Agents serve Customs CG 72hours strike ultimatum

CLEARING agents operating at the Western Zone of the nation’s seaports, Apapa and Tin-Can Island ports have issued a 72 hours ultimatum on the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col Hameed Ali over duplication of clearance processes at the seaports. This is even as the agents threatened to embark on strike if nothing is done by the Customs hierarchy by next week Monday.

At a joint press briefing held in Apapa on Thursday, various associations which included the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) and National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA) lamented that the Customs boss had allegedly deployed teams from Abuja to checkmate activities of the various commands at the western zone, which is slowing down Customs clearance at the ports.

The freight forwarders identified ten various units of Customs teams constituting bottlenecks inside the port. Some of them include; CG Strike force, compliance team, Federal Operations Unit team, Monitoring team, Special Force team, CG task force, information team among others.

The latest development which spiked tension in the port was the recent deployment of a special team from Abuja to inspect 3rd party cargoes at the port.

Speaking at the meeting, the Tin Can Chapter Chairman of ANLCA, Prince Segun Oduntan said the CG committee was sent to Apapa port last week Thursday under the guise of inspecting some third party containers. He, however, said that the team has taken over the job of resident Customs officers.

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“The cargoes are now being detained inside the ports while agents are made to pay exorbitant demurrage to terminal operators,” Segun Oduntan stated while also adding that 24 hours cargo clearance is now a mirage.

Also speaking, Western Zone Coordinator of NAGAFF, Alhaji Tanko Ibrahim said that agents have complained to the Customs Area Controllers who appeared powerless.

Tanko alleged that “Last week, we saw officers from Abuja who said they were sent to the terminals to inspect some third party containers. But since then, they have remained permanent inside the port.

“They now randomly select ‘C’ numbers and after cargoes have been released, they would ask you to reposition it for examination and we are made to pay for re-examination.”

Also speaking, Chairman of Tin Can chapter of NAGAFF, Azubuike Ekweozor lamented the activities of shipping companies and terminal operators in addition to the excesses of Customs.

He complained that vessels coming into Nigeria to discharge containers are supposed to return with the same number of empty containers but that rather than obey this law, the vessels carry export to other countries.

On his part, Apapa chapter chairman of NAGAFF, Ndubuisi Uzoegbo urged the customs CG to build trust in his officers on the field. He also said that freight forwarders should be carried along by the Customs whenever they make policies affecting their operations.

He said: “Many containers have been abandoned in Apapa because of high tariffs and demurrage from Shipping companies and terminal operators. Most offices in Apapa today are empty. The shipping companies have forced many of our colleagues back to their village.

“The Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo should come over and address all these issues. He is the one in charge of Ease of Doing Business. When Okonjo Iweala was here as coordinating minister, she comes to the port on physical inspection and addresses us.”

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