By Angela Okpe & Amaka Uche
An Assistant Superintendent of Customs, Dawodu Olatoni, has been remanded in Kirikiri Prisons, Lagos, in connection with the alleged disappearance of a 40-foot container belonging to a businesswoman in Lagos.
The suspect, attached to the Federal Operations Unit, Abuja, allegedly collected N1.025 million from the businesswoman, Mrs Mary Omo Ojo, in 2012, to clear the container in which were four cars and other goods. Trouble, however, started following Olatoni’s inability to deliver the container to the woman, as he claimed that it had been auctioned by the Customs.
Speaking with Vanguard, Omo Ojo, who said she suspected foul play, added: “We brought in two containers in November 2012, which he was supposed to help us clear. We paid him N1.025 million.
“My brother in the United States of America later sent telex of one of the containers through the Customs officer’s e-mail to facilitate the clearance. I waited patiently throughout November and December 2012 without any sign of the container as promised by him.
“On January 3, 2013, he called me to come and pick my container, but said that it had attracted N700,000 demurrage. But when I saw some of the documents, I discovered that payment for the release of the container was done January 2, whereas the money was paid to him in November 2012.
“It was also discovered that he had concluded everything about its release and every necessary payment, but my container was nowhere in sight.
“First, I reported to the Police in August 2013, he was invited but later released. The Police then told me that they needed the consent of the Inspector-General of Police on whether to take the case to court or not; this was because a retired IG intervened.
“Infuriated by the reply, I went to the then Comtroller-General of Customs office in Abuja, to lodge my complaint. But some Customs officers pleaded with me not to take such action. “At the end of the day, he (Olatoni) wrote an undertaking to pay me N8 million; N4 million in September and the balance the next month, but he never lived up to his promise.”
On his part, the suspect stated that Omo Ojo was not the owner of the container, adding that the bill of lading on the container did not bear her name. He clarified that he only assisted the complainant’s younger brother, who he claimed was his friend, to get an agent that would assist him clear his goods.
Asked what happened to the container, Olatoni said: “Due to the fact that they did not have the original bill of lading, it led to the container being delayed. Nobody can collect a container from a shipping company without the original bill of lading. So the container entered demurrage.
“I informed her about the situation and told her to go look for money. She said she was going to meet her aunt in Benin, but came with a bounced cheque. She said she was going back to get another cheque, only to return six months later. By then the Customs had gazetted the container.
“I have the document that the container had been released from the Customs. The reason why it entered auction was because it had exceeded the mandatory 90 days of clearance.
“She went to my office in Abuja, where they showed her all the documents that the container was auctioned by the office.”
Asked why he wrote an undertaking twice to refund the money estimated for the goods inside the container to the complaint, Olatoni said that he had refunded the amount paid by the owner of the goods to the complainant and that he was coerced by the complaint and his colleagues to write the second undertaking because of threat to his job.