*Strike Force to be overhauled
*Amaechi convenes maritime agencies’ CEOs meeting ahead of NTC bill passage
Rattled by the damning report of convoluted corruption in Nigeria Customs Service(NCS)which went viral last week in the media, the Comptroller General(CG),Col. Hameed Ali(rtd) summoned all Customs Area Controllers(CACs) to Abuja, last week.
While reviewing the report, the CG warned all the CACs to be cautious with cargo release and exiting, promising to overhaul the operations of the Strike Force and the Federal Operations Units(FOUs) which intercept and seize cargo at will if not settled.
The League of Maritime Editors had last week in their quarterly assessment of the maritime industry revealed some layers of corruption among officers and men of customs in cargo delivery process which undermines the government policy on Ease of Doing Business.
Following the report however which was received with glee in some customs quarters, containers and other general cargo termed non-compliant cargo have been seized by the customs authority.
A source disclosed to MMS Plus that “You people landed importers into trouble. Customs have just seized many containers. This man here has five containers seized over concealment or wrong declaration”.
Some customs officers who were not happy that the membership of the Strike Force headed by Brigadier-General Buhari, Principal Staff Officer(PSO)of the CG is from a particular geo-political zone of the country were excited about the report, while the leadership of the FOUs, especially that of FOU Zone A, Ikeja, Lagos has informed their agent syndicates to be more careful in receiving the container settlement, MMS Plus gathered.
Also, journalists on routine professional visits are now being subjected to extra-scrutiny and psychological torture at the entry and exit gates of the FOU Zone A Ikeja, Lagos over the report, it was learnt.
However, reacting to the claim by the national Public Relations Officer(PRO) of the NCS, Deputy Comptroller(DC) Joseph Attah in some media platforms that the Service cannot act or punish an officer over mere allegation of corruption, the President of the League of Maritime Editors, Mr. Kingsley Anaroke wondered what other evidence the Customs Service or an investigation panel needs to take action where the cargo releasing officers at the terminal are at their duty posts every day untouched while the importer and clearing agent are made to bear the brunt of the officers’ compromise and economic sabotage.
He further asked:” How many Customs officers have been punished or arrested or dismissed since Ali assumed duty over duty or professional compromise at duty post? This is simply deliberate . We should not have an officer release and exit cargo after the joint agencies examination and clearance and have the same container intercepted on the highway by the strike force or FOU elements on the claim that there was a tip-off on duty compromise, concealment or contraband.
“Ideally, if we must question the integrity of the importer’s claim of cargo on transit, the integrity of the releasing officers and the agencies involved in the examination and exiting must be questioned too,” Anaroke argues.
“Again, Customs Service should not always complain about non-compliance by importers and do nothing about it. How much do they spend on import process and compliance training every year? Do they have a budget for this training and what is the percentage of the result over time? Enough of this blame game. We have also discovered that some Customs officials in their greed to make money advise importers to under declare the value of consignment or conceal some and when this happens and the officer is redeployed before the cargo arrives Nigeria it become a problem if the redeployed officer is not able to cover his or her tracks. Section 46 and 49 of the Customs Act capture these oddity as a breach but the Customs officers know this and yet engage in them. How many have been punished for this? “
Meanwhile, worried by the apparent lack of synergy among the government parastatals under the Federal Ministry of Transportation, the Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi convened a meeting of all the heads of Parastatals under his ministry on Friday, in Lagos. This was said to be the most fruitful of such meetings.
Details of the meeting which took place at the head office of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council(NSC) Apapa, was not made public, but a source said it was a move to harmonise the position of the ministry on some policies for greater efficiency.
Recall that some heads of parastatals and the minister had worked in conflicting direction in the past over some issues, one being at a public hearing at the National Assembly over the National Transport Commission(NTC) Bill.
Also, despite Amaechi’s support for the NTC to be assented to by President Muhommadu Buhari before the end of this legislative session, some heads of parastatals have been frustrating the efforts using the President’s super aides in the presidency.
While the NTC Bill was last week finally transmitted to the President for his assent, recall that the both chambers of the National Assembly had harmonized the differences and settled for NSC as the new NTC.
In attendance at the meeting were, the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA), Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman, Executive Secretary of NSC, Barr. Hassan Bello,Managing Director of National Inland Waterways Authority(NIWA), Sen. Olorunnimbe Mamora, Director General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency(NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside, among others.