Licensed clearing agents have decried the proliferation of Customs units at Lagos ports, alleging that they are being used for extortion and encumber clearance of goods.
The embittered agents also warned that their patience was running out over what they claimed was the mindless extortions they are being subjected to. They allegd that the multiple Customs units do not just complicate and elongate the clearing process, but have also added to the cost of doing business at the ports.
Speaking on the issue, the Vice-President, Western Zone of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Tanko Ibrahim, revealed that apart from the resident Customs officers and Federal Operations Unit (FOU), the Customs authority has created what it called Strike Force team and Customs Police.
“We have never witnessed what is happening now in customs clearing process. Apart from the traditional resident Customs officers and the FOU, which are involved in cargo clearing process, there are other units newly created by Customs hierarchy to muddle up cargo clearance procedures.
“They are CG strike force and Customs Police. All these units are doing the same thing. They all want to be part of cargo clearing process. When your goods have been cleared by the resident Customs officers at the ports, these other units, which are alien to the cargo clearance procedures, will delay your goods through issuance of indiscriminate alerts and inordinate engagement in arrest of containers. This frustrates quick clearance of goods, make nonsense of ease of doing business initiative of the Federal Government and add to the cost of transactions.”
Reacting to concerns raised by the agents, authorities of the Customs Service said any freight forwarder who does not have anything to hide should not be agitated over the new structure.
According to Public Relations Officer of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Joseph Attah, it was not within the jurisdiction of any freight forwarder to question the structure in the Customs or how Customs should do its duty.
He also explained that the strike force team is not involved in cargo clearing process but to act on information to impound containers that are enmeshed in infractions in clearance procedures, adding that the Customs Police is a new creation meant to instil discipline in the service.
“The Customs Police is just like military police. It was created to restore discipline within the service. They can invite, arrest and detain Customs officers based on any disciplinary breach.
“They do not interfere in clearance procedures but unless there is a reported case and need for their intervention in a case that involves agents and customs officers. Their primary duty is to restore discipline in the service,” he insisted.
He also insisted that the strike force is known to Customs operations and whoever states otherwise is being mischievous.
“The authority created three layers of security to check abuses of clearing process and plug revenue leakages. The first layer is the resident Customs, the second layer is the FOU while the strike force is the third layer.
“If you beat one, you can’t beat the others. There is no way you can beat all the three layers,” Attah declared.
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