I have not breached any law by passing through ABTL

Customs Area Controller, Apapa Area Command of the Nigeria Customs Service, Comptroller Charles Edike has spoken out for the first time since the incident involving his person and staff of Apapa Bulk Terminal Limited (ABTL). In this interview with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY’S ‘Shulammite Foyeku, the Customs boss described as unjust and unfair the media report (not by SHIPS & PORTS DAILY) which accused him of impunity because he was denied usage of the ABTL terminal as a thoroughfare. He narrates what transpired between him and staff of ABTL saying that he has not breached any law by passing through the terminal.

 

On the invasion of ABTL terminal by Customs officers

Before that day, I have been hearing some reports from other security agencies in the port about the operations of ABTL. They have being asking me about their operations and I keep telling them that those guys are doing nice, that they don’t do any shady things. But by the time I was asked about their operations the second time, I feel there is something some persons have heard that I must see. So I decided to take my time to see what is happening there. So once a while if I’m going home I take there and sometimes I take the ferry to see what’s happening. On that day, I had finished and was going through that place, not just me but with the official vehicle and the flag flying and with the escorts. I got to the gate and all the security men stood aside and were just looking like let us see what he will do. I patiently sat in the car for about 15 minutes waiting for them. No uniform person will tolerate that from any security guards. I quietly sat down there and they were looking with scorn. After about 15 minutes, I came out of the car and asked them, where is your Managing Director? At that point somebody ran from up, came down and opened the gate but before then I have asked them to go and call me the DC Enforcement. I asked for the managing director, they said he has traveled and that the manager security was not around so I asked the DC Enforcement to take the security men to enforcement and let them make statement as to why they would deny the area controller access. So the DC took seven of them to go and make statement and later on, I asked that two of the security guards should be allowed to go back to duty so that they can man their post properly but the others were at enforcement overnight. The next morning as soon as I came we had prepared charge to take them to court because the offence was not against my person but against the laws of this nation. While we were preparing the documentation, the group Managing Director of Flour Mills came in and I told my officers that I would not see him because it wass not about me but the Service and the Comptroller General of Customs but later I asked him in and I read the laws that they had breached. By the time the law was made known to him, he knew they had acted against the law and immediately they sent in a letter of apology.

 

On what the law says

The Customs & Excise Management Act (CEMA) section 12 sub sections 1 and 2 say that any area of arrival or departure of a ship for customs purpose is referred to as a customs ports. So that place is a customs port. Section 158 sub sections 2 says any officer engaged in the enforcement of customs and excise law to patrol freely, over and enter any place in Nigeria. Then CEMA 131 sub section 2 provides that where an officer after having demanded admission into and such premises and declared his name and business at the entrance there of and is not immediately admitted, that officer and any person acting in his aid may break open any door or window of the premises or break any wall thereof for the purpose of obtaining admission. Meaning that the officer is empowered by law to break even any way and enter. Section 11a provides that if any person obstructs, hinders or assault any person duly engaged in the performance of any duty, exercise of any power imposed or conferred on him by Customs Excise law or any person acting on his aid shall be liable to the fine of N1,000 or imprisonment for 2 years or above. That is the penalty for breaching the law.

 

On NIMASA’s letter to ABTL citing violation of the ISPS code

NIMASA’s letter that ABTL was acting upon reads in part that “intelligence available to us indicates that the facility granted thoroughfare to the public in clear distinct bridge of the ISPS code”. The letter says thorough fare to the public. Is a Customs Area Controller seen as a public in that facility? When they that are there are only there on lease and the government can reverse that any time, any moment. A Controller can even walk into the group managing director’s office and seal off that place immediately. Now, with all of these laws provided in the CEMA, what stops a Customs Area Controller from passing through there or entering the port from any points he wants to enter?

Even if there are 10 points in the ports, the CAC can choose to enter through anywhere he chooses to enter or exit from. The NIMASA letter does not preclude the CAC from passing through his command. I am sure that was what the group managing director understood that made him tender an apology letter. Now it was after he had tendered this apology that we told him that they should bring in their lawyer, go to enforcement unit and bail their staff. Because of the apology, I could not prosecute them again. But I asked the GMD to send their company lawyer so that they can bail them properly and we can have a proper record of the document. Thereafter I now put off the matter and made copies to the CGC so that they are aware of it. It was after all of this that we have forgiven them, about three weeks later that we saw the publication. When I read it I was not happy because I knew I have not offended any laws, I knew I was not on rampage. This is unjust, unfair and recklessness on my person.

 

On the alleged bails of money carted away by Customs

Can you say ABTL keeps money in their gate house and that the controller and his officers did cart away the money and that there is impunity in Customs? The publication said the CAC went on rampage. What is rampage? Rampage is done by hoodlums, mad people and people who have no sense of decency and any sense of decorum; these are people that go on rampage not a Controller of Customs.

 

On the next line of action

To sue ABTL to court is not for me to decide but the Comptroller General who would see the legal team and do what he thinks it’s appropriate. I have moved it from my purview to the headquarters. So the legal adviser of the Service will know what they would do about it.

 

On the successes recorded by the command.

The Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) has helped so much in generating revenue, there is no doubt about that. Without PAAR, we cannot be hitting over N30 billion in a month. Before now, this command depended so much on rice but now, we are now making rice revenue secondary. This command has been moving containers to other terminals. No controller has ever done that because everybody thinks of his target. But we are not looking at our target but at the national revenue. There is so much we can do in a day here, so we just push the rest out to other less busy terminals so that they too can collect duty for government. But it must be on request; if they don’t apply we don’t just send containers out.   

 

On the Service foundational training for licensed customs agents

The ANLCA training is solely a headquarters arrangement but when we had the training in Apapa, we wrote to both ANLCA and NAGAFF that they should give us the list of their officials that have valid running license because those are the ones we can relate with. I cannot deal with somebody that does not have a customs license or whose license is not current and they (NAGAFF) said why are we asking for valid license? It was only ANLCA that gave prove of their valid licenses and so they were trained. NAGAFF said they are freight forwarders but I said so long that they are clearing, the training is meant for people that are licensed customs agent so if you are a freight forwarder you must have a customs license but NAGAFF felt why are we asking them for license and we know why they are saying so.



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