By Dotun Ibiwoye
The Nigeria Export Processing Zone Authority, NEPZA, has petitions the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, Alhaji Abdullahi Dikko, urging him to intervene in the persistent actions of the Controller in charge of Lilypond Customs command in respect of the operations of the Free zone and Lekki Free zone in particular.
The request was made in reference to the recent seizure of consignments containing furniture meant for the Lekki Free Trade Zone.
In letter sent to the Comptroler General dated 12th January 2011, the managing director of NEPZA, Dr . Sina Agboluaje stressed that the mode of operation of the Lilypond Customs command Lagos is ridiculing the Federal government’s policy on Free Zone Scheme and paralyzing the entire day to day operation of the free zones.
NEPZA seek among other things a declaration that the stand of the Customs Area Command and Assistant Controller General, ACG, in charge of Western Zonal for purportedly suspending the operations of the Free Zone as being unlawful and contrary to the Public Service Rules.
The NEPZA said the action of the Customs officers mentioned above is also against the Free Zone regulations as there is no basis for such action and no formal correspondence was conveyed to the Zone Management to that effect.
According to Agboluaje, the meeting held on the 8th and 9th of December 2010 with the Lilypond Controller in connection to the consignment imported by various investors that had been unduly detained for over two months yielded not result.
“On 9th December, 2010, during our meeting with the Lilypond Contoller and the ACG, he defiantly stated to us that he has suspended attending to any request emanating from Lekki Free Zone because of an alleged case of smuggling pending against one of the Free Zone investor i.e. CCECC Nigeria FZE, Lekki Free Zone.” he said.
“He stated that unless and until the case is resolved, he is not going to process any further request in favour of any investor in the zone. We drew his attention to the impropriety of his approach to the issues. We advised that the operations of other bona fide investors be processed while investigations involving CCECC Nigeria FZE be carried out to conclusion and appropriate remedy be applied but our appeal fell on deaf ears. “
NEPZA also wants the CG to ask the Lilypond Command to attend to Free Zone applications on site rather than requesting that items involved in any transaction be moved to the seaport for examination, which constitute additional cost and unending bureaucracy.
Agboluaje further added: “Between December, 2009 and March 2010, CCECC Nigeria Free Zone Enterprise lawfully imported 12x40ft containers into the Zone.
On the 13th of March 2010, CCECC Nigeria FZE attempted to remove part of the furniture in the 4 containers earlier unstuffed into the Nigerian Customs Territory without recourse to due process which was aborted by the Zone’s security personnel and the goods were turned back to the zone.”
“The incidence was promptly reported to NEPZA and the resident Customs Officers in the Zone for their information and further necessary action. The Nigeria Customs Service on their part moved into the Zone and sealed the 8x40ft containers that were examined and took record of the 4 containers whose contents were emptied and found that the quantities imported as manifested in the import document were equal to the total quantity found on ground.”
Within the year, the investor utilized part of the furniture that were stored in their warehouse in furnishing their offices and residential accommodation for their personnel inside the Zone.
Sometimes in November 2010, the Management of the Free Zone enterprise was advised by the resident customs officers that since there is a lift on the ban of importation of furniture into Nigerian territory, they can apply for the transfer of the goods if they so desire.
Accordingly, they were improperly guided by the customs officers in the zone and were asked to write a letter to the Customs Area Comptroller , Lilypond Area Command in respect of same.