There was pandemonium yesterday at the premises of a shipping firm, CMA CGM in Apapa, Lagos, when the company’s staff resisted attempts by Police officers from Zone 2, Onikan, who had visited the premises to take away files belonging, which allegedly contained confidential information of consignees.
The protest by the workers was the climax of long period of bottled up anger against the Police whom they alleged had extorted money from the company for over two years.
One of the protesting staff who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the police, “which do not have direct business at the port”, have continually harassed the company forcing its clients to cough out various sums of money “for no reason”.
Narrating events that led to the protest, he said, “There is Maritime Police, these are the people that have the right to write a letter to shipping companies asking them not to release a particular container. But different Police divisions like Alagbon, Area B Apapa and even Ikeja have been the ones coming to extort money from the company.
“There is something we call amendment. A shipper has the right to request change of description of goods in the manifest. In that case an amendment is effected at the port of loading. Here we don’t decide amendment.
“When the shipper makes such request, for us to protect our own side here, the receiver will also write us officially using what we call letter of indemnity format. This has been the procedure.
“After writing, we cannot amend the manifest, what we do is to put up a letter and a sheet of the concerned document for the Customs to approve, the same Customs will conduct examination.
“But police will pick container numbers at random, or they buy manifest from people that sell to them and start picking, looking for big names in the manifest and now start writing to them that their consignment has problems. They will write the shipping company to put a stop and to tell the container owner to come and see them. They have never for once gone to the shipside or the port to re-examine that container. When the owner pays them they will write us to say release.
“There is a particular issue now; the name of the consignee is Padobra. Padobra also runs a bonded terminal. He made an amendment. I think that amendment is from soap to something, I can’t remember now.
“The Customs approved the amendment and carried out the examination themselves. We have other agencies in the port; the container was released to them. What we do here is documentary release, we don’t do physical release. That container was released to Padobra. For that particular consignment, the police from Alagbon wrote to us querying the release. We went, proved ourselves that we followed the normal procedure of amendment and the matter was settled.
“Before that could hardly settle, another from Ikeja sent for us on the same container, we went there and defended ourselves; another one came again on the same matter. They kept on coming to pick our staff. Today, they arrest the releasing manager we go and bail him; tomorrow the airport manager, on the same container.
“This has been lingering for more than two years. They are using it to extort money from the shipping company and then we wonder why don’t they go after the consignee, or the importer himself but we understand the importer is well connected.
“This got to a level that we said we cannot take it anymore, that we are going to court. They were served summons but they did not appear in court. What they did was that on the Friday preceding the Monday we were supposed to be in court, they came to arrest some of our members, which we protested and before we came out, they left.
“Last Monday we went to court; they now invited our people that they want to settle out of court. On getting to their office, they accompanied our members back to our office that they want to search our office.
“We gave them a go ahead but instead they came and carried two of our files, containing original documents of consignees because they want to use it to pick more names of consignees and now start writing to them to come and see them. It was then that we began to protest.
“We said no, we have been losing customers because of this because some of the customers think we are conniving with the police to extort them.
“That is why we said that the earlier we exposed this misdeed the better, so the world will know what has been going on.”
Copyright 2017 Ships & Ports Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit given to www.shipsandports.com.ng as the source.