No fewer than 500 containers laden with various cargoes are currently stranded at the Lagos ports following a directive by the Senate Committee on Customs to shipping companies to stop their release on allegations of trade infractions, SHIPS & PORTS has learnt.
In a letter titled “Identification of Malpractices, Wrong Classification/Financial Leakages in the Import Value Chain” sent by the Chairman, Francis Alimikhena to one of the major container carriers doing business in Nigeria, the committee directed that none of the identified containers be released until the importers secure its approval that appropriate import duty has been paid.
Attached to the letter dated October 12, a copy of which was sighted by SHIPS & PORTS, are bills of lading of about 500 containers due for clearance at the port.
The committee also attached the phone number of its clerk and directed shipping companies to advise owners of the affected containers to contact the clerk at the National Assembly to get approval to take delivery of their containers.
The letter reads in part, “Pursuant to the Rules of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria mandating the Committee to carry out legislative oversight into the operations of the Nigeria Customs Service with a view to identifying the financial leakages, irregularities/malpractices in the entire import and export value chain.
“In the course of the assignment, the committee discovers the attached list of containers including bill of lading numbers, containers numbers on the vessels mentioned and shipped by your shipping company has committed infractions based on wrongful declarations in order to evade proper duty payment leading to revenue loss to the Federal Government.
The committee the containers on the forwarded list should not be released “until proper duties are paid”.
Industry stakeholders who reacted to the development, however, bemoaned the involvement of the lawmakers in cargo clearance without recourse to the Nigeria Customs Service.
An importer, Sunday Orija, who said he once had his cargo trapped at the port on the directive of the committee, accused the senators of hiding under the guise of oversight function to extort importers.
According to him, it is an incursion for the Senate committee to request for manifests of ships through which container numbers and other information are procured under the guise of performing oversight functions without the involvement of Customs and the Federal Ministry of Finance.
He said, “The incessant issuance of letter of stoppage of cargo from being examined and delivered out of the port by the Senate Committee on Customs is an outright usurpation of the responsibilities of Customs.
“What we know is check and balance between the legislature and the executive. But for any system to work, the legislature should know as at when they commence their work of oversight function by way of checks and balances so that they don’t just unnecessarily create a monster in the system.”