WEEKEND GINGER: Touting set to end in MMIA


… As Dikko plans to saturate Customs area with CCTVs

The Comptroller General of Customs, Dr. Dikko Inde Abdullahi has finally read the riot act to freight forwarders at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA): touch my people again, and go to jail!

President Jonathan Goodluck
President Jonathan Goodluck

The warning came Wednesday, shortly before the CGC reopened business operations in major sections of the Customs area, which had been closed for 12 days, because some agents, assisted by touts took the laws into hands, and variously embarrassed the command’s Customs Area Controller (CAC), including pelting him with stones.

The Controller’s offence was that he discovered that some unbecoming activities were taking place around the bulk breaking section of the cargo terminal; and he had the temerity not only to challenge them, but also to decide that it must stop.

Consequently, the CAC,, Olanrewaju called for reinforcement from the Federal Operations Unit, Zone ‘A’ who confronted the protesting touts, forcing them to scamper for safety, as the FOU operatives reportedly fired sporadically into the air. Some clearing agents were said to have been arrested in the melee.

Nigerians are remarkably funny lot. The average Nigerian would enter into the American embassy and behave like a saint.

The London train operators (tube) publicly display everywhere: anyone who behaves “unruly” to its staff, would be prosecuted. Nigerians in London do not need to read it, before they behave well.

I sat near a Nigerian man in a BA, Boeing from New York to Nigeria, through London. He was a quintessential gentleman. At Heathrow, he passed through the interconnection screenings with me, behind him, like a most amiable angel. Yet, hardly had we touch down at the MMIA in Lagos, than this fellow metamorphosed, into the most offending fiend!

He criticized everything and everyone, beginning from the immigration officers, the Customs, the conveyor belts etc, etc.
At a point, I was wondering if it was the same ‘saintly’ soul that had been my ‘good’ friend in the air.

A Nigerian driver taking a delegation of the Board of Maritime Academy of Nigeria to Ghana by road, a few years back, left Lagos in a gale of dust. He drove so recklessly that ‘we’ were all sorely afraid. But hardly had we passed the Nigerian side of the Customs/ Immigration point, than the same driver transformed into the most humane, considerate and thoughtful driver. He drove so saintly and discreetly, through Lome into Aflao, Ghana, that we began to wonder, if it was the same ‘reckless’ driver that put the fear of God in us, a few hours earlier.

One of the Board members later ‘congratulated’ him, joking telling him that he would have ended up in jail, if he continued in his “mad driving”.

‘Our’ mis-behaviours are far from youthful exuberance because those involved, in each occasion were truly adults, not youths!

But back at the MMIA and CGC riot act, the agents by now must be very proud of themselves, being able to paralyse business operations for 12 long days.

How much has the nation lost to the crisis? How many importers failed to meet their supply schedules on the basis of the crisis? How did the touts/ agents come to grow, into such an intimidating factor?

Bluntly put, the tail is finally wagging the dog! Or how else do you describe a situation where well-fed, highly connected but mostly unlicensed ‘agents’ would enter a Customs facility and beat up those authorized to function there? It was gathered the mob manhandled also, the chapter Chairman of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Nze Alloy Igwe.
It totally leaves much to be desired.

An informed source, speaking under strict anonymity told the Maritime First that “those who fomented the trouble were no licensed agents”.

“Most of them were there illegally. There is no sane person who values his license that would go there and behave like that.

“But the reason is definitely, not those boys. The problem is actually with the regulatory and enforcement agents. They see things growing bad, but they turn the other eyes, and collect their settlement.

“If they want to do their job, the way it should be done, that crisis would be non existent” the source explained further, concluding on the note that a system that encourages operators not to have any office, but mill around in Customs controlled area, had also legalized occasional mob behaviour.

Maybe, the touts have won the first round. But this may soon turn into a pyhrric victory when they realize the next line of action, by the Customs.

The CGC has directed that the NAHCO shed operational offices, and all other relevant areas now, should be covered with CCTV monitors, linked to the Customs Area Controller’s office, the Federal Operation Unit and the Comptroller General’s office in Abuja.

Specifically, right from the tarmac to the break bulk area; to the warehouse, examination bay and the loading section, would soon be covered by cameras that can be monitored at the command and the headquarters

In other words, the unlicensed agents, have unwittingly ignited a revolution, a new regime, where future touting may also be recorded, so that miscreants, broaching perpetrators cargo-flyers can be documented, prosecuted and gaoled.

Unknowingly, the touts have precipitated a course of action whose multiplier effects, may soon spread into other Customs ports, making it genuinely difficult for offering or taking of bribes.

The touts in MMIA have probably won the first round. A victory that may become, the beginning of the end, to serious touting in all Customs formations in Nigeria.

Goodbye touting, as the cameras are set to arrive soon!