Customs sets to punish Nigerite over alleged N2bn cocaine importation 

ndlea - customs

There are indications that building materials giant, Nigerite may lose its fast track cargo release privileges granted by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) following the discovery of 214.732kg of cocaine of cocaine stuffed in the company’s consignments.

The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) confirmed that a powdery material contained in eight bags concealed in a container with number CMAU045195/022G1 imported by Nigerite at the Tin-Can Island port in Lagos recently to be cocaine with street value of over N2 billion.

Nigerite has however denied culpability in the smuggling of the hard drug.

A Customs source told SHIPS & PORTS DAILY that the NCS and NDLEA have intensified investigations into determining the source of the drug, hinting that if found culpable, Nigerite may lose its fast tract privilege it enjoys with the Customs.

The source said, “The NDLEA is still conducting investigation. Customs is also investigating at the headquarters level, but the NDLEA will be the agency to determine who actually did what. It will determine whether the people are actually culpable, accomplice or not.

“With the particular issue we have at hand, the investigation is still ongoing. Once the investigation reveals that you are completely culpable, there will be sanctions and we are making the sanctions very punitive so that others can learn from it.”

According to the customs source, the essence of fast track is for trade facilitation which is a major element in international the trade process. He stressed that the Nigeria Customs Service is trying to compel the beneficiaries to actually live up to their names by upholding their integrity and embracing transparency.

“Once we discover any infraction or any abuse, certainly that beneficiary stands the risk of the privilege being reviewed by the service. We don’t expect that anybody will abuse that concept because everything about customs operation is about trade facilitation, integrity and transparency are key elements. I’m sure that the Customs management will not leave any stone unturned in sanctioning any beneficiary whose conduct is deemed inimical to that concept,” the source said.

The Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Hameed Ali in August 2016 warned that companies could lose their fast track privileges after it discovered heinous breaches of the scheme offered some companies and institutions, which it said was forcing it to stop the fast track window for benefitting importers.

Companies, agencies and institutions in Nigeria could lose about N13.44 billion to port storage charges annually if the Customs stops the fast tract window.

The fast track window, called Blue Lane in Customs parlance allows importers to carry their cargoes from the ports to their warehouses where Customs processes such as examination and payment of duties are carried out instead of doing so in the ports.

According to Customs sources, a little above 40,000 containers and other cargoes are cleared under the fast track window.

Ali said 16 containers of new tyres were in August this year, fraudulently declared as paper boards and machine parts by companies and institutions offered the fast track window.

The containers which were supposed to exit the port without examination, according to Ali, were stopped upon discovery through intelligence that the importer made a wrong declaration deliberately to evade payment of complete duty for the importation.

According to the Customs boss, the discovery yielded a total of N116.28 million to the Customs revenue, noting that the trend had affected the integrity of the beneficiaries and would cause the Customs to consider effecting 100 per cent physical examination at the seaport.

Tyres imported into Nigeria attract a total duty and levy rates of 70 per cent, while paper board and machine parts attracts a duty rate of about five per cent without levy.

He said, “Out of 26 containers by the same importer, we have seized 16 but 10 have miraculously moved out of the port. This issue is being investigated and all those involved when discovered will not be handled with kid gloves.

“False declaration by fast track beneficiaries is a breach of trust. This privilege was granted for easy clearing of their raw materials and save them from the burden of paying heavy demurrage.

“When we grant certain reprieve to some of our stakeholders and they abuse it ,we will have no choice than to subject imports to hundred percent examination. We know it will cause delay and increase in the cost of doing business.”

But the Customs source at Tin Can Port said it is not common to see cases of abuse of the fast track window, except for a few cases, which are now being investigated.