By Godwin Oritse
THE Tin-Can Island Port Command of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, has employed stringent security measures following threats by protesting clearing agents to burn down the Customs Processing Centre, CPC, of the Command.
Disclosing this to newsmen yesterday, the Customs Area Comptroller of the Command, Mr. Austen Warikoru, stated that he had to secure and safe-guard the unit by employing a crowd control strategy.
Warikoru said that because of the importance of the Unit to its operation, only duly accredited Customs agents will allowed into the Customs facility.
It will be recalled that last week clearing agents attacked Customs officers and vandalised their offices and vehicles over Customs’ tariff.
Meanwhile, the protesting agents have downed tools and withdrawn their services from the Command.
Despite the withdrawal of services, the Command last week raked in a total of N3.7 billion as against its N3.5 billion weekly revenue.
The Command’s boss warned that import duties are not negotiable, adding that agents must pay whatever duty given to them.
He also lamented that even the banks are also complaining about vandalisation of their properties
‘They are hoodlums’
His said: “My officers were humiliated. It means I was humiliated and the entire Nigeria Customs Service was also humiliated by some hoodlums who call themselves Customs agents.
“We did not chase them out, but decided that we have to reinforce our crowd control measures.
“We would no longer tolerate a situation whereby anybody is allowed access to our offices without a genuine cause.
“How can we be chasing duty collection and yet disallow genuine agents who pay these duties from coming to us?
“In spite of their action, last week we still raked in N3.7 billion. The legitimate agents are clearing their goods while criminals amongst them are the ones fomenting trouble.”
Since last week uneasy calm has pervaded the Tin-Can Island port in Apapa, Lagos, following the attack by a group of rampaging clearing agents in which vehicles and offices of some customs officers at the Command were left in ruins.
The crises which disrupted normal activities at the port from Wednesday all through Thursday became intense by Friday, thereby necessitating the Area Command to ask for a re-enforcement of armed men from the Ikeja Federal Operations Unit, FOU.
Chairman of Tin-Can port chapter of the Association of Nigerians Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, TCIP, Mr. Kayode Collins Farinto, in an interview with our correspondent said beyond the duty collection, the agents were protesting alleged extortion by some officers of the Command.
Although the agents’ action appeared uncoordinated owing to its apparent hijack by hoodlums, sources said the action which was masterminded by the Tin-Can port chapter of the Association of Nigerians Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), was staged to protest the new imported vehicles’ data base for revenue collection.
But Area Controller of the command, Austen Warikoru who expressed shock at the attack said the agents were yet to meet with him officially to register their complaint, as at press time.
Narrating the ordeal, Controller Warikoru said the impasse started on Wednesday when a group of agents took advantage of the presence of members of the Reconstituted Task Force on Customs Reforms, to launch attacks on some officers at the terminal.
According to him, the agents specifically targeted customs offices at the Five Star Logistics and Ports & Cargo terminals where they allegedly broke down the windows and doors of the valuation offices, as well as vandalized cars of customs officers.
“Their chairman, Kayode Farinto, has refused to dialogue with me about their grievances.
All I heard from my officers is that the agents said they should be allowed to determine what they can afford to pay as revenue on imported cars, and I said it is not possible. How do you tell government what duty to pay for your imported goods?
He specifically fingered the Valuation and Enforcement Units which he claimed had been extorting them, “even though our members have been complying with the duty collection hence the command’s revenue has been raising steadily”.
Farinto who alleged that agents were chased out of the premises forcefully however vowed that his members would not commence work until the Customs headquarters intervene.
Reacting to the allegations, Warikoru explained that the harmonized tariff on imported vehicles data base which had been in force since January 2010 was not a unilateral decision of the Nigeria customs Service, by as directed by government based on the recommendation of a committee.
According to him, the Tariff harmonization committee was set up by government with representatives drawn from the Customs, Ministries of Transport, Finance, Industry, as well as the manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN). Government, he said, is the only authority that can reverse the directive
Warikoru who also dismissed the allegation of extortion said it was all a smokescreen. He said it is not possible for anybody to ask for bribes from an agent who now pays several times higher duty on an imported vehicle than before.