Logically, tactfully he made his point, not necessarily to call attention, but rather, to enlighten everyone; that, not only is there Corruption in the ports, but that it can also be perfectly curbed!
The immediate past National President, Association of Nigerian License Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu not only understands that Government is the Enabler of Corruption in ports, he also says it, as he fields questions in his Lagos office, with a crew of Maritime First.
A group of journalists in Lagos who recently brainstormed together have concluded that the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has never been this corrupt. Do you think it should be the journalists saying this, when Customs brokers who are reportedly assisting the Customs Service bleed Nigerians are keeping quiet?
I read that story but I wasn’t surprised. I’m only surprised that the view is just coming now. The appellation corruption was coined by, not only the Nigerian Press, but also by the foreign press. The weapon used on everybody is that ‘you are corrupt’!
In every aspect of Nigerian life you hear of corruption being carried out, even at the highest level. Even when I read about the American political scene, it is the same on the issue of corruption.
In Nigeria, media are regarded as the Fourth Estate of the realm. The media is the only profession that was given specific responsibility of disseminating information to guide public opinion.
So when we have interaction with the press, we challenge them that, ‘it is not your duty to look the other way’, when you have cases of corruption, go and investigate.
Why would you see me going and say: ‘look at them, ‘agents are corrupt people’. Or because anyone is wearing Customs uniform, he is deemed corrupt; just like some would say the police is corrupt!
It is because of the lack of identifying the causative factors, but rather because it is only the press that can come forward with evidence that will inform the opinion of majority of the people. I can’t just say this Comptroller Abc is corrupt; will I not show how I got to know that he is corrupt? At least, based on certain things he had done that made him corrupt.
But, let me correct one wrong impression; the idea that we Customs Brokers are agents of Customs. On the other hand, we are the agents of the importers! We are licensed by Customs to represent the interest of the importers.
The agent, especially the Nigerian agent is seen as a culpable associate of the ‘corrupt’ importers. Because we are the interface between the Customs and the average shipper, in order to calculate the appropriate duty to pay to government from the importer.
But even as the interface, we did not travel with the importer to anywhere; he came back from his trip, he doesn’t give us the document on arrival, he takes the documents to bank, the banks have access to Customs, the licensed agents don’t have such an access!
It is when customs have classified the goods and checked its value they issue PAAR through his bank to him. He brings the PAAR to us; based on the information on the PAAR we do an assessment to which his bank will pay the money to Customs. Up till now, we don’t have anything to do with it.
We have only done declaration based on the document received from him through his bank and customs. It is when you are going for examination that yourself, as the agent, the Customs and other agencies are seeing the goods the shipper has gone to bring for the first time! But because somebody has to be held responsible, that is why Customs had to register all the Customs Brokers.
Then, Since I’m representing XYZ company, once they hold me, I should go and bring the man, but there are regulations to be followed before the Customs broker is released; if it is discovered that you know nothing about those declaration. It’s like if the duty for the container is supposed to be N15million and the man has given document where he is ready to pay 15 million, he passes the 15 million unto you, and you cook the papers to pay 10 million, then,you are going to jail.
There are so many scenarios to this, that’s why you see a man who started this job yesterday by the next Christmas he is already a big man because of the opportunities he has, but he can never succeed without conniving with the agencies of government that are in the port to make sure that the attempt does not scale through. You need to understand the role of Customs agents.
Over time, for eight years, we have been trying to partner with Customs to regard us, that we should not be left at the mercy of the importers. Let us be your own representative so that we can both safeguard the interest of the Federal Republic of Nigeria due to revenue generation.
It is not impossible that the importer is going to short change government who has an agent he has confided in and the man uses his own expertise and contact to enable the importer to scale through. Those scenarios are there.
It is as simple as loading offensive items into your car to go to Ibadan, then you get a policeman to sit in front, to give you cover so that they don’t stop you on the road to check your goods.
In order for a man to be paid his wages he must act for the people. So when the inspection agent left we make proposal to the government through Customs: pay the agent just one per cent of the CISS; pay it as commission for the agent, because the more money he pays correctly, the better for him because he has something to get back. But when government says no, if the importer is ready to pay you your wage, you have to help the importer so that he can come again because, if you don’t do it, there are others to do it.
For those who live on integrity, we have very few customers, but they are customers that can service our needs, not our wants.
I remember when I was in Port Harcourt, if you don’t have a gigantic office with latest cars, an importer will not give you job, for an individual agent, because they want to believe you have ‘arrived’ and their money will not be lost, not knowing that they are the ones paying for whatever you are displaying to them. That’s is their thinking.
For those who of us who do corporate business, we don’t have room for all that; they sign contract with you and you are doing all the clearing for the next three years. You dot the i’s, they give you how much you charge as commission, you agree on it, they sign and you sign. So, for three years you are assured of regular job; so why would you be looking for papers to twist?
However, like in every profession, like the journalists are complaining of fake journalists all over the place, there are also fake agents everywhere; and that is why the fake may preferred to be called a ‘forwarder’, because there are no requirements that will establish the fact. You can trace us because we have an office and we have a card that can be given out which has the address on it.
And it is the duty of the agent to know his importer, you will be wondering when an ‘agent’ is caught, and he says “the man called me and I went to his hotel and he gave me bill of laden”, that shows he is not a serious business man, but those are the type of crooked importers that can tinker with the system in order to make more money, more profit and then the agent is left to his own devise.
So that issue of corruption based on what the League of Editors wrote, was because the onus of proof has always been thrown at the journalists. So anytime they ask me, I reply by saying ‘are you not the journalists, go and do your investigation and find out who and who are involved’.
There are things we need to be all be very careful about; where the journalists are not even seeing ……
When a consignment leaves the port and while it is on the road they do checks, all those checks are not my border; even when I was the President, because when you are compliant you should not be afraid of anything.
For instance, if you are driving your car from here to Ibadan and your papers are complete, you will be driving with confidence.
But there are times when your sincerity puts you in trouble that is what is happening in the port. Because for those who are compliant, you can’t see any difference between them and the non compliant on cargo.
Have you heard Customs endorsing, or giving awards, or giving motivational recognitions, (in that line), maybe for a company that has not been queried for a whole year and when wants to renew its license and the Customs gives such, a Letter of Commendation? The man frames it and puts it in his office; of course, everyone would wants to have it!
Again, How come when a cargo that has exited the port and its en-route, is found out, you hold the agent, block his license, you prosecute him and whatever happens thereafter, no one knows? But what about the officers that enabled the cargo to leave the port in the first instance? When you do nothing about them, that’s where the issue of enablement comes in!
There will be no corruption in the port if it is not enabled by the Federal government.
Or, Shouldn’t it occur to you to ask how the Federal Government enables corruption in the port?!
To be Continued tomorrow…