By DAPO OLAWUNI
There is palpable anxiety at some of the terminals in Lagos directly under the Apapa Command of the Nigeria Customs Service, even as the command recently withdrew Deputy Comptrollers from releasing cargoes at these terminals.
Freight forwarders who spoke with DAILY TREND NEWS on Monday from Unity Bonded Terminals, and Jelit Bonded Terminal in Lagos, alleged that they have been unable to release cargoes from these terminals since last week Wednesday.
One of the freight forwarders, Michael Owuni, lamented that, a lot of imports meant for the Christmas festivities are trapped at the terminals and attracting demurrage from shipping companies and terminals because there are is no releasing officer on seat.
Our correspondent gathered exclusively that the releasing passwords were removed from the Deputy Comptrollers and subsequently returned to the Assistant Comptrollers.
Speaking exclusively with DAILY TREND NEWS on Monday, Customs Area Controller of Apapa Customs Command, Compt Yusuf Malanta however debunked these claims , saying that competent Assistant Comptrollers have since been deployed to the affected terminals.
According to the Customs Boss, the Standard Operating Procedure under the Customs NICIS 2 is that, Assistant Comptrollers are supposed to be releasing officers while Deputy Comptrollers are chief examining officers.
However, because of the shortage of Assistant Comptrollers at the command, Deputy Comptrollers were deployed to carry out the job on the interim.
According to Compt Malanta, what the command has done now is to return to the status quo, adding that there is no cause for alarm.
“We have sent officers to these terminals since last week” he said
According to him, the command have equally written to the customs headquarters, requesting for more Assistant Comptrollers.
He said that for now, the Command has 8 Assistant Comptrollers, meanwhile the command going by its size needs not less than 40 Assistant Comptrollers.
“It is a policy of the service that Deputy Comptrollers are not releasing officers, so what we did was just to follow the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) as laid down by the service.
The DC’s were merely returned to their status quo as Chief Examining Officers, so we pushed other AC to their rightful position”
“It is a normal operating procedure in the customs service NICIS 2, the Deputy Comptrollers were withdrawn because they were supposed to be chief examining officers, Assistant Comptroller are the ones to release cargoes” he stressed.
Earlier, clearing agents and freight forwarders lamented, saying that one Deputy Comptroller Okolie covering Jelit and Unity Bonded Terminals was abruptly removed and this left a lacuna.
A senior agent who craved anonymity claimed that “Since Wednesday last week, freight forwarders have been coming to these terminals under Apapa Command to release their cargo, but the story we are hearing is that there is no network, everybody thought it is the normal network issue.
“Last week, we heard that senior officers of Deputy Comptroller were summoned to Abuja and their passwords withdrawn, reportedly over a shipment that was released wrongly.
“Apapa Customs is short of Assistant Comptrollers, we heard that the whole Command has only 8 Assistant Comptrollers, the rest are Deputy Comptrollers, with the recent promotion, most of the Assistant Comptrollers were elevated to Deputy Comptrollers”
“These are the officers who have been releasing cargoes at the terminal before, but the fact that they promoted them, they have not done transfers and postings, the officers are still working”
“At Jelit Terminal right now, no work is going on, this is festive period, many cargoes are stranded inside the terminal, and some of the shipment are supposed to be used for the Christmas festival
“Demurrage is counting on these cargoes, both shipping and terminal charges, who is going to bear the brunt? These are the kind of money importers pay, after which they transfer it to the final consumers.
“Everybody is blaming government today because things are tough, this is what we are facing.
“No cargo is being released right now from these terminals, on Friday last week, it was very bad, we have never had it rough like this in the history of customs management.
“Wednesday through Monday, we have been going to the terminal but no job is being released” he concluded