By DAPO OLAWUNI
Apparently disturbed by the indiscriminate blocking of already cleared containers from nation’s ports by officials of the Maritime Police Command, the Africa Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics of Nigeria (APFFLON) on Tuesday visited the Assistant Inspector General of Police, AIG in charge of Maritime, Susan Akem-Horsfall at the Command’s headquarters in Lagos.
National President of APFFLON, Otunba Frank Ogunojemite who led the delegation said that the blocking of already cleared containers and the ensuing altercations between freight forwarders and the maritime police command was not good for the industry and bad for business.
He urged the Maritime Police to stop rubbing shoulders with the Nigerian Customs Service, but should rather, collaborate with the Customs who is the lead agency inside the port.
Ogunojemite called on the Maritime Police Command to engage other government agencies working at the nation’s seaport including Customs, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) Terminal Operators and work in harmony with them just as they had done in the past.
According to him, continuous confrontation and altercation with those they are supposed to work in partnership with would only lead to capital flight as over 90 percent of the terminal operators at the port are foreigners.
He reminded the Police that there’s the need for the command to work in synergy with the Nigeria Customs Service so as to promote interagency cooperation stating that “customs in the course of their job, apprehend drugs and hand over the drugs to NDLEA”, without trying to rob shoulders with the NDLEA advising the Police to imbibe such practice for the good of the industry and the country in general.
“My advice is that if you continue with this issue, you will lose control of maritime because there cannot be one hundred percent declaration. For instance, I am about to load my container and a friend brought a bicycle and say kindly deliver to my cousin in Nigeria and there is space in the container, he puts the bicycle there. But if you want to follow a total procedure, that bicycle is not supposed to be there. If it is there, then it has contravened the manifest.
“So, we are looking forward to seeing you synergize with the customs because your job has vindicated you to be excellent officers but I am telling you that it is going to cause cold war. It is a good thing you have safeguarded the country against revenue loss but I want you to do your job in harmony with other agencies. The people you said have compromised as well represented you as police which they have to be subjected to disciplinary actions.
“I will want us to look at this thing holistically and think about the best way to move forward and sustain this industry so that there will not be altercations and agitations every time otherwise this will continue to affect people who do not have anything to do with illegalities because if there is a congestion at the port, it is going to affect the people that are free and at the end of the day, may lead to capital flight by way of demurrage payment “, he said.
Also speaking, the Commissioner of Police, Maritime, CP Emmanuel Ade Aina who stood in for the AIG Maritime who was unavailable at the time of the visit, said that if the importers and their agents were doing the right thing, there wouldn’t be need for Police to block already released cargo.
“In the meeting I had with terminal operators recently , they said that the customs was supposed to be the lead agency but assuming, without conceding that they are the lead agency, you will discover also that immediately the goods leave the port, they also have an enforcement team outside the port, what is the essence? If the customs inside the port are supposed to check and confirm that the containers are proper and fit to go out but because the officer that is posted there was compromised, that is the essence of Police intervention.
“Left for me, there should not be any reason to block a container but the fact remains that we see irregularities going on. So, as much as possible, one of the things that we did when I came back was that there should not be any blockage if the person blocking that container is not ready to investigate it. And so, I made them write. I made sure that for you to block a container, you have to tell me why you are blocking it and by the time they bring the report, the intelligence we received was that there are some containers involved in illegalities.
“So, it is information that we received that makes us block containers. Otherwise, we will be failing in our responsibility if information is given and because we want to please freight forwarders, we fold our hands. Then, what is the essence of the information that we have gotten? It’s not that we want to witch-hunt but when we have matters like this, we are bound to act on them in order not to jeopardize the country and her economy.”
“So, the cooperation we need from you is, let there be nothing to implicate you. We have seized containers here that we didn’t find anything incriminating. We have to apologize to the affected importer and let him go at the end of the day. So, what I am trying to say is if we are clean in our importation, if there is nothing incriminating, we won’t have any need to hold your consignment.
“But in the last two to three weeks now, we have had cases of wrong declaration where somebody declared that they imported two Hiace Buses, they even quoted their chassis number and customs cleared it to be containing vehicles and they showed us paper but when we opened the container, it was not vehicles that were inside and we seized the container and by the time we opened it, there was no vehicle but Mayonnaise and other contraband items.
“There are instances when people will import bullet proof doors without an end user certificate. These are the reasons why containers are being blocked. I wish there would not be any irregularities, then one can now talk of disturbances of the maritime police. But as I said, I am minimizing the incidences of container blocking and asking them to show me cause why a container must be blocked”, he submitted.