They expressed shock that the same officer, Comptroller Mohammed, who publicly at a forum in Lagos took the Tin Can Island Port command to the cleaners for a multiplicity of alerts on goods at the area, is having his officers and men enmeshed in such high level of corrupt practices under his very nose.
As one particular freight forwarder put it, “he doesn’t want the alerts for additional payment to the government so that his boys can continue to extort us on the highways”.
Efforts to speak with the Controller were frustrated by the unit’s spokesman, Mr. Jerry Attah, who kept telling our correspondents that his boss was very busy for such. Even when a formal letter was done for a chat with the Controller based on Attah’s advice, the appointment was abruptly aborted as he told our reporters that his boss could not be seen because, according to him, they were mourning their officer killed by smugglers. This claim did not hold any water as our findings however showed that container ‘booking’ still continued even in the face of the unfortunate death of the said officer.
Why officers are having field day
According to observers, unless something drastic is done to halt the activities of the Lagos FOU, the extortionist initiative will have no end because of the government’s fiscal policies that encourage infractions in the system.
They point out that the Federal Government’s decision to bar 41traded goods from accessing the foreign exchange (forex) market officially is the icing on the cake for the FOU officers. By this policy, importers of the items are free to source for forex anywhere but outside the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). To make matters worse, the apex bank barred the commercial banks from opening Form M for importers of such goods.
Consequently, these importers on sourcing their foreign currency privately, purchase these items and ship them down to the country together with other goods valid for forex without declaring them as such since they are not brought in via letters of credits.
On arrival at Nigerian ports, with Destination Inspection that requires local self-declaration of contents of a container in place, the owners now state to Customs the actual things contained in the boxes including the undeclared ones. Since the items are not banned, the Customs cannot seize them. Consequently, to make up for the obvious shortfall in duty payment, a Demand Notice (DN) or supplementary bill is issued by the service.
Since the service lacks scanners to technologically determine the true contents of the box, there could be under-assessment leading to under-payment. There could be of course compromises by examination officials colluding with shippers engaged in under-declaration or concealment during inspection. With these loopholes, which are relayed to FOU officials by stationed informants, the exited goods become food for the boys who are always at ambush in wait for them.
The normal thing would have been for the officers to prepare supplementary bills for the importers to make up for the infractions by paying into the banks for government but the ‘bills’ are raised via ‘booking’ into private pockets.
Our findings show that Customs top shots in Lagos from the Ikeja head office to the zonal headquarters down to Abuja headquarters, are all in the know of this high level racketeering and allegedly partake in the booty-sharing. The sharing formula will be the subject of another next edition.