IMPORTERS and their allies in the shipping sector are currently trembling and indeed, worried by the activities of the Special Weapons and Tactical Team (SWATT) set up by the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) of Nigeria Customs Service to compliment the operations of the Unit’s roving team.
The SWATT is being accused by freight forwarders and customs brokers that their activity is a direct duplication of the operations of the FOU Roving Team, thereby leading to indiscriminate interception of their cargoes and delay of goods already released by the same officers at the ports
Investigations however revealed that Usman yahaya, a Deputy Comptroller and acting Comptroller, Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, established the SWATT to compliment the roving team with a view to revving up revenue for the service.
FOU sources said SWATT came into being, to tackle the problem created by the improper examination of cargoes at the Lagos ports of Apapa, Tin Can Island, Port Multi-services Terminal limited, PTML and Kirikiri Lighter Terminal ,KLT, phases 1 and 2 including the Bonded Terminals by Customs and other security agencies personnel involved the examination of such cargoes.
Yahaya, formerly the Coordinator of the Comptroller General of Customs, CGC, Strike Force, Lagos Zone was said to set up the new task force team to beef up the activities of the conventional customs checks on the road, following rising incidents of non-compliance amongst importers and their allies
It was also gathered that Yahaya may have been encouraged to set up the team because of the news making the rounds about the diversion of cargoes evacuated from the Lagos sea ports to the Ikorodu Lighter Terminal and other Terminals within the state by Barge Operators selected by the Nigerian Pots Authority, (NPA), and the alleged smuggling of small and light weapons through the borders across the country with the neighbouring countries of Benin Republic, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon.
Most people are afraid that there might be an inherent abuse of powers by the team members in the discharge of their duties since there was no clearly defined responsibility. But DC Yahaya, the Command Acting Area Controller appears to have known what he wants to achieve in the long run:
To use the Special Team to compliment the efforts of the Lagos Roving Team Headed by Ricks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs to give a bite to its anti-smuggling operations at the Lagos seaports .
The FOU, Zone A, acting Comptroller, believes that with the SWAT Team, fraudulent importers with their agents who escape with their suspicious cargoes released at the port by beating the Lagos Roving Patrol Team on the road may not be lucky to beat the new Team to it.
National Light investigations revealed that there had been lot of misgivings about the new team, as the SWATT has allegedly gone beyond their scope of operation and started competing with the Lagos Roving Team Patrol Team in the interception and transfer of such suspected containers to the command premises at Ikeja. The SWATT major concern, insiders said was to win the heart of the Area Comptroller who set up the taskforce.
Note that not many agents have come to terms with the existence of the FOU Zone A , new patrol team members who are strategically stationed along the Oshodi-Apapa Express Way and other areas around the port environment.
The situation is said to have become so bad that containers intercepted by the special team which had been transferred to the command premises at Ikeja, had been linked to the Command Lagos Roving Team personnel by the agent.
This is because the team had been associated over the years with the stop and search of containers on the road and subsequent transfer of suspected cargos to the command premises for physical examination to ensure that what was declared in the importer’s Bill of Laden and the duty paid correspond with what was found in the container.
It is instructive to note that the Lagos Roving Team personnel may have been put in the dark over the last one moth about the total number of containers that had been intercepted and transferred to the command premises by the team . This is evident going by the recent interception of a container belonging to a well known agent which was transferred to the command premises.
Insiders hinted National Light that between Monday, March 11, 2020, and Wednesday, March, 13, 2020, the importer’s agent had shuttled between his Apapa office and the FOU, Zone A premises to reconcile his documents with the findings of the examination officers from the command to facilitate the release of the container but Lura, the Head of the Command, Lagos Roving Team was not aware of it. Only the acting Comptroller and the SWAT Team members were said to have known about the infraction.
The Roving Team members were said to have been selected and nurtured by Lura, which was why the team had been making spectacular seizures of contraband, particularly, vegetable oil and foreign parboiled rice, exotic vehicles and bullet proof including Pangolin scales. The last Pnangolin scales seizure made by the team was valued at about N10 billion.
Security watchers described as a wise decision Yahaya, the acting FOU, Zone A, acting Comptroller, to appoint Ogan to Head the SWAT Team, stressing that he is the only one who could effectively compliment the efforts the Lura led Lagos Team in the anti-smuggling war to ensure that the command stand out among its Competitors.
But reacting to the setup of SWATT and its operations, Dr. Boniface Aniebonam, Founder, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders(NAGAFF), believes that if the importers had made correct declaration and the security agencies personnel involved in the examination of cargoes at the ports do the right thing, there would not have been any need for a former FOU Zone A Comptroller to set up the Lagos Roving Team or the present acting Comptroller to think of establishing SWAT Team. ”It is an intervention Force”, he said.
Appealing to importers with their agents to be trade compliant, Aniebonam noted that compliant to trade regulations is the only way to stop running into trouble with the FOU, Zone A ,Patrol Teams.
Recall that Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General of Customs had made it clear to those that care to listen that ”no patrol team should remain at a location for more than 24 hours to avoid compromise.
Aniebonam noted that customs reform has improved on revenue collection, adding that the reason for different levels of customs checks on the road is because incompliance rate is too high. “So if you beat the roving team, you may not escape the SWATT.
The essence is to plug revenue leakage. I think what will be of interest is if anybody can come up with evidence that he is being intimidated on the road after paying the correct duties to customs, and not unnecessarily being afraid of customs who are doing their job”, he said.
He however advised the FOU controller to see that the activities of the SWATT are monitored very closely to avoid abuse.
Aniebonam noted that the role of customs examiners should be looked at, saying that the moment someone positions his goods for physical examination, there is more to conceal, insisting that it takes a good customs examiner to inspect the goods and if the content tallies in all respects, he will release the goods but if it is contraband like tyres, it will be subjected to outright seizure.
But if the content is traded goods and it is noticed that the value is low, the examiner should send it to the appropriate enforcement unit where additional revenue will be collected and the goods released.
“So, the problem is in compliance with trade regulations. As soon as you disclose your imported items, pay the relevant duties, you have no problem with either the roving customs team or even the so called newly setup SWATT by the FOU.