By Pini Jason
LAST year or so, the Federal Government did the wise thing to send many so-called security agencies packing from the nation’s ports.

This was in order to rid Nigerian ports of bottlenecks that hampered the clearing of goods within maximum of 24 hours. The aim is to make our ports user-friendly, facilitate trade, improve on revenue collection which is currently lost to more efficient neighbouring ports and finally contribute to vision of 20:2020.

Before the Federal Government wielded the big stick at the ports, there were such agencies like Customs, Immigration, Quarantine, National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control, Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Standards Organisation of Nigeria, National Security and Civil Defence Corps, (can I catch my breath please?), Nigeria Police, Mobile Police, State Security Services, Army, Navy, Airforce, Interpol and many others I can’t remember now! Each of these agencies arrogated to itself the power to examine, detain or release goods! It was like every new agency created by the government deployed itself to the ports. Let us not deceive ourselves.

There was a thriving egunje culture at the ports. This frustrated importers and added to the cost of goods. When you think of some of the silly things we have done and still do in this country you would agree with me that we are simply ridiculous!

Last week, I watched one gentleman from the NDLEA on a national television making a case for his agency to return to the ports. The man simply looked pathetic!

He made it sound as if we would all die if the NDLEA did not return to the ports. He did not prove that more cocaine has come into Nigeria since NDLEA was sacked from the ports. My view after listening to the man was that if the NDLEA can only be relevant by working at the ports, then it had no job and should be disbanded. I have my reasons.

A Customs officer is one of the best trained persons anywhere in the world. And that includes the Nigerian Customs. And by the way, Customs is an international organisation and what obtains in the UK or Australia used to obtain here; I don’t know of now.

Elsewhere in the world, the only people you find at the ports are Customs, Immigration, Quarantine and Port Health officers. The Ports Authority is usually the landlord. Those who search for and intercept hard drugs or prohibited plants, animals and food in other ports of the world are neither NDLEA nor NAFDAC type of oddities. They are Customs and Quarantine.

In the golden days

In the golden days of Customs and Excise with Mr. Henry Duke as Chairman and Chief Executive, the Nigerian Customs officer was, and I should believe is, trained to do his job, including what the NDLEA, NAFDAC, SON etc pretend to be doing at the ports today.

That is why, in addition to the powers invested on the Customs under the Customs and Excise Management Act, CEMA, the Customs was also invested with the powers of the Police! Any good released by the Collector in the shed stood released before God and man!

Any subsequent query was raised by the Valuation, Manifest and Investigation seats of Customs or by Ministry of Finance, if is that serious revenue loss. But unfortunately, apart from dumping demobiliser soldiers on Customs, the powers of Customs were vitiated during the military regime and its job was out-sourced to other organisations in and outside Nigeria.

You will recall that military regime was famous for “government-by-proposals”. If you knew any General, you packaged your proposal about how to make easy money. Your proposal became policy and a decree was churned out to back it! That was how a smart Alec packaged the fraud called pre-shipment inspection, brought in a foreign company and everybody concerned made money while the Customs was reduced to onlookers as people brought in containers of saw dust! Today we are talking about “destination inspection” as if it is a new invention, and I ask myself, what was the Customs doing before “pre-shipment inspection”? Was it not destination inspection? Why did we need to position a foreign company now to do destination inspection? Why not equip the Customs with the same scanning machines to do its job like its counterparts elsewhere?

This type of daylight robbery which ordinary Nigerians do not easily comprehend really makes me angry! I seem to have digressed.

As I said earlier, a Customs officer is very well trained to carry out this same duty for which NDLEA wants to be at the ports. Any importer bringing in chemicals and medicinal products had to back his Bill of Entry with a permit issued by the Pharmaceutical Board of Nigeria. Although Nigeria has become more corrupt and people have mortgaged their integrity now, I can say that the Pharmaceutical Permit was never issued frivolously by the Board.

Even forged ones, like forged invoices and Bills of Laden were still detected by Customs officers. So, once an item entered by the importer falls under chemicals and chemical products or required special permits, a Customs officer demanded for these additional documents. And if not produced he or she queried the Bill of Entry.

Today’s techonology and sniffer dogs

Today, concealment, hard drugs and smuggling of other prohibited items have become a problem. The answer to such problems is technology and sniffer dogs, not superfluous agencies whose operations are manual anyway.

In modern world, before goods, accompanied or unaccompanied, are positioned for Customs inspection, they are scanned and trained dogs sniff them for hard drugs. This is not to say that interception and interdiction of prohibited goods at the ports are 100 percent foolproof.

But that is why there are raids by Customs and Drug Enforcement Agencies within the country. All these other agencies should concentrate on internal raids to stop those who succeed in beating Customs, Immigration and Quarantine from benefiting from their illicit acts.

The Customs should be provided with modern equipment and facilities and not have their responsibilities out-sourced to other agencies and foreign companies backed by powerful politicians and retired Generals! The Federal Government MUST not go back on the sacking of the interlopers from the ports. Come on! Do we need journalists at the ports to intercept prohibited pornographic materials?

Terrorism: Why negotiation is not so simple

SINCE the POLITICALLY MOTIVATED Islamist terrorists decided to trash the country, the well-timed popular refrain has been that the Federal Government MUST negotiate with a murderous terror gang or else the bloodletting will not stop. The latest voice to that effect was the Vice President who last week called for ceasefire and discussion. It sounded like surrender!

This followed that of the Senate President, David Mark. Last week also Senator Mark said among other lamentations: “I would like to add that those misguided groups are our brothers and sisters. Government must therefore explore all avenues to discuss with them”. Such sentiment coming from the Vice President and a man atop an institution charged with making laws for the good governance of Nigeria must have elicited jubilation in terrorist camps from Maiduguri to Mogadishu!

When people resort to such mushiness, do they spare a thought to the families whose father, son, uncle, brother, mother, wife, sister, daughter and aunt have been murdered by these terrorists? Comrade Kabiri Olaitan Oyerinde was buried last week.

Those who murdered him in his home in Benin City are equally our misguided “brothers and sisters” and the Federal Government “must” also negotiate with them! The armed robbers and kidnappers are also our misguided “brothers and sisters”. Why hound them instead of negotiating with them? It seems the only “misguided” group that is not our “brothers and sisters” are members of MASSOB who are being shot at sight, arrested and jailed just for wearing Biafran flag!

Since the terrorists have access to the media, posting video clips and issuing press releases, they should first state their grievances publicly so that we know what the negotiation should be all about. We all knew the grievances of the Niger Delta militants and every fair-minded Nigerian sympathised with them even before the Federal Government engaged them.

All we know today is that the terrorists are on a Jihad to Islamise Nigeria and they reject Western education. Moreover, their media/intellectual arm is confusing us. Everyday the reason for the terrorism changes meaning that they are shopping for grievances.

It will be better if the Northern Governors and political leaders start the negotiation with the terrorists. Such negotiation must be open so that Nigerians are not swindled into concessions that could set the nation on more serious conflagration.

Mark my words; if we are not careful, it could tear Nigeria apart for the Federal Government to jump into negotiation with terrorists with hidden agenda and makeshift grievances, especially in a manner that suggests a weak position. Where the so-called grievances are such that the governments in the North cannot deal with them the Federal Government could then assist. I think that it was mere histrionics for Alhaji Datti Ahmed to have called off his negotiation with the terrorists.

What is there in their so-called grievances that the negotiation must be so secret that you could not even mention the word “negotiation”?

The claim of poverty as the reason for this high stake power game played with innocent lives has been thoroughly floored even by the utterly ridiculous conditions and ultimatum the terrorists are giving to President Jonathan. It is obvious that one of the purposes is to humiliate and ridicule the President.

Is all the money spent on bombs, sophisticated guns and logistics not enough to change the lives of at least one million poor youths in the North? Poverty indeed!


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