Metropolitan Waterways Blasts Tin Can Customs, Allege Officers Killing Water Transport Business in Nigeria

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By DAPO OLAWUNI

Metropolitan Waterways Concept Limited, a marine logistics and boat selling company, has accused the Tin Can Island Port Command of Nigeria Customs Service of frustrating genuine investors in waterways business who are importing boats through the command.

In an exclusive interview with DAILY TREND NEWS on Tuesday, Chief Executive Officer of Metropolitan Waterways, Eng Lateef Onikoyi recounted his ordeals with a Deputy Comptroller of Customs at the command, who allegedly delayed release of a boat he had imported from the United States in 2018, thereby leading to payment of N5million demurrage.

According to him, cumbersome customs clearance processes, as well as incompetence of boat captains are part of the challenges discouraging investors from coming into Nigerian waterways business.

“When I started this water transport business in 2013, I invested more than $1million. I brought in two boats with $720,000 added with clearing of the boats”

“We usually have problems with clearing our boats at the port. I bought a boat from the United States from a guy who was about to travel to the Caribbean Island. I bought the boat for $3,500, I shipped it into Nigeria with $4,000.

“When I got here, it cost me more than N7million to clear the boat, this was four times higher the price of the boat I bought, they said it was the policy of the Federal Government on pleasure boats.

“If you go to the port today, you would see a lot of pleasure boats that have been abandoned by the importers. They were abandoned because they cannot afford the cost of clearing.

“The unnecessary delay by the Nigeria Customs Service, shipping companies and terminal operators are responsible for these frustrations” he said

While recounting a sordid experience in the hands of the Deputy Comptroller which he didn’t give his name, he said “The customs were asking me for what is not required, I know they don’t need it but there was nothing I can do, if the Deputy Comptroller did not sign the papers, I would not be able to pick my boat.
I approached him and told him that the boat does not need an End User Certificate, but he told me that I cannot teach him his job”

“The engine capacity of the boat was less than 200 horsepower, it was just 170 horsepower”

“When I got to the Tin Can Port, I saw the man who was even from my tribe, but he refused to listen”

“Thank God I had a friend who was a Major General, so I told him of my challenge and he directed me to do a letter to the National Security Adviser (NSA) and I sent it to Abuja. The letter was responded to promptly, the third day, they couriered my reply to me, telling me that the boat does not require End User Certificate”

“I took the letter back to the Deputy Comptroller, but he argued that the NSA were not supposed to write me as an individual but they are supposed to write customs. I cannot tell the NSA to write customs again when already there is a memo from them to customs on the categories of goods that needs End User Certificate, but the officer was just being wicked”

“Eventually I wrote to the Comptroller General of Customs directly and attached the letter of the NSA, I sent it by DHL with the letter written me by NSA.
The customs replied me and sent a copy of the memo from the NSA, saying that I should go and carry my boat”

“In Nigeria, people like that Deputy Comptroller should be reported, sacked or even shot”

“By the time I got the boat released, out of the N7Million Naira that I spent, over N5Million went as demurrage.
Who are the beneficiaries of the demurrage? it is the shipping lines, and terminal operators. What went to the government purse was less than N1Million”

Eng Onikoyi said there is a need to limit physical contact in goods clearing at the port.

According to him, the licensed customs clearing agents are equally part of the problem of cargo clearance. He said the agents connive with customs officers to cheat Federal Government by paying lower duty on cargoes.

“Meanwhile, to clear consignments in advanced countries, you don’t need an agent, all you have to do is seat in the comfort of your office and get it done yourself”

“The importers are supposed to process their PAAR by themselves, but the process has been made to be that, without clearing agents you cannot do it”

“If I had not been a civil servant before and I know how to reach the NSA, any other person would have been frustrated and abandon the cargo at the port” he said

Another challenge which confronts the business of boat operations according to him is lack of qualified and trained boat captains.

“This is one of the problems of investors, because they would not spend millions of Naira to buy a boat and entrust it to an illiterate who has no formal training, this has been the challenge and it is still happening”

He also said that no serious investor would come into Nigeria waterways to invest because of the existing racket boat operators.

He urged the federal government to get rid of the small boat operators who have prolified the waters and killed many Nigerians, in order to give way for genuine investors.

“The money expended to buy one standard boat is enough to buy twenty of the racket boats.
If the government does not find a way of getting rid of the paper boats, the standard boats cannot come in”

“The business of water transport is capital intensive, and I have done my research all over the world, the government subsidises water transport”

‘We are not even asking them to subsidise water transportation in Nigeria, but they should at least create an enabling environment and law in order to enable investors do their business” he said

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