Freight Forwarders Charge Ali To Hit the Ground Running

Freight Forwarders Charge Ali To Hit the Ground RunningAs the days count under the dispensation of the new Customs’ boss and expectations from the former Army Colonel by industry stakeholders remain high, freight forwarders in the country, under the aegis of the Concerned Accredited Freight Forwarding Associations (CAFFA), have charge the Comptroller-General to hit the ground running, even as they expressed disappointment over what it termed, ‘the slow starting of the new Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (retd.)’.

It will be recalled that the appointment of Hameed Ali to head the Customs by President Muhammadu Buhari, did not go down well with a cross section of stakeholders and industry experts, who saw the appointment as ‘fixing a square peg in a round hole,’ and thus kicked against it. The stakeholders later came to terms with the  reality on ground, and pledged to work with the new CGC, hoping that the man (Ali), being a retired Colonel, would be up to the task of addressing the wrongs in the industry. That hope, however, appeared to have been dashed, as the freight forwarders believe that Col. Ali’s pace on the job is disappointing.

This was the thrust of a release signed by the four main bodies that made up CAFFA; the National Presidents of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Eugene Nweke, the National Council of Managing Director of Licensed Customs agents (NCMDLCA), HRH Festus Ejiofor, the National Association of Air Freight Forwarders And Consolidators (NAFFAC), Chief Thomas Agubamah and the National President of the Association of Registered Freight Forwarders of Nigeria (AREFFN), Dr. Frank Ukor.

According to the statement, Col. Ali was expected by now, being over a month since his appointment, to have started conferring with the stakeholders with a view to obtaining first hand information of the industry.  Rather, his stance and body language in shunning stakeholders is reminiscent of a ‘one-man-show’, which would not augur well for the industry.

The Forwarders implored the CG to hit the ground running if he was serious about maintaining the tempo of the anti corruption crusade of President Buhari, as the impression at the ports at the moment is that he (Ali) appears reluctant to carry out his assigned duty especially wearing Customs uniform after 20 years of civilian life.

Part of the statement read: “If Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd.) continues to confer only with officers it may be risky to the mandate of Mr. President and anti corruption crusade.” It noted that the rate of corruption has increased because of uncertainty.

At present, the body opined with dismay that corrupt practices within the Customs were on the rise as officers are desperately grabbing whatever they could lay their hands on, pending any eventuality like possible disengagement from the Service.

“The instances of alert application from unauthorized units of APM’s desk, valuation, CIU, enforcement and others have continued in a regrettable proportion.  The instance of frivolous and unsubstantiated demand notes from the valuation unit has become unbearable including the extortion therein,” it said.

The Freight Forwarders, who had been looking forward to being saved from the inexplicable extortion in the ports under the present CGC, are getting disillusioned with unfolding developments within the ports. The expectation has been that by now the CGC would have visited the ports and other strategic border locations with a view to conferring with the stakeholders.

They therefore reiterated that they were fed up with the status quo, and henceforth would refrain from allowing themselves to be pushed about by unscrupulous Customs Officers, insisting that it was vital that officers within the Service who have been in the seaports by recycling their postings for the past 10 years must have to leave the

“We must clearly state that we are tired of giving bribes in our profession.  The option is to do the right thing now with a view to supporting the crusade of change in Nigeria. Importers/exporters/manufacturers must be seen to do the right thing at the moment, and together we should build a greater Nigerian,” they said.

In the same vein, the agents emphasized the urgent need for the Customs to bridge the gap between the cost of clearing goods at the seaports, airports and border stations, because at the end of the day, the importers and agents all compete in the same market.

Presenting a clear objective to Hameed Ali, the Statement continues, “The interest of stakeholders is to the extent that the CGC shall ameliorate the level of extortion, over valuation of imports and the impunity of officers to act to the contrary on Customs laws and regulations. The CGC warning, with regard to non compliance to import regulations on matters of concealment, false declaration and untrue declaration in general has created a huge panic in the Customs operations.

“The implication of the warning from Abuja without visiting the operational areas and recourse to issuance of demand notices over such infractions has created opportunity for the highest level of extortion in the ports.  The CGC seem not to realize that every offense against Customs laws in relation to revenue collection is about detention, seizure, investigation and prosecution.  The concept of smuggling as far as Customs matters are concerned is to the extent the exporter, importer, excise trader and licensed Customs agents attempt to evade Customs duty or importation of prohibited goods into Nigeria.”

The agents expressed desire to meet with the CGC as soon as possible, in view of the fact that there is still so much to be done in tidying up the Customs Service while at the moment, the government is losing so much.

It added that it was already in the process of compiling a comprehensive list detailing the names of corrupt personnel within the Customs, which would be presented to Ali when they meet.

“When the CGC meets with the critical stakeholders like the freight forwarders and agents, we shall have the ample opportunity to speak our minds on so many issues that we feel will make him succeed in his mandate from Mr. President. We hope that this should take place as soon as possible,” the statement concludes.

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