By Oyeniyi Iwakun
One of the major trending issues in the industry is the legitimacy and legality or otherwise of the Nigeria police to intercept containers already examined and cleared by the Customs at the ports. The Assistant Inspector General of Police, Maritime Command, Alkali Baba Usman had confidently stated during a familiarization tour to the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) headquarters in Lagos, recently that his officers would continue to stop containers outside the ports even after being cleared by the Customs.
Recall that as the Acting President, Prof Yemi Osinabjo introduced the executive order on the ease of doing business at the ports sometimes last year, leading to the eviction of multiple government agencies from the ports in order to achieve seamlessness in business transactions. Although little had been achieved ditto the above but some industry stakeholders still feel there is no rationality in the insistence of police to continue to parade and intercept containers already cleared by the customs from the ports believing that such motive is sinister and aimed extorting the public while others opine that police as a security agency saddled with the primary responsibilities of securing lives and properties can overlap to any length in ensuring that this duty is effectively carried out.
Mr. Usman defended that containers are being stopped due to information on compromise or something incriminating being carried in it or because earlier arranged security checks are evaded.
While acknowledging that there are duties and responsibilities of all the uniform men, the police boss argued that there is no crime that the police cannot investigate.
“There are other crimes that other agencies cannot investigate. That is why the police are jack of all trade and master of all.” He said.
In reaction, the NAGAFF president, Increase Uche, disagreed with the police boss. He said the activities of police officers with regards to containers cleared and released from the port constitute an abuse of general duty powers even as he noted that unauthorized police operatives operate within and outside the ports.
When contacted by MMS Plus, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), National Public Relations Officer (PRO), Joseph Attah clarified that it is the statutory function of the Customs to examine and clear containers and also intercept when there is any suspected infraction. However, it may not be out of place if the Police upon credible intelligence stop containers for investigation in order to curb crime.
He also emphasized on the existing spirit of inter-agency collaboration where the customs as well as any patriotic Nigerians upon credible information can assist in the fight against crime.
He thus posited that whenever an agency overlaps in these functions, it is expected that such arrests or seizures are handed over to the agency in whose statutory function it falls.
He said “I agree that police upon credible intelligence can stop any crime from being committed just as customs officers or even any patriotic Nigerian upon credible intelligence can help stop the commission of a crime.
“There is also what we call division of labour, there are core functions of customs and there are core functions of the police just as in the military. There is nothing stopping us that if there is any intelligence, we cannot cross carpet and when we do it, we hand over to the statutory agency. So, if police upon credible intelligence stops a container, and they discover something wrong, they have the right to arrest it and hand over to the customs.” He said.
In his opinion, the Chairman, Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Chairman, Chief Remi Ogungbemi posited that it is not justifiable for police to indiscriminately intercept containers after it must have been released by customs except based on security report.
“I am not in the security arrangements and I am not part of the clearing agents, my own is just to transport. However, if there is a security report that any container is suspected to be carrying any dangerous goods, I think the police have the right to stop and do their work. But all I know is that in examination, police has not been part of the government agencies allowed to examine containers at the ports. But for general checking after customs must have done their examination and released, I don’t believe police needs to stop it again.” He said
Declaring the action as illegal, the Vice President, Association of Customs Licensed Agents, (ANLCA) Dr. Kayode Farinto, expressed disappointment at the utterances of AIG Usman. The ANLCA boss frowned at the act of disobedience and non-regards for existing laws and order by those whose are supposed to uphold and implement the laws.
He believes that the AIG was only trying to justify the unjustifiable act of extortion in the industry by acting against the directives of the presidency as stipulated in the executive order.
He said “of course you should know that it is illegal. When he gets to the presidency, let him go and tell the president. Unfortunately in this country, everybody thinks he is an island. We have constituted authorities and that is why the government said, ease of doing business.
“I may not know if the AIG wants to carve out his own law and under what premise? Where will he derive his power from? He is under the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the IGP will be summoned by the Ease of Doing Business. Let the AIG come and defend it that he is collecting money and blocking cargoes in the ports.
“The law demands that when a cargo is released from the ports illegitimately, the law demands that after five years, it can still be paid for. Whatever he is doing now is just an afterthought because he doesn’t have any legal backing or power to do that. All laws must be collapsed currently under the executive order but my problem is that everybody believes he has one power or the other in this country and that is why we are not moving forward.” He said