By Malachy Onummadu
Amidst the dwindling economy and the proliferation of substandard products in Nigeria, the Importers Association of Nigeria(IMAN), has accused the Standards Organization of Nigeria(SON) of aiding the importation of substandard products as well as encouraging economic sabotage. This allegation was contained in a statement issued by the National Coordinator of IMAN, Obinna Michael.
In the said statement, Mr. Obinna stated that through an intelligent report, an Indian company was indicted of concealing some electronic products such as electric irons, stabilizers as well as rechargeable fans.
He alleged that the company, Qlink never paid the import duties of those concealed items as they were hidden in the cartons of the items that were paid at the port. The IMAN Special Taskforce in the company of some police officers went to the company to demand their bill of lading and SON certified documents which the Indian company could not provide.
Consequently, in a swift action, the Police impounded the containers and took some of the electronic gadgets as exhibits. In a couple of days, the Indian company came with four officials of SON led by one Engr. Ikechukwu Anyanwu who exonerated the company and told the Police that the goods of the company were duly certified as meeting up with the required standards and that the import duties were duly paid.
The Indian owner of the company also alleged that the company gives Ikechukwu Anyanwu and the members of his team N300,000 every month. This allegation has not been verified as every effort made to get Ms. Angela, the SON public relations consultant on phone was abortive. She picked but would not call back as promised. She is known for evading calls, however.
In a brief interview with Mr. Obinna, he told MMS Plus that the IMAN is an association of Importers registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) with the registration number RC 24880. The said IMAN has a constitution of 27 articles which guides and guards the activities of the members. According to him, IMAN collaborates with the different government regulatory agencies in the areas of intelligence gathering and sharing of information in the fight against importation of substandard products, illicit drugs, arms and ammunition as well as economic sabotage.
His words, “IMAN is an association of importers and not a government regulatory agency saddled with the responsibility of collaborating with government regulatory agencies such as SON, the Nigeria Customs Service, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency(NDLEA) and others to curb the importation of substandard products, illicit drugs, arms and ammunition, etc into Nigeria”.
IMAN as a non- governmental association lacks the power to impound any product deemed to be of substandard quality or prosecute any firm indicted of any import offence.
“We don’t have powers to impound any container, close down any company or prosecute anybody who commits an offence in this regard. Ours is to get the information, go the company with the Police and hand the erring company to the relevant government regulatory agency. If it is drug related we hand over to NAFDAC and if it is on the issue of standards, we hand them over to SON, “he added.
Upon further interrogation with regards to instances where erring companies had been indicted in the past by IMAN, Mr. Obinna stated that in the last two years, the association had indicted several companies who either imported substandard products or concealed products in containers to avert the payment of importation duties. He said, “In the last two years, the association has indicted more than four companies involved in different offences. One of them is the Kamange international Ltd which stuffed four tyres in big tyres so that they won’t pay the import duties of the concealed tyres and the small tyres are of substandard quality. They were intercepted and handed over to SON under Enebe. Another is a warehouse at Abule-Ado and Ido in Leventies compound. They concealed some products in the container and didn’t pay the import duties. Also, IMAN and the Inspector General of Police(IGP) monitoring team intercepted a one by forty feet container stuffed with tyres which are of substandard quality. All these products and companies were handed over to SON for proper investigation and prosecution”.
Meanwhile, MMS Plus investigations have revealed that IMAN and IG monitoring team have been severally accused of blackmail and extortionist tendencies by importers and freight forwarders. MMS Plus had reported cases where importers were compelled to cough out between N50,000 and N150,000 on account of alleged economic sabotage which does not see the light of the day as soon as the victims yields to their blackmail.
They raid offices and factories demanding “import licence” especially from foreigners who in their innocence can hardly relate bill of lading with a contrived import licence, a document last used under President Shehu Shagari.
They added dynamism in their operation, when they listed over one hundred companies across different sectors alleging they were economic saboteurs and subsequently commenced raid on them seizing some containers in the process and demanding money, which was neither import nor any penalty for their concocted economic sabotage. Many companies like Max tyre and majorly freight forwarding firms were allegedly complying in turns to either delist their names or recover their seized containers.
Their office is said to be a one-stop office for all government agencies at the port. But no agency authorized any payment, beside they don’t accept bank transfer or transaction. Every payment must be done in cash at their preferred location of agreement.
Ironically, this same SON, the IMAN and IG monitoring team claimed they collaborated with to raid a Chinese firm, Karmange International at Leventis and Abule-Ado and sealed the premises for over one month when the company refused to budge is the one IMAN has turned around to accuse of settlement by an Indian firm.
Our reporter on an undercover operation had asked IMAN and its collaborators to mention companies they had prosecuted for economic sabotage, but for almost two years now, they have not presented any. Moreover, findings have revealed that in the last two years, except for this Indian firm, only Karmange International has called their bluff for a while as an instrument of negotiation at the Festac Area E Police Command.
The activities of IMAN and their Police accomplice has increasingly become so unsightly that the former IGP had to issue a statement against their connivance to intercept released containers on transit from the ports and goods already delivered to warehouses. This was at the behest of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission(ICPC) spurred by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council(NSC).
The question remains: What power has the police and IMAN to assume the powers of others statutory agencies at the port and even seize container or its content, even to the point of demanding import licence in ignorance? If they were conferred with the powers, common sense and the operation dictate that they should know it is called Bill of Lading.
However, SON officials, especially those at the Apapa monitoring and compliance office, have been fingered in numerous illegal deals. It is time now to help the Director General, Farouk Salim and the new Director, Public Relations, Ms. Foluso Bolaji reposition the agency.