The Lagos State Wharf Landing Fees Collecting Authority (LSWLFCA) has warned military personnel and police officers to desist from offering get-away services to importers and their clearing agents, an act the authority say is robbing the state of projected revenue collection.
This revelation is coming on the backdrop of an earlier allegation of exploitative tendencies leveled against officials of LAWLA by clearing agents and port users.
According to importers and their clearing agents, the authority’s officials have deployed new tricks of collecting the prescribed fee of N200/N300 without issuing the payer receipts. They further allege that no sooner the payer drives off than the officials alert their task force operations team on standby to chase after the affected vehicle, impound and take vehicle to its premises at Marine Road GRA Apapa.
According to victims who spoke with our reporter, the task force vehicle outrun and double cross their target and the driver is forced at gun point to drive to the authority’s office at Marine Road, Liverpool Apapa Lagos.
Thereafter, the supposed offenders are handed a plain sheet of paper encapsulating penalty payable for supposed violation of wharf landing fee law. While the authority charges a penalty of N100, 000.00 for individual offender, it charges corporate offender the sum of N500, 000.00 payable to the authority’s Access Bank account.
Recounting his ordeals, one of the victims, Mr. Emma Omefine, said field officials of the authority don’t always give receipt after payment, that today was however the first time he was been apprehended. He said, “Most time l pass they don’t give me receipt after l pay their money, so l didn’t really bother, l just go my way.
“Today is the first time they are seizing my vehicle. It is a Pick Van, what happened was that l paid him the N500 and the guy waved me to go. l have gone far almost to the end of the road when they just came, overtook and double crossed me.
“They said l should bring my receipt l told them l was not given receipt. They said l should reverse and we started arguing, but when their policemen were carrying their guns anyhow, l followed them here”, he said.
According to him, upon taking custody of his vehicle in their premises, the officials issued him a penalty of N100, 000.00 prescribed in plain non official letter headed paper, to be paid into the authority’s Access Bank account number 0700562033.
Another victim who gave his name simply as Francis said he is an agent, and said two of his vehicles, a Jeep and a car were impounded by the authority.
He said he paid N800 and left, only to be stopped about an electric pole away by policemen attached to the authority, who asked him for dash. He said when he refused, they asked him to produce the receipt of the payment of his fee.
He said effort to get them confirm with the official he paid to, just a pole away proved abortive as they forcefully commandeered him to their yard less than two electric poles away.
His words: “I made N800 payment to them, N500 for the Jeep and N300 for the car and l left. But immediately we left the place, about a pole interval their policeman stopped me and asked me to give him something. l told him l have paid his people and do not have anything left on me, that l slept at the port.
“Immediately l said that, one of the policemen entered my vehicle and demanded for receipt. l told him l was not given receipt, and he said l should move the car to their office. l told him we should walk back for him to ask the man who collected money from me, he refused and started dragging with me, so l went with them”, adding:
“I have been here since yesterday and they are asking me to pay N200, 000.00. At first they said l should call the owner of the vehicles that he wants to see him. l said what for, so they gave me this paper with the account number of their bank.”
Findings by our reporter indicated that owners are also asked to pay a non receipt demurrage of N10, 000.00 per vehicle for every night the vehicle spends in their office.
The authority’s public relations officer, Michael Opiteh, however denied allegation that its officials engage in criminal tricks to exploit importers, saying the penalty is for violation; noting that the wharf landing fee is backed by law and that the penalty is fixed and can only be waived or adjusted by the state commissioner of finance or the authority’s chairman.
He said, “lf they paid they will be given receipt, but some of them just stretch N200 or N300 to our men and run away.”
Asked about the ridiculous penalty of demanding N100, 000.00 in lieu of N300 or N500, he said it is act of the state. “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 been issued receipts, Opute said only the State Commissioner for Finance or the Chairman of the Authority can grant such consideration.
He said, “It is only the minister of finance or our chair that can say okay o, payN30, 000.00 or pay N2000, no other person has the power.”
Despite the authority’s image maker position, sources alleged that two third of those arrested settle at the office for about N50, 000.00 per vehicles and have their vehicles released, saying it is the biggest port exploitation by the state government.
Speaking on the alleged involvement of uniform operatives to abort collection of statutory fees, the authority also accused customs officers of helping clearing agents to evade payment of the wharf landing fee, payable on prescribed imported items including vehicles.
Opiteh disclosed that the act is creating problems for its officials who are unable to optimize collectable fee due to the interference of uniform personnel, allegedly paid to obstruct the authority’s officials from carrying out their revenue collection on imported items leaving the ports in Lagos.
The authority’s spokesman said the act is unwarranted and illegal, noting that top military officers in the rank of army captains aid agents to avoid payment of wharf landing fees.