and workers but also to government agencies as it is threatening maritime and other business activities in the area and its environs.

One of the government agencies is the Nigeria Customs Service whose revenue has been on a downward spiral since the beginning of the year and, it is expected to slide further in the coming months if drastic measures are not taken to address the gridlock.

Statistics released by the various commands showed that none of the commands was able to meet their revenue target in the first quarter due to the low volume of imports in the period.

Controller, Apapa Area Command, Comptroller Charles Edike who confirmed the development said there was a reduction in the number of vessels that called at the Lagos Port Complex in the first quarter of 2015 compared to 2014; a development which he said had adversely affected the command’s revenue collection. The command collected N74.67 billion in the first quarter as against the N111 billion it’s expected to generate going by its monthly target of N37billion.

The second revenue earner for the Service, the Tin Can Island Port Command also recorded a shortfall of N61.7 billion in the first quarter as against the N84billion it was expected to generate going by its monthly revenue target of N28billion.

Public Relations Officer, of the command, Chris Osunkwo expressed fear that the gridlock may soon take a serious toll on the command’s revenue if not addressed.

He said the command would have generated more revenue if not for the traffic gridlock which he said has also added to the cost of doing business at the port.

“A transporter who should have taken N30, 000 to carry your 1/20 foot container to Ladipo will now tell you N100, 000 because he knows he will be on the road for the next four days. The traffic situation is affecting man-hour. Even the agents that will come and do the job are not coming forth; the importers are also scared of coming to Apapa”

“With all the complaints, hope is not coming from anywhere and nobody is saying anything about it. It is just a hopeless situation and it is very annoying. Only if something is done about the traffic situation in Apapa can we say confidently that things will be better because it is killing our businesses,” he said.

On his part, spokesman of the ApapaArea Command, Emmanuel Ekpa said the gridlock has negatively impacted on the revenue generation of the command as most of the agents cannot come over to make declarations.

He said the command’s revenue last month declined from a monthly collection of N30billion to N20 billion.

“Until the agents come down to customs after making their declaration, nothing comes in as revenue for us. The number of declarations has been very low because even if an importer hands over the bill of lading to an agent to clear, with this kind of traffic situation, the agent may refuse to come over. So if he does not make declaration, there is no way we will generate revenue,” he said.

Also speaking, Public Relations Officer, Lilypond Command, Charles Agumuo said although the command is faced with the challenge of containers not being transferred to the command, the traffic has further compounded the problem because of the command’s location.

“The command is located opposite the Ijora Bridge and for someone to get to the command you have to climb the bridge except you are coming from the boundary where the tankers have virtually taken over,” he said.

Concerned over the shortfall recorded in the first quarter, the Comptroller General, Dikko Inde Abdullahi  had last month visited some of the commands in Lagos where he charged the officers to ensure they generate maximum revenue to make up for the revenue loss in the period.

“I have gone through my commands and informed them that we have to recover the shortfall we had in the past weeks because of the general elections and make sure that we meet our target and I am sure we will meet up,” he said.

While the expectations of the Customs bossfrom his officers may be high, this is certainly not the best of times for the officers to make up for the shortfall recorded in the first quarter.

There seems to be no respite in sight from the Apapa gridlock. Importers and agents are reeling in agony as they can hardly access the ports for the examination of their consignments.

Similarly, the Customs officers who are to perform the examinations are often not on ground as they are also trapped in traffic for several hours leading to loss of man-hour and delays in the examination process. This, no doubt affects the revenue accruable from such cargo to Customs.

The gridlock has not only affected Customs but also the terminal operators and other port operators who on a daily basis are counting their loses. The government, security operatives and all concerned authorities should therefore as a matter of urgency save the port city of Apapa, the gateway to the nation’s economy from this total mess.

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