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 Five-Star Logistics deactivation: No demurrage reprieve for owners of trapped cargo —Investigation

—– as importers count losses over deactivation of the terminal
Eyewitness reporter
Owners of cargoes trapped at the Five-Star Logistics terminal following its deactivation from the Customs portal may not enjoy any reprieve on the payment of accumulated demurrage charges as the terminal operators have declared that they would collect the charges but may overlook storage charges.
This stance may however pit the terminal operators against its legion of customers who are daily losing millions of Naira in demurrage and values of their consignments, especially the members of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, who have vowed to drag the beleaguered terminal operators to court for redress.
Investigation revealed that the terminal, which was deactivated on July 6th, 2022 over unpaid N97.3 million customs assessment charges, may not be deactivated soon as the terminal operators are said to be insisting that the accumulated customs charges are not owed directly by them but by the owners of the cargo who the customs have failed to track.
According to a source in the terminal, Mr. Wolfgang Schneider, the former General Manager of Five Star Logistics Terminal had complained last year that Customs wrote the company about the investigation but did not provide full vehicle details to allow the terminal to conduct its investigation.

The source said that the VIN might be used by Customs to locate the defaulting freight agents, and he questioned what function the Enforcement Unit of Customs would have if the vehicles had actually departed the terminal without paying taxes.

The source accused Customs of mischief, claiming the action of the Tin Can Customs has demonstrated that the Service is more focused on getting the N97.3 million from the terminal than it is on ensuring that the guilty are brought to justice and that the anomaly won’t happen again.

The hardline posture of the terminal operators, which sources said may further compound the issue and prolong the agony of its customers, may have been responsible for the non-resolution of the matter when the terminal operators met with the Customs’ top hierarchy in Abuja last week.
A freight agent working at the terminal claimed that some of the vehicles associated with the N97.3 million in unpaid assessment demanded by Customs are thought to have entered the country through land borders.
However, manufacturers, some of whose goods are trapped inside the terminal, have condemned the action of the customs which they described as irrational and uneconomical.

Dr. Ikenna Nwosu, a member of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), criticized Customs’ actions as unreasonable and in breach of the WTO’s trade facilitation pact.

The economic expert noted that considering that the deactivated terminal enables Customs to generate over N150 million each day, the cost implications of closing the terminal’s access to the Customs portal are not prudent.

“This development raises concerns about Customs’ effectiveness.

” Technically, it is improper to close the terminal and halt business since port users were not given a heads-up to stop delivering cargo to the facility.
“Customs cannot impose taxes while preventing access to cargo” he declared.
Nwosu emphasized that the consignees in charge of the vehicle imports should be made to pay the customs, warning that consignees with Fast Track products and reefer cargoes would challenge Customs over the unplanned terminal deactivation.

Dr. Muda Yusuf, Chief Executive Officer of the Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise (CPPE), asked Customs to develop more creative ways to recover their losses without interfering with trade and the supply chain.

Yusuf,  a former Director General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI, said that if a service provider violates the law or has compliance problems, the situation should be handled properly so as not to affect innocent business people.

“There ought to be a mechanism to penalize a service provider without permitting it to interfere with what its customers are doing.

“Importers of fast track and reefer containers are innocent in this situation and shouldn’t be required to pay for Five Star Logistics’ alleged malfeasance or noncompliance.
“Allowing importers to pay and endure the repercussions of crimes they did not commit will be unfair.
” We’re not saying that Customs shouldn’t penalize Five Star, but they can do it in a way that spares the innocent clients from the consequences” he noted.
Kayode Farinto, the Acting President of the Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) said that the association would take the terminal to court to seek redress over the losses being incurred by his members as a result of the deactivation.
It could be recalled that the association, last week, threatened that if the terminal failed to resolve the impasse with the Customs by Tuesday, July 19th, 2021, it would take the terminal to court.

”We shall approach the court soon to seek redress against breach of the agreement by the terminal operators” declared Farinto.

Meanwhile, owners of fast track containers and reefer containers trapped in the terminal over the deactivation, are currently groaning under heavy losses.

However, they expressed displeasure that other port customers were being inconvenienced, particularly those who had fast-track containers and reefer goods detained at the terminal.

meanwhile, a staff of the terminal claimed that only a small number of shipping businesses often arrive at the terminal with hundreds of new and used vehicles, noting that these shipping companies don’t send individual manifests, which is apparently what caused Customs to demand payment for the unpaid assessment.

Based on these findings, he suggested Customs conduct a forensic inquiry utilizing the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and emphasized that CEMA mandates declarants, who are freight forwarders, should be held accountable rather than the terminal operator.

Uche Ejisieme, the Public Relations officer of the Tin Can command of the Nigeria Customs Service, insisted that the terminal stands deactivated until it pays the N97.3 million debt.
”We are waiting for the directive from the headquarters to unblock the terminal only if they have paid.

”We only hope they pay on time so that business could resume at the terminal” the command’s image maker declared.

DC Timi Bomodi, the National Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Customs Service did not pick up several calls from our reporter.
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National Assembly summons Customs, CBN, Finance Ministry, Webb Fontaine over unutilised scanners at ports

The Eyewitness reporter
The joint committee on Customs and Excise of the National Assembly has summoned the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col.(retd) Hameed Ali to appear before it to explain the controversial contract for the provision of scanning machines at the ports and why they have not been functional despite enormous resources committed into their procurement.
To join the Customs boss for questioning are the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Mr Godwin Emefiele, and the Minister of Finance,  Mrs Zainab Ahmed as well as the officials of Webb Fontaine, the IT providers.
The apparently angry members of the joint committee, who gave the directive during their investigative hearing on Sunday in Abuja, said they were miffed by the non-utilization of the scanners procured at huge costs by the federal government.
According to Francis Alimikhena, the Joint Committee Chairman, the national assembly will not brood absenteeism or representations from those summoned as the matter is of utmost economic importance to the country.
“We do not want to see any representation. We want to take a decision about Nigeria. This is about the revenue of the country.”

“We want to see the minister, the CG customs, the CBN governor, President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF),” declared the committee chairman.

“We do not want to see any representation. We want to take a decision about Nigeria. This is about the revenue of the country. Webb Fontaine is essential in this matter. They have made serious money in this country.”

Mr Alimikhena said the contract was given to Webb Fontaine by the Finance Ministry to provide the IT infrastructure for the NCS for scanning.

Not happy with the development, he frowned upon the absence of the Minister, the CBN governor and other stakeholders involved at the Sunday investigative hearing.

He however asked that the customs, CBN, ministry of finance, Webb Fontaine and other invited stakeholders to appear before the committee at the next hearing slated for Thursday, September 29th, 2022, warning that the committee would not attend to any representatives as the issue at stake involved revenue generation to the country.

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Customs collects N1.7trn  revenue in 8 months

CGC, Ali


–embarks on aggressive revenue hunts to meet target

The Eyewitness reporter

The Nigeria Customs Service has collected a whooping sum of  N1,755,386,486,390.02  as revenue in the first eight months of the year spanning January and August.

The service made the highest monthly earnings of N241,903,781,854.46 in August as the service intensifies its aggressive revenue drive to meet the expectations of the Federal Government which has come to rely on the revenue from the service to fund its critical project.

This follows the diversification of government to non-oil sectors and expands its tax base due to the dwindling revenue from the oil sector.
The revenue in the first eight months of 2022 is N363,436,321,614.95 higher than N1,391,950,164,775.97 the customs collected in the corresponding period of 2021.

Abuja has increased its focus on non-oil revenue sources, prompting higher expectations from revenue collection agencies such as the NCS, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), among others.

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Why we adopted direct auction sale for scrap vehicles—-Customs

seized vehicles waiting to be auctioned


The Eyewitness reporter
The Nigeria Customs Service has explained the reason why it recently disposed of scrap vehicles under its control through the direct auction sale method.
In an exclusive interview with our reporter, the National Public Relations Officer (NPRO) of the Service, Deputy Comptroller Timi Bomodi, explained that no sane person could purchase those damaged vehicles for use except those who melt them into metal as raw materials.
” Yes, the vehicles we auctioned through direct sales were all scraps. They are vehicles used by smugglers which are purposely built for their nefarious activities.
“These vehicles are damaged beyond repairs and the service could not upload such vehicles on its auction portal to the general public.
“That was why we sold them directly at very ridiculously low prices to iron smelting companies who will melt them into iron.
“These vehicles litter all our commands in the country and are constituting an environmental nuisance.
“So we needed to evacuate them from those places for the safety of our officers who are constantly being faced with the danger of attacks from snakes and other dangerous reptiles which hide under the cover of these scrap vehicles”, Bomodi declared.
He said his explanation was meant to clarify what he described as false information and misconception being peddled to the public by auctioneers.
The auctioneers have accused the Customs of branding about 6000 seized vehicles as scraps before selling them off at cheap prices to their cronies.
The aggrieved auctioneers have further claimed that the Customs conducted the auction of the vehicles without open competitive bidding as it’s enshrined in the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) Act, 2007.
“So far, about 6,000 vehicles have been sold to their cronies through the so-called direct auction allocation.
“The vehicles, which could have fetched the government huge revenue, were sold as scraps at giveaway prices.

“We all know that it is a ploy to enrich their favoured contractors at the expense of the government.

” The government is being denied the revenue it would have realised from open competitive auctions.
” If this government is serious, the Comptroller-General of Customs, Hameed Ali should be answering tough questions from either the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or the National Assembly by now,” the Auctioneers claimed.
They further alleged that instead of selling the confiscated goods through public auctions as mandated by the law, the NCS had been selecting the dealers it sells to.
“What the BPP Act says
Section 55 (3) (5) of the BPP Act stipulates that open competitive bidding shall be the primary source of receiving offers for the purchase of any public property offered for sale.
“For the purposes of this Act, public property is defined as resources in the form of tangible and non-tangible assets (ranging from serviceable to the unserviceable).

“According to a letter from the NCS to a company, AMEX West Africa Limited and dated March 25, 2022, with reference number: NCS/ADM/MGT/012/S.2/C, signed by the Chairman, Direct Disposal of Scraps Committee, Comptroller A.D Sanusi, titled, ‘Direct auction allocation of scrap vehicles and other items,’ it was indicated therein that 338 vehicles were sold for N3,380,000 through direct auction allocation in Abuja.
It read, ‘’I am directed to inform you that the Comptroller-General of Customs, acting on the provisions of Customs and Exercise Management (Disposal of goods) Act, CAP C46, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, hereby allocates the under-listed 338 lots of various scrap vehicles domiciled at Katsina State Area Command to your company as auction sales for the purpose of disposal, smelting and fabrication into raw materials for production valued at N3,380,000 only.

“All vehicles disposed of must be evacuated from the premises within 10 working days after payment or risk forfeiture.

” Furthermore, you are to note the following: Application for replacement of allocated vehicles would not be entertained. All allocation letters transferred or sold by the allottee to a third party shall be at the buyer’s risk.’’
However, Bomodi stated that the auctioneers were only being mischievous and clever by half in their claims as the vehicles auctioned through the direct disposal method were actually scraps and not branded as such.
He disclosed that Customs still conducts open bidding auction exercises on its auction portal.
“The last time we conducted the auction of serviceable vehicles on our portal was early this year and another round of the exercise will soon be conducted” he disclosed.

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