The Nigeria Customs Service has been blamed for the traffic lock jam that has bedeviled smooth maritime trade practice in Apapa and Tincan Island ports in Lagos.
In recent years, the officers and men of the Service have abdicated and shirked about 70 percent of their official duties and responsibilities to other ill-equipped, ill-trained government agencies and stakeholders in the sector.
This was the observation made by long-standing customs licensed agent, Prince Aderemi Olikuntuyi in a chart with PortNews in his Apapa office recently.
‘’In the 1970s customs officials were in charge of all aspects of port clearing and port operations, but nowadays they behave as if they are only to collect duties and nothing more. They seem to have forgotten that it is the customs port, where they have more operational and administrative responsibilities than even the Nigerian Ports Authority,’’ he noted and alleged that the traffic jam around the port environs can be squarely traced to the slow, sluggish and lackadaisical work pattern of customs officers.
‘’You cannot achieve 48 hour clearance when customs waste time in examination, in documentation, in valuation when necessary and even at the gate. You cannot claim to be supportive of the federal government policy of Ease of Doing Business when just a few metres after your container has exited the port gate, officials of Customs Federal Operations Unit (FOU) impound it and dump it at Ikeja; a container that had been painstakingly profiled, examined and released by the customs,’’ lamented Olikuntuyi who berated the Comptroller General of Customs Hameed Ali for his overzealousness or ignorance by discountenancing the customs rules that stipulate that FOU can only intercept a questionable cargo in a forty miles radius to the port.
‘’FOU people disobey all civility and norms of customs, by blocking the freeway around Apapa ports seizing importers cargo with the container and truck thereby causing heavy traffic gridlock. Things cannot continue like this,’’ he cautioned.
Olikuntuyi attributed customs knee-jerk approach to the undue and inhuman pressure piled on them by the federal government which gives them a yearly revenue target that is almost insurmountable. ‘’When you prohibit the importation of 42 items that cover almost all items of import, and in an economy that is not productive for export, how do you meet such humongous amount of a target? I guess this explains the erratic nature of FOU and other customs departments,’’ he explained.
Olikuntuyi who is the CEO of Adlad Nigeria Limited blasted CG Ali for ethnicism and utter disregard for the constitutional quota system. ‘’If you go round the customs longroom across the ports, you will see a preponderance of officers of Hausa-Fulani stock occupying all the top and sensitive posts. Ali says no more auctioning of cargo, but his people are carting away the seizures, exotic cars as scraps, which they sell at large profits. This is unfair and can only be explained to his military background – soldiers are trained for destruction not for a very sophisticated profession like customs,’’ he noted.
In a related development, Prince Aderemi Olikuntuyi who is the President of Apapa Community Residents Association has called on the federal government to relocate the tank farm out of Apapa forthwith while urging the port concessionaires to decongest their terminals by reaching an understanding with the bonded terminal operators whose facilities could help in the storage of their containers.
This, he reasoned, will help to decongest the ports and put an end to container truck traffic gridlock in Apapa. ‘’The port terminal operators can reach out to us, we will give them spaces to warehouse their containers, while we advise government to expand Mosimi depot so that petroleum products can be landed there,’’ Olikuntuyi submitted.