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Customs, Clearing Agents Bicker Over Strike Force At Seaports

Monday, 06 May 2019 | 00:00

The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and Customs agents, have disagreed over the role of the Comptroller General Strike Force unit recently deployed to the seaports by the management of the service. YUSUF BABALOLA writesThere has been some resistance from clearing agents operating at the nation’s port over a new directive by the Nigeria Customs Service, for the establishment of Comptroller General Strike Force unit at the seaports. The new Strike Force has been empowered to reexamine goods inside the port and make seizures where necessary without hindrance. Clearing agents have disagreed with NCS over the role of the new Strike Force unit. While the agents have called on the presidency to call the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd) to order over the new directive empowering the CG Strike Force to seize and partake in cargo clearance inside the seaports, the Service said the team was only to intervene on suspected containers and not all.

The clearing agents had called on vice president Yemi Osinbajo, to caution the customs boss saying the directive could be inimical to the policy of ease of doing business in the port engendered by the vice president. The new order, according to stakeholders who spoke with our correspondent, pose serious hindrance to trade facilitation and free flow of trade, which is contrary to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and World Customs Organisation (WCO) conventions.

They added that the new policy would not only hamper trade but lead to congestion and unnecessary bottlenecks. The management of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) headed by Col. Hameed Alli (rtd) over the weekend directed its Strike Force team, an anti- smuggling unit of the customs set up by the comptroller general in the ports to examine goods which are not properly examined by the ports resident officers and that the customs area controllers would be held responsible for non- compliance to the new order.

The new directive was contained in a circular EII/2019/CIRCULAR NUMBER 002, titled: “100 per cent Examination of Cargo at the Ports.” The circular which was issued in April 25, 2019, and signed by the deputy comptroller-general, A. Chidi, on behalf of the comptroller general reads, “It has been observed that 100 per cent examinations of cargo at the ports are not done properly by the officers assigned to do so. “Consequently, the following instructions must be carried out with immediate effect and area controllers will personally be held responsible for non compliance.”

Reacting to the directive, Chairman, Association of Registered Freight Forwarders of Nigeria (AREFFN), Apapa chapter, Mr. Jones Idemili, maintained that the directive by the customs boss can best be described as the height of incompetence from the retired military chief. Idemili expressed dissatisfaction over the directive, calling on the vice president to caution the customs boss to revert such order. “In every command, a CAC is in charge and if there is any information the CGC needs he will call on the area controller for any action to be taken. “If Hameed Ali does not understand what it takes to be CGC , he should consult those that were there before, because this directive is uncalled for and it is not proper,”he said. According to him, the examination bays at the terminals have been flooded by multiple government agencies, adding that with the new directive in place, there were possibilities of congestion at the seaports. He further lamented that involvement of the strike force team would lead to delay in the clearance of cargoes.

Similarly, chairman, Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Apapa chapter, Dom Onyeka , advised the CG of customs to replace the officers at the ports with officials of the strike force team, if not satisfied with the performance of the resident officers. He suggested that officers at ports would have been replaced with the strike force team. The chairman lamented that the process would lead to delay in the clearance of cargoes from the ports, adding that consignment can spend additional days at the ports before proper clearance can be effected. Onyeka stressed, “If somebody says that his house is not in order then it is left for him to decide what he wants to achieve.
“The strike force team are customs officers likewise those at the seaports , so therefore if it pleases him to replace the officers at the ports then fine and good.” In a chat with LEADERSHIP Sunday, the national public relations officer of the Service, Joseph Attah said the CGC hasn’t eroded the power of the CAC. According to him, the circular was misinterpreted by clearing agents.

“There appears to be deliberate misinterpretation of the recent circular from the customs headquarters to suit some individuals or group of interests. “A circular that insists strike force team should be involved in the examination of suspected containers, or those with strike force alert is now being given exaggerated meaning to include ‘sweeping powers that erodes area controllers’ powers. Some even say it’s lack of confidence on the resident officers.” He explained further that the CGC strike force knows its bounds and won’t go beyond its brief. “The circular only reaffirms the power of the team to intervene only on suspected containers and not all and certainly not the day to day running of any command which is the prerogative of the customs area controllers,” he added.
Source: Leadership Nigeria

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