While Customs officers at the various commands across the country are sweating it out to meet revenue targets set for them by government, officials of the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) Zone A, Ikeja, Lagos, are busy stuffing into their private pockets and those of their principals, a minimum of N18 million on daily basis.
The loot is from the proceeds of corrupt practices introduced by the officers to feather their own nests. Our undercover reporters unearthed the ploy of the Enforcement Unit officers to maximize the illicit deal by introducing what they tagged as ‘booking’ of containers.
By this innovation, importers or their agents are forced to register the exit of their containers from the ports ahead of time by paying N100,000 on each either at the Ikeja office or at the road-blocks mounted within Apapa. As the payment is made, the importer or his agent deposits the container numbers concerned at the Ikeja office, which are handed over to the officers on road-blocks for easy passage.
According to our findings, once the ‘booking’ is done, nobody bothers about the infractions committed while on the other hand if not ‘booked’, the box would be impounded and taken to the Ikeja head office for scrutiny which takes weeks.
As no importer wants his goods to be caught in the web of being intercepted on the road, with the resultant delays and accompanying demurrage charges on the empty containers and trucks, compliance to the ‘booking’ is almost 100 per cent.
Our findings revealed that on daily basis, FOU, Zone A officers rake in a minimum of N18 million daily. A simple Arithmetic gives the figures. On the average, a total of 300 containers exit the Lagos Port Complex (LPC), Apapa; Tin Can Island Port (TCIP);and Port and Terminal Multiservices Limited (PTML)daily. That is 100 containers from Apapa, 150 from Tin Can,which is serviced by Ports & Cargo and TCIT terminals; and 50 from PTML operated by Grimaldi Shipping Company. If 20 per cent (60 containers) of this number is on fast-track, that is those on automatic clean bill of health to exit the ports without examination and another 20 per cent (60 containers) has no infractions whatsoever (which is very rare), that would mean 120 containers out of 300, leaving 180 for ‘booking’. If each pays N100,000, that sums up to N18million raked in illegally by the officials of FOU daily. It is of common knowledge that the figure could be more.
Investigation also revealed however, that topflight importers and their agents could get a reprieve if they negotiate with junior officers on road-blocks in which case they could be made to pay between N30,000 and N50,000 per container. For this, no more than one to three containers can be handled this way to avoid the junior officers incurring the wrath of their superiors in the office. Any number above this figure must go to the head office. Again, it was discovered that at the Ikeja office a reprieve could come if one has many containers on his list in which case he could be made to pay N80,000 on each depending on his negotiation ability.
Sources revealed that on the average, none of the FOU officers involved in the racket goes home daily without a minimum of N300,000 in his pocket. With the stupendous illegally earned money, our undercover reporters discovered that the officers have virtually taken over most of the exotic hotels on the Apapa – Amuwo-Odofin axis of Lagos State, which they have turned to their permanent residences. While three star officers and above savour permanent suites in their larger-than-life living style, their junior counterparts make do with standard rooms costing not less than N10,000 per day. Each officer, from findings, spends a minimum of N300,000 monthly on hotel accommodation bill. This is happening at a time it is said that a Customs Area Controller (CAC), the highest non-political career position, receives a maximum pay of N300,000 as monthly salary.
In the face of this illicit act by its officials, the Unit has put up cover-up measures including the management barring journalists entering the Mobolaji Bank Anthony Way head office with their mobile phones, a practice media men see as ‘surprising’. By this practice, journalists’ phones are confiscated at the entrance gate only to be retrieved on the way out. According to findings, the new law was introduced as soon as the current Controller, Comptroller Aliyu Mohammed, took over from his predecessor, Comptroller Mohammed Uba, now in Seme command.
Some freight forwarders, who spoke on conditions of anonymity, were miffed at the turn of events at the FOU, wondering the orchestrated sanity said to have been brought to bear on the service by the Customs Comptroller General, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd).