There may be an imminent disruption of activities at the Lagos ports as angry freight forwarders operating in the Western Zone of the ports have issued a 72- hour ultimatum to the federal government to call the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col Hameed Ali (rtd), to order and address the multiplication of Customs task forces at the ports.
The customs agents threatened that if the situation is not reversed by Monday, the freight forwarders in the western zone will withdraw their services.
At a joint press briefing held in Apapa Thursday, various associations which included the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA); National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) and National Council of Managing Directors of Licenced Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), lamented that the Customs boss had allegedly deployed a team from Abuja to checkmate activities of the various commands.
The freight forwarders identified 10 various units of customs constituting bottlenecks inside the port; some of them, they disclosed to journalists include CG Strike force, compliance team, Federal Operations Unit Monitoring, Special Force, CG task force, information team, customs police, among others.
The agents added that the latest development which spiked tension in the port was the recent deployment of a special team from Abuja to inspect third party cargoes at the port.
Speaking at the meeting, Tin Can chapter Chairman of ANLCA, Prince Segun Oduntan, said the CG committee was sent to Apapa port last week Thursday under the guise of inspecting some third party containers.
He however said the team has taken over the job of resident customs officers.
Oduntan claimed that cargoes are now being detained inside the ports while agents are made to pay exorbitant demurrage to terminal operators, stressing that 24 -hour cargo clearance is now a mirage as a result of this anomaly.
Also speaking, Western Zone Coordinator of NAGAFF, Alhaji Tanko Ibrahim, said agents have complained to the Customs area comptrollers who appeared powerless, and subsequently directed the operators to channel their complaints to the CG in Abuja.
Tanko alleged that “last week, we saw officers from Abuja who said they were sent to the terminals to inspect some third party containers. But since then, they have remained permanent inside the port.
“They now randomly select ‘C’ numbers of containers and after cargoes have been released, they would ask you to reposition it for examination, and we are made to pay for re-examination.”
On his part, Chairman of Tin Can chapter of NAGAFF, Azubuike Ekweozor, lamented the activities of shipping companies and terminal operators in addition to the excesses of Customs.
He complained that vessels coming into Nigeria to discharge containers were supposed to return with the same number of empty containers, but rather than obey this law, the vessels carry export to other countries.
In the same vein, the Apapa chapter Chairman of NAGAFF, Ndubuisi Uzoegbo, urged the Customs CG to build trust in his officers on the field.
He stated that freight forwarders should be carried along by the Customs whenever they make policies affecting their operations.
Uzoegbo, said: “Many containers have been abandoned in Apapa because of high tariffs and demurrage from shipping companies and terminal operators, most offices in Apapa today are empty, and shipping companies have forced many of our colleagues back to the village.
“Vice President Yemi Osinbajo should come over and address all these issues; he is the one in charge of Ease of Doing Business. When Okonjo Iweala was there as the coordinating minister, she came to the port on physical inspection and she addressed us.”