…Says ‘You have no Authority to Detain Cargoes Cleared by Customs’
By DAPO OLAWUNI
The Nigerian Shippers Council has carpeted the Maritime Police Command of the Nigerian Police, saying that they have no right to be intercepting or blocking cargoes already cleared by the Nigeria Customs Service.
This is coming of the heels of barrage of complaints from freight forwarders and clearing agents that the Maritime Police Command was blocking already released containers, even as they alleged that they were being extorted.
Speaking at an event in Apapa Lagos on Tuesday, the Shippers Council Executive Secretary, Emmanuel Jime who was represented by Director of Regulatory Services, Mrs Ifeoma Ezedinma said Police was overstepping its bounds.
“It wouldn’t be nice for agencies to protect territories, the problems we have right now is that Customs is on one side and Police the other side, and both of them are checking cargoes, these are impediments.
“If Customs clears cargo, Police does not have the right or authority to detain the cargo. If the police have Intel on the cargo, you can follow it to the final destination and check it there since Police have access to everywhere, but not for them to congest our ports or the access roads. We see this problems on daily basis. Every of the agencies have their responsibilities cut out for them, so we should interface with one another, harmonise and facilitate trade.
“If the Shippers Council visit these agencies, it is not to fight them, but to solve problems” he said
Also on Tuesday, freight forwarders at the port threatened to shutdown commercial activities at the port over what they described as barefaced extortions, harassment and intimidation by the maritime police.
The aggrieved customs brokers , in their petition to the new Inspection General of police, Kayode Egbetokun , have therefore threatened to withdraw their services if the excesses of these police officers are not checked.
In a four- page protest letter signed by Alhaji Tanko Ibrahim, the National Coordinator of the 100 percent Compliance team of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), addressed to the IGP and dated August 22, 2023, the irate customs brokers said the activities of these police officers have considerably impeded facilitation of trade.
In the petition, Tanko Ibrahim, who is also an elected member of the governing board of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding Practice in Nigeria (CRFFN) ,claimed these officers, in connivance with the shipping companies, indecriminately stop and detain exited containers from the ports with the purpose of extorting money from the owners.
Tanko, who said these extortionist activities of the police were curtailed under the past administration of police IG due to the outcry of the oppressed fright forwarders, lamented that the menace has now resurgent with new vigour, as the police now carry out their extortions in the open.
“Since the advent of the new administration, the officers and men of the Maritime Police have not only resumed these activities but also even more daring.
“They do not only block the release of containers from shipping companies, they also arrest and detain containers on the roads, and even allegedly go into fisticuffs with the officers of the Federal operations Unit of the Nigerian Customs service”
The petitioners however fingered one of the officers whom they said was daring and boastful of his nefarious activities.
“To compound and confound the matter, one of their officers, named Superintendent Kenneth Uwakool,who has been at Kam Salem House for more than three years,when the rapprochement was reached during the last administration, is the unrepentant bagman,who openly boasts that he is a millionaire.
“He sits atop proceedings in the extortion business’ the petitioners declared.
In the petition, each copy of which was sent to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, members of the National Assembly, and all the security agencies, Tanko Ibrahim, who ventilated the foul mood of the angry freight forwarders, claimed that the maurunding police officers collect as high as N2m to N3 from their victims on each containers before they let them go.
The petitioners wondered where were these officers when the Customs, in collaboration with other sister agencies, arrest containers with drugs, arms and ammunition, accusing them of looking the other ways while these illicit goods are being ferried away understand their nose.
He however appealed for prompt intervention of the new IGP in order to calm the frayed nerves of the harassed freight forwarders to starve off impending showdown with the extionining police officers.
“We therefore, respectfully urge you sir, to call the Maritime Police to order and save the ports from an imminent restiveness that may paralyze business activities and further cause economic loss to government revenue.
“We may have no option than to go on protest which may result in a possible shutdown of the seaports” the aggrieved freight forwarders threatened.
Meanwhile, the Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Maritime Police Command, AIG Susan U. Akem-Horsfall has insisted that the stakeholders, including customs, Shippers Council, Terminal Operators and shipping companies cannot run the ports without the maritime police Command.
She argued that cargoes wrongly declared by the freight forwarders are exiting the ports right under the nose of the Customs officers whom according to her have compromised.
The Police AIG insisted that the service cannot fold its hands while these agencies conspire to cheat the Federal government of needed revenue.
Speaking at a news briefing on Tuesday, AIG Akem-Horsfall also disclosed that the command in the course of duty intercepted a 40foot container already cleared by the Apapa Command of the Nigeria Customs Service for wrong declaration.
The said container was documented to contain vehicles and vehicle spare parts. But the police discovered it was loaded with used tyres, bales of Rugs and other sundry items.