In the last few years, several attempts to sanitize the Tin Can Island Port, the second busiest seaport in Nigeria after Apapa ports due to its porous nature have been unsuccessful.
Regardless of the insecurity situation in the country, the human traffic at the Tin Can Island port has been so overwhelming, that it could be best described as nothing but a market square.
Coming to the port for clearance purpose has become a night mare for genuine customs agents as persons with no business at the ports have made the ports environment their haven. This is even as registered agents have to contend with the hostility and intimidation of customs operatives at the port.
The agents once threatened to divert patronage to the Lagos Port Complex over what they complained as the inhuman treatment meted out on them by certain customs personnel.
National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu, once described the Tin-Can Island Port Command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) as “the most unfriendly customs command in the federation.
In his words “Our attention has been drawn to the incessant complaints of operational difficulties at Tin-Can Island Port Command. It is an issue that has to be urgently tackled, because Tin-Can Customs Command has become the most unfriendly customs command in the federation today”.
Some stakeholders who spoke with Ships & Ports acknowledged that security remains a major challenge at Tin Can port but accused Customs officers of contributing to the huge crowd as they often time employ camp boys in the clearing process under the guise of errand boys.
It is against this backdrop that the Comptroller General of Customs Alhaji Dikko Abdulahi recently ordered that the Tin Can Island Port be raided by his officers in partnership with the police.
Prior to the raid which led to the arrest of no fewer than 88 persons, several raids usually spearheaded by personnel of the Nigeria Customs Service and other security operatives have been carried out but in no time the crowd returns as there is no structure in place to ensure effective access control.
Customs Area Controller, Comptroller Tajudeen Olanrewaju appearing to be a no nonsense man was seen scrutinizing every persons including customs agents trying to gain access into the command for close to an hour.
While fielding question from journalist at a recent stakeholders meeting held at the command penultimate Tuesday, Olanrewaju had noted that lack of a sustainable system by previous controllers have been responsible for the inability to check access control.
Olanrewaju assured that the command under his watch will commence another raid of loiters to check the uncontrolled human traffic at the port even as he affirmed that customs agents with a means of identification but does not have genuine customs document or a genuine reason to be inside the port at the time will be affected by the raid.
“We are trying to put a sustainable system that will address the problem of insecurity. Once we have that process put in place in collaboration with the police it will lead to many raid as possible and we are going to be arresting people”
He added“Customs agents and agencies that have their staff here should take note of this because anybody that will find in this environment that is not supposed to be here is to his own risk. We have also arranged with the court where they will face hearing for unlawful loitering at the port” Olanrewaju warned.
A source close to Ships & Ports confirmed that Olanrewaju was profiled from the Customs Intelligent Unit (CIU) from the Customs headquarter to find a lasting solution not only to the huge human traffic but illegal release of contraband at the port.
The question thus arises: How well will he be able to decongest the ports off unwanted element, a situation, many say is responsible for the security threat at the ports?
How well will he be able to sustain the raid and restore sanity which his predecessors were allegedly unable to achieve?
Will his desire to sanitize the port not amount to scaring away registered genuine agents that will contribute to increase revenue for the customs management?
While the raid is commendable, the customs boss is however advised to tread cautiously in his approach of personally scrutinizing every persons visiting the command which I feel is too pedestrian and unrealistic so that genuine importers and agents are not be affected.
Customs personnel are public servants; hence there is need for the officers especially the junior officers to be tutored and enlightened on human relations.
Creating a synergy among government security agencies with support from the leadership of the major freight forwarding associations will go a long way in putting up a formidable and sustainable structure in place to ensure effective access control.
If this is done, there is no doubt that the reformation agenda of the Customs Comptroller General among which are moral rebirth to enhance discipline and integrity, collaboration and partnership with other stakeholders and international organizations and fostering mutual understanding between the general public and the Service will be achieved.