…It has been resolved, says Apapa Customs command
Port activities was on Thursday seriously disrupted, following futile attempt by Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) operatives to exit three trucks fully loaded with vegetable oil out of Apapa Port without official papers.
NOMMA confirmed that the vegetable oil laden trucks bore registration numbers JJJ 90XQ, KTU495XR and NSR 87 YJ respectively.
The development which according to eye witnesses began around 17.30 hours, paralyzed port activities for over an hour because officials of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) stood their ground, insisting that Customs must produce papers which authorized them to take such high numbers of trucks out.
“When all explanation by the Customs failed, one of the operatives drew his gun, the second did exactly the same, snapped the latch, resulting in sudden retreat by the NPA workers, who thought they would shoot.
“Perfectly timed, the driver of one of the trucks matched the throttle and spirited away the heavy cargo, hitting the empty road and driving off at good speed. The other two trucks drivers were however not so clever”, disclosed an eye witness to the NOMMA Correspondents as the retreating NPA workers got the gist and quickly mustered back, this time effectively blocking the exit.
“Expectedly, the reinforcement by way of more colleagues and the Port Police, those at the gate sent for, arrived by this time, outnumbering the Customs and which enabled them to take the wind off Customs sail.
“It was a clear case of total collapse of inter-agency collaboration. The NPA workers insisted that Customs must produce papers because the idea of exiting cargo off the port had become too rampant and now, exacerbated by the abnormalities of the COVID 19 modalities”, an eye witness said, even as a port operator who spoke on conditions of anonymity said one senior NPA official was rough handled.
“It was totally unexpected. The NPA men stood their ground and the men of the Customs enforcement got irate and drew their guns because port officials said the goods would not exit the ports. They even rough handled the Principal Manager at the gate, as well as a Deputy Commissioner of the Port Police for denying them the right of way”, he noted further.
However, upon NOMMA investigation, sources close to the Customs disclosed that the trucks contained seized vegetable oil which government had earmarked as COVID-19 palliatives.
The ‘contraband’ was therefore only being removed when NPA workers said no.
On the NPA side, a source relaying the incident said their men at the gate only did what was expected of them when they saw the trucks had no documentation. They only asked the Customs officers to speak with the Port Manager who was still at work but the Customs operatives blatantly refused, insisting that they had an “order from above” to take the goods out.
Our source further explained: “But you very much know, that whether seized cargoes or not, the right procedure is to notify agencies of government at the ports, especially the Nigerian Ports Authority through proper documentation before exiting the port with cargo”.
He warned that the recurring situation in which Customs enforcement unit takes law into their hands should be checked to avoid a total breakdown of law and order.
NOMMA confirmed that the three trucks contained seized gallons of vegetable oil which were taken out of APM Terminals in Apapa Port and also that during the fracas, one of the trucks left the port while two others were stopped by NPA officials and the Port Police.
As at press time, NOMMA gathered that the NPA executive management had escalated the issue with the intent of putting an end to the recurring feud which they believe might not be unconnected with sentimental inclinations arising from rivalry between both agencies which they think should also be resolved.
Even though Mr. Joseph Attah, Customs National Public Relations Officer (PRO) neither took his calls nor responded to our media query, Nkeiruka Nwala, the Apapa Customs Command PRO said the matter had been resolved.
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