*To instigate social media war.
Lagos — Irate freight forwarders plying their trade in Lagos ports have decided to move against the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) of the Nigeria Customs Service to curb what they described as the excesses of the anti-smuggling outfit.
Ventilating the anger of the freight forwarders was Godfrey Nwosu, the Secretary of the Tincan Chapter of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), who described the anti-smuggling activities of the FOU as a “scam”.
He similarly put the Comptroller-General of Customs (CGC) Strike Force in the same category of the instrument created to enrich a few Customs officers.
He declared that the two customs squads are identical in tactics and operations with the now reformed Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police as they are largely an instrument of harassment, oppression, enrichment and sometimes, death.
“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.
“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.”
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 will 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.”
He 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.
“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!”
Nwosu charged the Comptroller General of Customs, Colonel Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd) to harmonise the operations and manage the human resources of the Service effectively through more strategic deployment of its personnel for efficiency.
He told the Customs top brass to deploy the FOU to the ports to be part of cargo clearing and delivery system, 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.
“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. It is abhorrent that cargo duly released by releasing officers 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 interceptions, 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,” Nwosu declared