Cargo clearance: Fraudsters jostle for Customs Comptroller General’s attention

There are indications that conmen and fraudsters that held sway at the ports during the time of Dikko Inde Abdulahi may be trying to find their way back to the Customs seat of power if their plans to get the attention the new Customs boss succeeds.

Investigation shows that when Dikko was the Comptroller-General of Customs, there were individual non-Customs officers who exercised so much power because they had his ears.

A prominent freight forwarder who pleaded anonymity told SHIPS & PORTS DAILY, “I cannot say now whether these people worked for Dikko but they were very powerful individuals. They lived larger than any importer or Customs official and people were afraid of them.

“I don’t know how they do it but once you have reasonable consignments to clear at the port, you automatically become one of their targets. They would approach you nicely at first to tell you how much you will give to them to ensure your cargo undergo speedy clearance.

“Let us say you have cargo worth N100million to clear, they will ask you to give them N10million. If you dare them, you will just discover that your consignment will sleep at the port for as long as you are unwillingly to play ball,” he said.

An importer who simply described himself as U.C told SHIPS AND PORTS DAILY that the former Customs Comptroller-General had a way of accommodating most of those characters but noted that they had so much influence on cargo clearance.

“The maritime industry here is indeed a mixed bag. Unlike in most countries of the world, it is an industry where those who do little or no work, live bigger than those who work day and night. I was once a victim of their con game.

“We had about 150 containers to clear but this was not during the time of Dikko. In fact, Obasanjo was the President of the country then. This man; most clearing agents knew him came and told us that the containers will not be cleared except we gave him ten percent worth of the consignment. At first I thought he was joking and called his bluff. He threatened and called the CGC and also called the CAC (Customs Area Controller) at the Customs command telling him that if he gets the consignment cleared, that he would lose his job.

“It was like a joke but it became real. Every effort I made to get in touch with the Customs headquarters proved abortive. Nobody could help me. That consignment stayed for a long time before I succumbed and by then there was a lot of demurrage to pay. It was so painful but you know that’s a sad commentary on how not to run a transparent economy,” he said.

SHIPS & PORTS DAILY discovered that these characters who drive expensive cars and live expensive lifestyles have transited from one Comptroller General of Customs to another. What is rather not clear is how they convince each CGC to use their services. From research, they use different strategies. The freight forwarder said that what helps them most is that importers themselves are not truthful because they bring in goods and make false declarations.

He said, “So what these men do is that they look out for those kinds of people. When they get them they tell them point blank that they know they made false declaration and if they refuse to play ball they will have their consignments seized; and to tell you the truth they ask for so much money and if you are a victim, you don’t have a choice than to do their bidding or you lose your cargo to auctioning.”

Checks reveal that the persons behind this scam and extortion are so powerful that they are feared even by Custom officials who are in charge of releasing cargo.

SHIPS & PORTS DAILY discovered a particular strategy they adopt to fleece Customs Deputy Comptrollers who are in charge of exit gates at the port.

“Immediately any DC (Deputy Comptroller) is posted to the gate, they will show up one afternoon at the DC’s office and ask him to send everybody out because they have something important to discuss with him.

“Of course the DC will be curious and will ask everybody to excuse him. They will tell him “look, we know what is going on here and we don’t want to put you into trouble. Your CGC is aware we are here. Our money every Friday is N500, 000 or N1, 000,000 and we will come here and collect it. If you like to retain your job and position, don’t toy with us”. Most DCs comply with them because they also are not straight,” the freight forwarder said.

SHIPS & PORTS DAILY investigation reveals that these shady conmen are making frantic efforts to get closer to the new current Customs Comptroller-General, Hameed Ali, and whether they would succeed depends on “their ability to play the ball”, says the importer.

When SHIPS & PORTS DAILY threw the question to some Custom officials on duty, they dismissed it with a wave of hand as untrue but one of them later said in confidence that the story is true but does not believe Ali will have time for such conmen.

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