Moves to Rid Ports of Touts Begin

17 Feb 2013

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Customs Comptroller General, Inde Dikko Abdullahi

Operatives of the  Federal Operations Unit (FOU) of the  Customs Service  and the Police last week invaded the Tin Can Island seaport where about 100 agents described  as touts were arrested.  While the Customs Service claims that this was done to enthrone sanity in the port,  the two major  customs agents associations  in the ports are divided over the clampdown, reports Francis Ugwoke

The much awaited  policy to rid the ports of touts has begun. But  contrary to expectations, the move to ensure that only registered  customs agents use the ports is being spearheaded by the Nigeria Customs Service  (NCS) and the Nigeria Police as against the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), as the regulatory agency responsible for the professional conduct of agents at the ports.  Already, the  raid last week  which  led to the arrest of  many  suspected touts at the ports  has brought  sharp division between  members of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) and National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF). While the leadership of  ANLCA welcomes the  clampdown on  suspected touts at the ports, NAGAFF is bitter about the exercise on the grounds that the measure  affected many innocent  freight forwarders.

The Raid….
The Federal Operations Unit(FOU), Zone A, of the Customs  had  on Wednesday, February 6,    invaded the Tin Can Island  Port  arresting as many as 88  people suspected to be  touts.  Incidentally, those arrested  included genuine agents who  on presenting their  identity cards were  released. The  raid  was targeted at the  general premises of the  Tin Can Customs that had served as meeting points of most agents  and proxies of customs officers operating in the  area. Those milling around the various  joints at the Tin Can Port, including the  popular Any Man Canteen and Second Gate of the Port were arrested.  The  Controller of the Federal Operations Unit, Mr Dan Ugo,  in a statement after the raid  explained that  the exercise was  based  on intelligence  report  at the disposal of the Comptroller-General of the Customs, Mr Inde  Dikko Abdullahi. He  said that  some misguided elements  were disrupting  operations at the ports, adding that the move was to ensure  “total annihiliation of these miscreants’. The onslaught  against the agents  included  a team of  Police Officers. Ugo  said that  the agents who  pretended to be genuine agents  were actually involved  in ’unwholseome’  acts  which most  times affect the capacity  of the service to ensure maximum revenue collection of  the  federal government. He said that the action was to ensure the  enthronement of sanity in areas considered to be  of very strategic relevance to the federal government in terms of revenue generation. “We had on good authority that some of them are involved in falsification of clearing  documents and other heinous crimes’, the statement said. In a swift reaction, the  Customs has  charged  12  of the suspects to court,  while  those who  tendered  genuine documents of identifications were released.  

Notorious Tin Can…
Although, there are other ports in Lagos, the customs raid was only targeted  at Tin Can Island port, apparently for its notoriety  in trade crime.  It was not the first time the Customs was raiding the port. Last year, it had carried out a similar raid . Then,  an agent had assaulted a customs woman which led to  a fight. So many agents  were  arrested, and it took the  intervention of the leadership of ANLCA for them to be released. ANLCA    had engaged the services of Mr Festus Keyamo to free the agents.  Tin Can Island port is one port in Nigeria that many people say anything goes. This may not be unconnected with  the  nature of the seaport. It  has a special Roll-on-Roll-off (RORO)  operations  for vehicles of  all  types.  Most of the vehicles, including both new and Tokunbo vehicles  pass through the seaport.  Although there  is a ban placed  on importation of vehicles above the manufacture age of  cars above  15 years,  but  these  vehicles find their way through the seaport  and cleared  by the Customs.  It is a seaport that is  friendly to  customs agents that are new  into the profession.  Many  describe the  seaport as a training ground for  agents.  Even with  efforts by the management of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to rid the port of touts over the years, this has not been possible.

The seaport  has provision for agents and sub-agents. Many agents who  don’t have strength to  pursue their  documents simply contract it to other agents.  That is why  many  agents  stay around  waiting for  jobs to come.  The port is also a  market place  for those who want to buy goods stuffed inside vehicles that have been cleared.  So, some traders go to the port to buy  fairly used items, including electronics  and  second hand clothes. But the crime in the port is not limited to customs  agents, it also involves some customs officers.  Many customs officers from the seaport have been punished  for various trade  malpractices. Some of the boys around Tin Can also work for officers of the Customs.  A source said that these people are not arrested because they get prior information  before any raid is effected.

The raid  on the touts last week  brought to the fore the differences between ANLCA and  NAGAFF. The two have always been opposed to each other, except when they all  teamed up against CRFFN  to oppose the sharing formula in the proposed customs agents practising fee to be collected from all containers being cleared at the ports.
This has been the case since NAGAFF was  founded by Dr Boniface Aniebonam  about 13 years ago. NAGAFF was founded  in opposition to ANLCA when Aniebonam  was at loggerhead with the  former President,  Alhaji Sani Kamba.  While the current  President of ANLCA, Shittu welcomes the raid  by the Customs,  NAGAFF    from all indications is opposed to it.  Shittu told THISDAY, “the port is under siege. It is not customs siege. Some people who don’t have business are there to create nuisance  value. It is not so even in Cotonou.”, he said.  He said that  those who don’t have business at the ports should remain in  the office. Condemning loitering at the ports, he  said that the Customs should make efforts to raid the ports of those who have no business being there.  He recalled that his association had last year  engaged Lagos lawyer, Festus  Keyamo to  secure the    release of those arrested by the customs and police. He called on  those arrested  to  call on the companies they represent to bail  them instead of looking on to ANLCA. Besides, he said that all genuine ANLCA members  are supposed to have biometric ID cards, adding that those arrested    are supposed to present  them  to be released.

However, Deputy President of NAGAFF, Barr Fred Akokhia spoke  against the  raid. He condemned the manner of the raid, arguing that some innocent  agents  were arrested. He said,  “As a lawyer, I was almost arrested. Are we in a Banana Republic? Even when people showed identity cards, they were arrested. Customs should rethink.. who are the  touts? They are the camp boys  working as proxies for  some customs officers”. He added  that  the  matter is being taken up at the appropriate  quarters to stop the harassment on  agents  at the ports.

CRFFN Supports  Raid
As the  regulator for  the freight forwarders, the  CRFFN  said that it is in support of the raid on the  touts at the ports.  Registrar of the Council, Sir Mike Jukwe, told THISDAY  on phone that  the agency having extended  the registration rights to all practising  agents  supports  every effort to ensure that  touts are not allowed to operate at the ports.  He said that the Council stands for sanity  at the ports.  Noting that the Customs has done what it  planned to do as a way of sanitising the ports, he said  his Council will work with the  security agents  to ensure that only genuine and registered agents operate  at the ports.

Tags: Business, Nigeria, Featured, Touts

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