By G9ija

Importers and clearing agents have continued to groan under the alleged extortion by the Lagos State Wharf Landing Fees Collecting Authority (LSWLFCA) and the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).

Victims who recounted their ordeals blamed the authorities for milking them dry despite their willingness to follow relevant guidelines.

According to them, LSWLFCA collects its statutory charges (N200 for cars and N500 for SUVs) without issuing them receipts after which task force operations pick them up and fine them for non-payment of the fees.

On impounding the vehicles, according to the victims, they are compelled to pay a fine of N100, 000 for an individual offender and N500,000 for a corporate offender into a designated Access Bank account.x

It was also learnt that owners of the vehicles are also asked to pay non-receipt demurrage of N10, 000 per vehicle for every night the vehicle spends at the agency’s office.

Sources alleged that two-third of those arrested ‘settle’ their cases at the office for about N50, 000 per vehicle. They described the racketing as the biggest exploitation by an agency of the state at the port.

Recounting his ordeals, Mr. Emma Omefine, said, “Most times, l pay the fee without collecting the receipt. That has happened on several occasions. Today is the first time they will seize my vehicle. It is a pick-up van. l paid the N500 fee after which the guy waved at me to go. l had reached almost the end of the road when the task force overtook and double-crossed me.

“They asked for the receipt of payment and l told them l was not given a receipt. They said l should reverse and we started arguing. l followed them when the policemen that accompanied them started threatening with guns.”

According to him, upon taking custody of his vehicle in the agency’s premises, the officials issued him a penalty of N100, 000, typed in a plain sheet of paper to be paid into the authority’s Access Bank account.x

Another supposed offender who gave his name as Francis said his two vehicles, a Jeep and a car, were impounded by the authority on the ground of non-payment of the fee.

He said he paid N800 and left, only to be stopped a few meters away by a policeman attached to the authority, who asked him for a bribe. He said when he refused to concede to their demand they asked him to produce the receipt of the payment of the landing fee.

Francis said an effort to get them to confirm with the official he paid to failed as they forcefully took him to the organisation’s office.

Francis explained: “I made N800 payment to them, N500 for the SUV and N300 for the car, and l left. But immediately we left the place, about a pole interval the policeman attached to the agency intercepted me and asked me to give him something. I told him l have paid his people and do not have anything left on me and that l had slept at the port.

“Immediately l said that, one of the policemen entered my vehicle and demanded the receipt of payment. l told him I was not given a receipt, and he said I should move the car to their office. And l requested we walk to the payment point to confirm from the man who collected the money from me. He turned down my suggestion.

“I have been here since yesterday and they are asking me to pay N200, 000. At first, they said I should call the owner of the vehicles that wanted to see him. I refused after which they asked me to pay the fine.”x

The authority’s public relations officer, who identified himself as Mike Opute, denied that anybody had been exploited, saying the penalty was collected from only those who violated the state law.

He said, “lf they paid they would be given a receipt. Some of them just stretch N200 or N300 to our officials and speed off.”Asked about the ridiculous penalty, he said it is in line with what the law says, adding: “We did not make the law. It was made by the Lagos State Assembly.”

Asked if there are considerations for those whose vehicles were impounded despite claims of paying without being issued receipts, Opute said only the State Commissioner for Finance or the Chairman of the authority could grant such consideration.

Meanwhile, freight forwarders had during the heat of the #EndSARS protests shut down commercial activities at Tin Can Island Port, seeking an end to extortion by the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).x

The President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, who spoke to The Guardian described the alleged extortion as one of the biggest corruption in the maritime sector.

“One of the biggest forms of corruption is that Customs don’t comply with the law. When you operate out of the law, it is the height of corruption.

Amiwero said the Kyoto Convention, which is aimed at facilitating trade by harmonising and simplifying customs procedures and practices, has not been complied with by NCS, noting that the service has many units, which contravenes the convention.

Also, former president of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Eugene Nweke, lamented the level of extortion and exploitation at the ports.

“Every form of extortion is an extra cost passed to the final consumers or the end-users of goods and services. When you extort, you are indirectly increasing the cost passed on to the poor masses.