Eromosele Abiodun

Few weeks after importers and manufacturers of chemical substances in the country accused the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) of abuse of End User Certificate, clearing agents have raised the alarm over slow evacuation of cargoes from Apapa port, due to the activities of customs officers.

Specifically, customs agents told THISDAY that the Apapa customs command was impeding trade facilitation at the port with the series of bottlenecks it created, which hamper ease of doing business and cargo clearance.

For instance, an agent operating at the Apapa seaport, Tony Anakebe, told THISDAY that aside the customs officers statutorily empowered to clear cargoes, another set of ad-hoc officers are also stationed, whose duplication delay already cleared cargoes at the Apapa port.

According to him, “there is a new taskforce called CG taskforce that was posted to Apapa Port, which creates duplication of duties. The presence of the taskforce is gradually slowing the process of cargo clearance and making doing business difficult in Apapa port.

“The Customs CG should put an end to duplication of customs units in the port because they are creating complications in Apapa. It is worrisome that customs management cannot trust its officers, especially at the command level. We have one CG taskforce stationed at warehouse and another inside the port.”

The clearing agent also alleged that the taskforce had increased the cost of clearing cargo at the port as agents are forced to reposition already examined cargoes.

He said: “The taskforce must clear you before the clearing agents would go and release the goods from the resident officer. The taskforce must go for physical examination with the resident officer after which, they will write report on the examination, and if they are not satisfied with the result, the taskforce will ask the agent to re-position the container for a second examination.

“This involves payment of an additional N60,000 to the terminal operator to re-position the container for examination. My company was supposed to take delivery of consignments since last week Thursday but we have not been able to till date, and the importer will be paying demurrage for no just reason.

“After these encumbrances, another customs unit will hold the cargo on the road, claiming to be Abuja taskforce. It encourages corruption in the system and makes doing business difficult for importers.”

In the same vein, another clearing agent, Pius Nwani, said the cost of clearing cargoes at the Apapa Port has increased due to the activities of customs officers.

He wondered why a unit of the same service would stop an already cleared cargo in the seaport by a resident officer and order a re-examination.

He said the multiple layers of customs officers at the seaport has clogged the ease of doing business at the Apapa Port and slowed down cargo clearance.

“The ease of doing business at the port has been defeated at Apapa Port because we now have multiple layers of customs units clearing cargoes at the port – from resident officers to Customs CG taskforce,” he lamented. “This will not facilitate trade but increase cost and time of doing business at the port.”

Reacting to the allegations, the Command Public Relations Officer, Nkiru Nwala, said the development was tactical to ensure trade compliance and check indiscipline among officers and agents.
According to Nwala, “customs has levels of checks and control, all aimed at ensuring compliance from stakeholders and instilling discipline and professionalism among officers. It is expected that if there is high level of suspicion of infraction in any cargo clearance at the command level, the FOU and/or the strike force takes charge, hence no escape route for unpatriotic importers and their cohorts.

“Often times, and for purposes of making seizures with arrests of suspects, based on intelligence gathering and utilisation, a cargo can be released from the ports and followed through till real importers and their agents are apprehended. This strategy is applied more for prohibited and controlled items.”