Importers claim 80% of clearing licences owned by Customs officers

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The nation’s importers have blamed officers of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) for the high level of corruption in the country’s ports alleging that 80 per cent of goods clearing licences is owned and operated by them.

Director General of the Importers Association of Nigeria (IMAN), Dr. Osita Okereke, made the allegation Monday in Apapa, Lagos, at an event marking the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between importers and freight forwarders.

The MoU signalled a strategic working relationship between the importers on the one hand and the five accredited freight forwarding associations registered by the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) in the planned collection of Practitioners Operating Fees (POF) at the ports.

Okereke expressed serious support for the appointment of a retired Army officer, Col. Hameed Ali, to head the Customs and charged him to investigate the issue of ownership of licences by officers and punish offenders.

He said IMAN was not against Nigerians owning clearing licences but frowned at a situation whereby serving offers were abusing their positions as clearing agents, saying that such officers ought to resign and face cargo handling.

“A situation where officers use their privileged position to shortchange government is highly condemnable”, he said.

Okereke alleged that because the officers had the knife and the yam, they would always perpetrate all manners of evils in order to make money and in the process, anything would go.

He blamed the influx of dangerous goods into the country, including arms and ammunition into the country, to the activities of these officers-turned-Customs-agents, who would do anything because of money.

Okereke observed that there was no way the insurgency in the land could be divorced from the activities of these officers operating licences as they would be ever ready to do anything in order to make money.

The appointment of retired Col. Ali, he noted, was a right step in the right direction taken by President Muhammadu Buhari as being a no-nonsense officer, he would clean the Augean stable before his exit.

“We hail Mr. President for the appointment of retired Col. Ali. You know why corruption in Customs has been to high heavens? It is because they know themselves and know what they do and know how to cut corners supporting themselves.

“But with Col. Ali now around, it will no longer be business as usual. Mark you, Ali is a no-nonsense officer who does not take any nonsense from anybody. He will sanitise the system as we are now calling on him to look into this issue of officers operating licences at the detriment of the country. We are ready to work with him”, he said.

Meanwhile, the importers under the aegis of IMAN and the five registered associations, based on the MoU cemented Monday in Apapa, took far-reaching decisions for their mutual working relationship.

The associations are the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Association of Registered Freight Forwarders of Nigeria (AREFF), National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Agents (NCMDLCA) and National Freight Forwarders Association Council (NAFFAC). ANLCA was absent at the occasion.

While supporting the appointment of Col. Ali by President Buhari, the two bodies advised that every effort should be made to ensure that the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) and Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) stopped the arrest of containers on the highway.

They also cautioned that the Customs should carry out its statutory services in line with approved standards and procedures rather than resorting to taskforces and ad hoc bodies.

“The Importers Association of Nigeria (IMAN) and the freight forwarding agents should ensure due compliance with import regulations and sanction members in contravention of import and export regulations to the appropriate authority.

“The Police assigned to Importers Association of Nigeria for the purposes of anti-smuggling functions shall be symbiotic to the Memorandum of Understanding as a joint taskforce”, the parties stated.

They added, “That the licensing regulation of the Nigeria Customs Service should be reviewed in relation to Customs clearance. The use of corporate bodies as licences encourages corruption in the Nigerian ports. This is because criminal elements and revenue risks hide under the canopy of limited liability to evade duty”.

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