Officials of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and other agencies involved in boarding and rummaging inside ship are using dockworkers to convey illegal cargoes out of the port for personal gains, BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
In 2020, the Federal Government issued a new policy banning officials of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Port Health Service (PHS) and other agencies involved in boarding and rummaging from receiving souvenirs from captains of ships calling at Nigerian ports.
The decision was taken to curb sharp practices frequently perpetrated by the government officials when they board vessels to perform their statutory responsibilities. However, between March and November 2021, the Port Standing Task Team (PSTT) said that it made seizures that have filled two 20-foot containers to the brim.
The team accused the officials of NCS, NIS and other agencies of hiding under the guise of inspection to take large quantities of product samples of cargoes from ships for examination to enrich themselves.
The PSTT was launched in 2020 by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, in order to fight corruption in the port system, following complaints that government agencies were not doing what they were supposed to be doing.
The team noted that it was able to save foreign vessels calling at the ports N3.2 billion, which could have been lost to bribery and other illegal demands by government officials boarding vessels at Apapa and Tin Can Island ports.
According to the Coordinator of PSTT, Comrade Moses Fadipe, it takes an average of between seven and 10 days to resolve issues with masters of vessels with government officials before now, saying that in 2020, the ship master pays $20,000 per day.
However, he said that due to PSTT’s intervention, it takes an average of one to four hours to solve issues, so they could not pay such money again. For instance, Fadipe said that the infractions by Nigerian officials at the port in 2020 were 161, saying that in 2021 they were reduced to only 21.
He added that the team had equally reduced the amount of government officials boarding vessels at berths. Unlike before, vessel waiting time had reduced drastically because within an hour of arrival, the vessels must break bulk.
Fadipe said in Lagos while sensitising dockworkers who gathered at the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN)’s Secretariat that dockworkers were being used to convey these illegal samples out of the port. He warned Nigerian dockworkers to stop helping Customs officers and other government agencies in carrying product samples out of the port.
He said: “From 3rd of March 2021 up till 26th of November 2021, we were able to save vessel masters demurrage of N3.2billion which has never happened in this country.
“In the port terminal every day, government officials go home with product samples, we know that some agencies are allowed to take samples and we know the quantity they ought to carry, but what we are saying now is commercial quantity and you will never see these officers carrying it by themselves, they always use dockworkers to carry it.
I am begging you to please, don’t carry samples for anyone again. “I have met with the Customs highest authorities and at the command level and I have told them that nobody will take samples for any officer again. We have made seizures in the last four months and it has filled two twenty-foot containers to the brim within two months, we seize samples every day.
We have a form called same form, and we now compelled them to fill that form, and ask them to go and call the official that own the sample, but they would never show up. “We are reaching a stage now whereby, we would be arresting anyone caught with such samples.
Anyone that is being victimised for rejecting to convey samples for any government official should report to the PSTT and to the MWUN Secretariat.” Fadipe appealed to MWUN leadership, stressing the need for the union to work together with the team by way of information sharing.
The coordinator said that MWUN, under the leadership of Comrade Adewale Adeyanju, had been drafted into the task team and in the next forty eight hours, a letter to that effect would be conveyed to the union to confirm its status.
Also, President General of MWUN, Comrade Adewale Adeyanju, promised that the union was committed to work with the PSTT in order to bring sanity to the Nigerian Port system. He said that PSTT would bring efficiency to the port and to the dockworkers better than before.
The president general assured that the practice of conveying samples on behalf of government officials is giving the union a bad name and it has stopped forthwith. He equally warned that any member of the union caught to be working in collaboration with drug peddlers automatically would seize being member of the union.
President of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA)’s branch of the union, Comrade Ifeanyi Mazeli, said that PSTT could not function without MWUN, describing the visit as a step in the right direction.
According to him, “you cannot rule out the fact that some NPA staff can also use their identity cards to sneak out samples from the port. He said the inspection has to be holistic.”
The Federal Government should impose a stiff sanction to certain sharp practices in the port as mere warning has not deterred offenders.