The Comptroller General of Customs, Hammed Ali has accused shipping firms of being responsible for the importation of illegal arms imports and other illicit items into the country.
Ali, who stated this at a stakeholders’ meeting organized by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) with shipping companies, terminal operators, shippers and other stakeholders in Lagos on Tuesday, said the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) discovered that foreign ships heading to Nigeria change their manifests mid-way into their voyage to conceal the nature of the some of their cargoes.
Ali disclosed that the documents of the recently intercepted pump action rifles imported from Turkey indicated the original content of the containers but was changed when the ship got to Morocco.
He said, “Shipping lines are responsible for shipping illicit items to Nigeria and I say this with all sense of responsibility because what we discovered in the case of arms is that in the last two, when we went to Turkey, we discovered that they were documented as hunting rifles.
“So, the exit certificate from Turkey indicates the actual content because to them, they did not know that the pump action rifles are on the restricted list in Nigeria because we have not transmitted our own prohibited list to them, they did not see it as offensive to our own law so they did not contact us before allowing them export it.
“But the importers of these weapons knowing that it is prohibited in Nigeria, when they got to Morocco, they changed the manifest to now read something else and concealed the riffles with sanitary wares.”
Ali who queried why shipping lines would feign ignorance of content of containers being conveyed warned that the NCS would henceforth begin enforcement of the law which empowers it to seize and prosecute any shipping line that defaulted.
According to him, shipping agents know the content of the goods they are carrying especially in these days of technology when scanners are all over the places. No shipping line will accept to carry any container on board its ship without knowing exactly what is in the container.
“The law gives us the power where a shipping line brings in goods and it was discovered that it is contrary to our laws, the law that we execute gives us the power to delay it and if we found it guilty, we seize the ship. We have made it clear to the shipping liners that we will begin to enforce that law because we believe that ‘Said to be Contain’ is not attainable anywhere but in Nigeria.
“How can you bring in containers onboard your ship without knowing the content of the container? The issue of ignorance regarding content of the containers does not arise and it won’t be accepted by authorities in Nigeria anymore.
“We have been very liberal and at the same time we cannot forsake the security of our own nation by being liberal. We will apply the law as it is being applied globally. When we get any infractions we will apply the law to its fullest,” he said.
Ali said the Nigeria Customs Service and its Turkish counterpart have concluded plans to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Customs Mutual Agreement. This, he said, would enable the Service transmit all information with regards to export from Turkey to Nigeria and the import prohibition list to deal with changing of manifest by shipping lines.
Executive Secretary, NSC, Hassan Bello assured the Customs boss of the council’s support and collaboration to address the issue of illegal arms imports into the country.
He said, “We have to collaborate with customs because smuggling hurts all over including the shipping companies, terminal operators and government revenue so we have to come together with other stakeholders to tackle this problem.”