Port users allege extortion by Lagos State officials

Exporters and Customs agents have drawn a battle line with the Lagos State Wharf Landing Authority over extortion and harassment. BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports

The wharf landing fees introduced in 2009 by Lagos State government to shore up revenue profile for councils hosting ports has been severely criticised by importers, clearing agents and truckers using the seaports.

The fees were introduced by the state under Wharf Landing Fees Law No. 5 of 2009 to check the harmful consequences of trucking activities in the port areas.

However, stakeholders said that the N500 paid on a 20-feet container, N1,000 on 40-feet and N300 on every vehicle imported through the ports as landing fees served no purpose.

They explained that the officials of Lagos State Wharf Landing Fees Collecting Authority (LSWLFCA) saddled with such responsibility were hiding under the law to harass and extort money from truck owners.

In addition, they noted that wharf landing fee was tantamount to double taxation.

The President of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Chief Remi Ogungbemi, for instance, alleged in Lagos that apart from harassment of truckers by the state officials, no receipt was issued on money collected. He added that his members could no longer bear the harassment as it was having negative effects on their businesses.

Ogungbemi said: “In most cases, if the drivers pay this money, they don’t issue any receipt and when they ask for receipt, it will become an offence. So, we are no longer comfortable paying the money.

“Sometimes they impound our trucks and slam a bill of between N100,000 and N500,000.

They forcefully break into compartments of our vehicles and remove the batteries.”

Confrontation

Similar complaints were made last year, when some companies using the seaports decided to snub LSWLFCA’s officials over the fees.

The companies complained of extortion and corruption among the officials.

At a stakeholders meeting in Lagos, out of the 240 invoices issued to the various companies, only 81 companies or 34 per cent responded in terms of payments, while 159 companies or 64 per cent declined to pay.

The Chairman of the authority, Engr Joe Igbokwe, who was jittery over the resistance, said that if appeasement failed, force and coercion would become inevitable.

He said: “We do not think N1,000 for 40feet container and N500 for 20feet container is too much for the owners to pay to the government.

“Again, cars are meant to pay just N300, while SUVs are to pay N500.

But in most cases, the drivers in custody of these cars refuse to pay, especially at Port and Terminal Multiservices Limited (PTML)’s bonded terminal at Otto Wolf, Mile 2 and elsewhere.”

NPA’s position

Miffed by this, Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) said it would seek redress over the fee by the state government. Its Managing Director, Hadiza Bala Usman, disclosed this in Lagos while addressing truck owners over the complaints.

She noted: “We are going through the Attorney-General to take the Lagos State government to court over the wharf landing fee.”

Before now, the Federal Government had asked for an order directing Lagos to account, refund and pay all the amount of money it had charged, received and collected on container and other consignments, running into billions of naira since its implementation kicked off.

It also urged the court to declare that the state lacked power to make law on any maritime, shipping and navigation matters, including wharf landing, exclusively reserved in item 36 of the Exclusive Legislative List, Part 1 of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution.

Conclusion

Government should halt double taxation on all imports in order to reduce cost of shipping.

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