NAGAFF queries Tincan chapter Secretary, Nwosu over Customs’ anti-smuggling comment


…As Aniebonam cautions against unguarded utterances

The National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) has queried its Tincan Island Port chapter Secretary, Mr. Godfrey Emeka Nwosu over the interview he granted the media on Wednesday in Lagos where he condemned the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) anti-smuggling war as “a scam”.

The National President of NAGAFF, Chief Increase Uche in the query sighted by our correspondent  in Lagos yesterday claimed that Nwosu’s unauthorized comment in the interview were in contradiction of the ideals of the association and in breach of its statutes.

Uche pointed out that in line with the bye-laws of the association, which according to him emphasized the principle of fair hearing, he (Nwosu) had been required to state reason(s) why disciplinary action should not be taken against him for violating the rule of engagement of NAGAFF.

He therefore demanded that his reply to the query must reach him (Uche) within 24 hours of the receipt of the query.

The query reads,” The attention of the national headquarters has been drawn to the unauthorized comments in a press interview which you granted to a media outfit where you made some claims which are in contradiction of the ideals of our great association and also I breach of our statutes.

“Consequently, in line with the bye-laws of NAGAFF which emphasizes the principle of fair hearing, you are hereby required to state reason(s) why disciplinary action should not be taken against you for violating the rules of engagement of NAGAFF.

“Your reply to this query must reach the undersigned within 24 hours of the receipt of this query”.

Meanwhile, the founder of NAGAFF, Dr. Boniface Aniebonam has advised the leadership of the various freight forwarding associations to be guided in their utterances in the interest of the investments of their clients adding that “it is our patriotic duty to consider the economic and indeed overall interest of the country in all our dealings at and around customs ports”.

Aniebonam gave the advice through the Head of Protocol, Office of the Founder, NAGAFF Headquarter, Hilda O. Oyanna, while reacting to the interview granted to the media by the Tincan Island Port chapter Secretary, Mr. Emeka Nwosu where he described the anti-smuggling war of the customs as “a scam”.

He said that it was in his considered opinion that an action that seemed to constitute a barrier to trade was a barrier to national development even as he called on the leadership of the various freight forwarding associations to be circumspect in all their actions for the good of the greater numbers and indeed Nigeria international trade.

While recalling that before his voluntary retirement last year, after 20 years of association management and administration, he strived to encourage education and knowledge, respect for rule of law and regulation, collaboration and partnership both at local and international levels, friendship and most importantly patriotism, he equally recalled that he made effort to develop a system for conflict resolution using the mode of consultation, communication and dialogue, other than taking laws into their hands.

“But in real terms, I have noted a process of avoidable blackmail in the manner we address issues of concern to us. This is exactly why I said those who live in a glass house should not throw stones because yours too shall be broken. My advice to the leadership of the various associations is to always adopt a system of using internal mechanism in all matters of trade dispute for resolution.

“It is regrettable and most unfortunate that freight forwarders are the “weeping child” because we have refused to resolute ourselves arising from unhealthy competition. We engage in too much rivalry, whereas the “sky is wide enough for birds to fly without disturbing one another” It might be bitter but let me say this; it is folly for practitioners to believe that government will blink on matters of revenue.

“The way to go is to imbibe the culture of genuine and proper declaration of import and export transactions for customs purposes and other related regulatory agencies of the government operating in our ports and Boarder stations. I do hope that the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria shall take responsibility to regulate and control freight forwarding profession in Nigeria in line with statutory duty.

“I am worried, I have been reading from various newspapers, online reporters and electronic media wherein some leaders of the association in the freight forwarding practice are throwing stones from glass to houses. It is a primary duty for us to protect our client’s investment rather than causing an action that shall lead to destruction. I have noted cases of blackmail of the office of the AIG Maritime which has resulted to the involvement of Nigeria Shippers Council in cargo operations and of course the most recent which involved the FOU and CGC Strike Force”, he said.

It will be recalled that Mr. Godfrey Chukwuemeka Nwosu, stated unequivocally in Lagos on Wednesday that “the Nigeria Customs anti-smuggling war is a scam that has over years been bleeding the nation and innocent traders and their agents mercilessly, while enriching a circle of customs personnel and their cohorts”.

Nwosu, who is the Secretary of the Tin Can Island Port Chapter, National Association of Government Approval Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), alleged that the operatives of the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) under the respective zones of the NCS, as well as those in the Comptroller-General of Customs (CGC) Strike Force were merely out to harass and extort money from traders and their agents.

Describing the FOU and the CGC Strike Force as mere instruments of oppression and extortion, Nwosu compared both bodies to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF).

“We are appreciative that SARS in the face of the enthusiastic #EndSARS social media campaign, the squad has been undergoing reforms to check the excesses of the operatives,” he said.

According to him, the NAGAFF Tin-Can Chapter intends to spearhead similar campaigns, #EndFOU, #EndCGCStrikeForce, with the aim of instigating reforms to curb the high-handedness and exploitative tendencies of the operatives.

He said that the recourse to the impending #EndFOU#EndCGCStrikeForce campaigns would help check the frequent losses of lives from gunshots at scenes of FOU checkpoints, during market raids by the operatives, and during high speed chases by FOU operatives after suspected smugglers and gunfights between both groups.

In his words: “We can’t continue to record avoidable deaths, all because splinter FOUs mount checkpoints and raid markets to intercept consignments and extort money from traders or their agents for goods that were duly cleared and released from the seaports, airports or land border stations.

“We are crying bitterly about the agonies that traders, particularly importers, and their agents are regularly subjected to along the highways by multiple FOU units intercepting cargoes and seizing these and taking them away to their operational headquarters where the cargo owner or the representative is unable to meet up with the terms of their extortion. At the headquarters, the extortion rates are so much higher and you end up paying out so much if you are desirous of retrieving your goods that were impounded not because of any legitimate infraction, but simply to intimidate and extort you.”

Nwosu accused the FOUs and the CGC Strike Force of allegedly conspiring in regularly organising press conferences to announce and display alleged smuggled goods purportedly “seized by “eagle-eyed and gallant officers from economic saboteurs”, events which, according to him, are stage-managed and the same goods recycled to hoodwink members of the public gullible enough to be hoodwinked.

In the words of the NAGAFF Tin-Can Chapter Secretary: “The FOU has been split into three subunits. They have Checkpoints FOU. They have Patrols FOU. Same unit of Customs! And somebody is somewhere defending it? Somebody would be there to tell you that they have recorded so much and they will stage manage seizures and call the press to say, ‘We caught container-load of this, we caught container-load of that.’

“One seizure they would flash it on the media; on the news more than three times. People are not keen on taking notice of it. Strike Force will come and tell you ‘this rice, this okrika was caught’. Tomorrow, FOU will come and splash the same seizures as its achievement in this system!”

Urging the CGC, Colonel Hamed Ibrahim Ali (rtd), and his management team to harmonize the operations and manage the human resources of the Service effectively through a more strategic deployment of its personnel for efficiency, Nwosu told the Customs top brass to deploy the FOU to be part of the cargo clearing and delivery system at the ports, if it does not trust in the capacity of resident officers at the land border posts, seaports or airports to execute their briefs in the system, rather than, according to him, the prevailing situation of FOU operatives haunting the highways and engaging in extortion and pretending to be checking non-existing anomalies in cargoes in transit to warehouses or markets.

Addressing the Customs Chief directly, Nwosu told Ali thus: “CGC, move promptly to stop the FOU nuisance along inner city roads and the highways. It’s your service; you know how you manage it. I’d you feel so comfortable with the operations of FOU; let him send them to the ports to become resident officers. It is abhorrent that cargo duly released by Releasing Officer at an Area Command under the watchful eyes of an experienced Controller will leave the port, enter the road for delivery and be intercepted again. Who is fooling who here? In the process of such intercepts, many lives have been lost and many limbs maimed by gunshots. Today, you hear Customs killed somebody in Idiroko! Tomorrow, you hear smugglers killed Customs! Some other day, the story is that stray bullets from Customs hit an innocent person nearby. Why? It is because you have split your FOU into several other operations.”

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