By Gboyega Oni
It is the importer who fails to adhere strictly to import guidelines, and not the customs agent, who should be held responsible for importation of contraband and their eventual seizure by the Customs.
This was a submission made by a leading customs agent, Prince Segun Oduntan in an interview with PortNews in Lagos on sundry issues affecting the nation’s shipping industry particularly importation and seizure of contrabands like Tramadol and used tyres by the Nigeria Customs Service.
Oduntan, who is the Chairman of Tin Can Island Port Chapter of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), absolved customs agents of any complicity in cargo import infraction, saying that customs agents are just a facilitator who works in accordance with the dictates of the documents presented to him by the importer.
According to Oduntan, the phrase ‘said to contain’ (STC) as boldly written on the Bill of Lading of a cargo states what is inside the container and which agents believe and work on. He noted that this has further absolved customs agents of any wrongdoing in a situation where a cargo is seized for contravening the law because the agent was not there overseas where the importer bought and loaded the goods in the container.
‘We are just a facilitator. When importers bring in their goods and hand over the documents to us, our own as customs agents is just to work according to the documents presented to us. We cannot know what is inside the container but what we are told. That is why the ‘said to contain’ (STC) boldly written in the bill of lading says the container carries for instance, electrical appliances. But when it is opened you find Tramadol. How will I know what is inside the container than what the STC says?’ he asked.
When asked whether he was bothered about high rate of cargo seizures at Tin Can Island Port, the ANLCA Chairman said yes considering the high volumes of cargo that come through the port into the country, but blamed some unscrupulous importers who will continue to contravene the import guidelines. ‘It bothers me and does not bother me. It bothers me because of the nature of the port; a port that receives containers, bulk cargo and vehicles; an all encompassing one including export. Can you compare Tin Can Island port with PTML or other ports or airports in terms of cargo? So Tin Can port is the hotbed.
‘We are not in support of importation of illegal drugs or products that are harmful to the health of the nation and the citizens many of whom are our relations. It gives us concern and we are doing our best to educate our members and enlighten our importers to follow the rules. We are also dialoguing with the systems. But some unscrupulous elements will continue to contravene the law. However, it is minimal now,’ he said.
Speaking on the achievements of his administration, the ANLCA Chairman, who was reluctant to self-praise, noted that he has stabilised the cargo operation systems at the port which, he said, has earned all agents the respect of the customs hierarchy. He pointed out that the customs could not do anything or come up with any policy without calling for inputs from ANLCA.
Oduntan declared that the insurance policy for members of the chapter initiated by his administration has matured and by September the first set of beneficiaries will collect their claims, noting that he has provided a befitting secretariat for members and given them professional assistance where necessary on their jobs.
The ANLCA Chairman said he runs a collective government and maintained that it was not possible to meet all the expectations of all members. According to him, ‘You cannot meet all the expectations but what people expect is absolute peace, which we have been able to provide. When you come to my office, you see a lot of elders telling you that I do not run the association alone. I do a collective reasoning with members particularly elders before doing anything; it is a collective affair.’
Oduntan, on his vision for Settle Systems Limited, said his vision is to grow the company into an enviable height, a unique brand in the industry. He added that the company will soon open its own bonded warehouse and commence operation of a shipping line which, he said, is the ultimate goal of the company.