By DAPO OLAWUNI
The National Secretariat of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) has led its voice to the phase off between Maritime Police Command and freight forwarders over alleged police extortions going on at the port.
The clearing agents and freight forwarders had cried out on Monday, alleging that Maritime Police Command was blocking already cleared cargoes from being released in order to collect money from the owners.
This is an allegation which the Maritime Police Command has since dismissed, even as it insisted that the laws empowers her to investigate cargoes coming out of the port with infractions in duty payment or carrying wrong or harmful contents.
However in a new twist, the Sole Administrator of ANLCA National Secretariat, Alhaji Babatunde Mukaila has said that clearing agents are not against Maritime Police carrying out its investigations on Containers, but that the police must be ready to bear the demurrage cost for delaying such Containers.
Mukaila argued that the Police unit empowered to be inside the port is the Port Authority Police Command, and that they are also part of the cargo examinations.
“ANLCA members are not saying Police should not do their job, however they should do it with the aim of facilitating trade, if they want to do that, they should go ahead and do their investigation.
“However, while the investigation lasted, the container in question should be free of demurrage, because an investigation is still an allegation until proven.
“When you block a container from being released, either at the TDO point or the shipping line, just for people to turn up at your office, you get paid, and you release them.
“We want a proper protocol, if you alert a container as a suspect, you must inform the shipping line, inform the Terminal Operators, so that our members and the importers would now defend whatever allegation you are bringing. And if the container is not carrying what you suspected, who pays the demurrage?
“What we are saying is that they should alert the terminal operator and the shipping line, and they can only do this through the Shippers Council as economic regulator, so that we can both be on the same page.
“If it takes Police two months to investigate a container, that’s okay, but immediately they are done, they must be ready to pay for the demurrage for their flagrant display of willpower.
“They should feel free to investigate any container they suspect, but while the investigation lasted, we are saying that no demurrage would be paid. If the container is found wanting, then the demurrage can apply.
“In as much as the Nigerian Police Force has the extant power to investigate every other security agencies, ANLCA is not shying away from Police doing their job, but if the Maritime Police wants to supercede the Port Authority Police, we need to know.
“If the police in the port examine a container and released it jointly with the Nigeria Customs Service, and another Police outside the port is not doing intervention, we need to know who is in charge. If the Port Authority Police is inferior to the maritime police, we need to know who we are dealing with.
“There are Police stations at every port, the Maritime Police Command should stop jumping the gun, they should share intelligence with the police inside the port” Mukaila stated.
Meanwhile, the Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG), Maritime Police Command, Force Headquarters Annex, Lagos, AIG Susan U. Akem-Horsfall has stated in clear terms that the Nigerian Shippers’ Council and all other maritime operators cannot stop the Police from performing her statutory duties, as the Maritime Police Command does not need their authority to investigate crimes.
In a statement issued on Thursday by the Public Relations Officer of the Command, ASP Ehinmode Rowland, the duties of Nigeria Police Force as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended), Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015, the Criminal Procedure Code and Act, the Nigeria Police Acts and regulations 2020, and the National Inland Waterways Authority Acts No. 47 LFN 2004 clearly spelt out the duties and functions of the Nigeria Police Force.
“It is important to note that, the Nigeria Police Force is a creation of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria. Section 214 of the Constitution established this and it conferred powers and duties on the police to wit, protection of life and property, protection of harbour, waterways, railways and the air field among others.
“Hence, some of the statutory duties of the Police includes prevention and detection of crimes, apprehension of offenders, preservation of law and order, and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations.
“Furthermore, a Police officer is empowered by the Police Act to detain and search any person he reasonably suspects of having in his possession or conveying in any manner, anything he has reason to believe to have been stolen or otherwise unlawfully obtained. Same goes for the Criminal Procedure Act which gives power to the Police to arrest any person found to have committed a crime, this is in addition to the National Inland Waterways Authority Acts No. 47 LFN 2004 which mandates the Police to provide buffer and protective support, helps the Authority to enforce its enabling NIWA Act 2004 LFN and Secures the waterways and the Authority’s vessels.
“To this end, the Nigeria Police Force and all her subsidiary Commands and Formations, of which the Maritime Police Command is inclusive is statutorily empowered to carry out all lawful activities conferred on her including blockage, apprehension and detention of containers/cargos suspected to have contravened the law or conveying items that are considered contraband or things inimical to the security of the nation.
“The Maritime Command, the Nigerian Shippers’ Council and other stakeholders at the ports have over the years enjoyed seamless relationship and cohesion devoid of friction, unfortunately, there are some unscrupulous persons within the ranks of these agencies working hand-in-hand with criminal elements and fraudulent syndicates to cripple the economy through corrupt practices and underhand dealings, hence, their nefarious and villainous publications, aimed at rubbishing the efforts of the Command in order to discourage them from dealing with the malaise.
“There is the need to make things clear here that there are double-dealings going on at the Port which some staff of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council and other regulatory agencies at the ports are aware of and does not want the police to unravel. This they do in connivance with some other sister security agencies.
“The recent case of a 1x40ft container purportedly cleared by the Nigeria Customs Service (NSC), with documents duly signed by NSC official to be conveying two (2) used Toyota Hi-ace Buses, six hundred and fifty (650) used vehicle spare parts and engine which was intercepted by men of the Maritime Police Command on the 18th August, 2023 comes to mind. Upon interrogation, the arrested suspects in connection with the container disclosed to the Police that the container was carrying different items, and when the container was opened at the Maritime Command Headquarters in the presence of journalist and pressmen, it was discovered to be carrying mayonnaise, Persian rugs amongst other concealed items. It is therefore not far from the truth to say, there is conspiracy between some agencies at the port to sabotage the economy of Nigeria.
“The command will give full attention to her duties that are incumbent on it by the laws of the land, especially as it relates to the nation’s maritime domain. The Command will continue to work in synergy and collaboration with sister agencies and all operators within the sector to enhance government policy on ease of doing business.
“Lastly, the AIG has emphatically stated that, the Command under her watch will not relent in fighting crimes being perpetuated at the port and every attempt at maligning personnel of the command through various false publications will not deter or hinder them from performing their constitutionally approved duties” the statement read.