BY GBOGBOWA GBOWA
Rattled by allegation of extortion at the nation’s ports corridor, the Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG), Maritime Police Command, AIG Susan U. Akem-Horsfall has said despite accusations that the command is involved in the blockade of imports cargo containers, the command under her watch will not pretend to look away while terminal operators and freight forwarders are in the habbit of manipulating customs documentations that purportedly impacts negatively on revenue realization.
AIG Akem-Horsefall who was reacting to claim of extortions in the media by freight forwarders vowed to go after her accusers even as she lashed out at the news medium describing it as unprofessional.
Yet, in a statement by the Command Acting Public Relations Officer, ASP Ehinmode Rowland on Monday, the AIG described the allegations as false and misleading, creating confusion about the maritime police command’s actual position and mandate.
While the AIG in the statement on one hand says she has warned her officers to show professionalism and conduct themselves in line with inter agencies Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), on the other hand, she said the command will protect the nation against loses of revenue derived from customs duty by going after those she accused of falsifying customs documentation which promotes losses of revenue.
According to the statement, upon assumption of office of on the 24th July 2023, the AIG started by lecturing officers and men of the command on the need to be professional and diligent in their duties; even as she was believed to have expressed her revulsion against corruption and extortion under any guise; and that she would not hesitate to sanction those found culpable.
She reportedly reiterated same position when the Nigerian Shippers’ Council Enforcement and Complaints Unit paid her a courtesy visit on Tuesday 15th August, 2023.
The statement reads in part, “It is embarrassing, shameful and ridiculous to read such falsehood, unverified and mendacious publications being peddled by some uniformed news agencies and Terminal operators who did not consider it necessary to verify their information before publication.
“It is important to state that, container blockage at the terminals or shipping companies by personnel of the Command are based on verified intelligence gathering over wrong or under-declaration of cargoes, forgery of release documents, conspiracy on the part of some clearing agents and officers of allied Forces to sabotage the economy, thereby causing loss of revenue to the Federal government of Nigeria among many other offenses.
“There is no time that any personnel of the Command demanded money or gratification from anyone before containers are released upon conclusion of investigation.”
The Maritime Police Command AIG proceeded to accuse terminal operators of collusion in the alleged import documents manipulation.
“It is pertinent to state that terminal operators like Tincan Island Container Terminal (TICT) are in connivance with some fraudulent clearing agents to sabotage the economic wellbeing of the nation, which the AIG has vowed to nip in the bud.
“A case in hand was that of the TICT managers’ refusal to receive letters to release containers under investigation placed on liens to the Police to enable (it) conclude investigation that has been on since 2017. Even after several letters of invitation were sent to them for discussions, this particular Terminal failed to honour our invitation.
“This is considered an affront on the Nigeria Police Force and the office of the Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Maritime Command”, adding:
“The Assistant Inspector General of Police, AIG Susan therefore advised the public to disregard the wrong narratives by the publishers of these fake news and the utterances of the so-called disgruntled and dismissed ANCLA member nicknamed “June 12″ known for stealing at Car Park C and his cohort who are bent on perpetuating evil at the Ports as the wrath of the law will soon catch up with them. Any attempt to bring to disrepute, the AIG’s image or person will not be allowed.”
Problem started when June 12 (Alhaji Rilwan Amuni) real name, the TinCan Port chapter Taskforce Chairman of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) ANLCA complained about extortionist tendencies by the port police; which he said was militating against trade facilitation.
June 12 and another in the said news report accused the port police extorting clearing agents between N100,000 and N150,000 to release containers and vehicles that have been flagged by the command.
According to the newspaper, not Pinnacle Time, June 12 alleged that the police carries is working in collaboration with some moles in the shipping companies.
He said, “Whenever we are carrying out cargo examination at the port, the police are always on ground, but after releasing your cargo from customs and you get to the shipping company to release, they will tell you that Maritime Police from Kamsalem House have blocked the container.
“At the end of the day, you would end up spending five days in their custody, is this how to facilitate trade at the port? Whenever your cargo is blocked, they would demand for N100,000 or N150,000 depending on the kind of cargo you are carrying.
“It is bad to the extent that they even have mole in the shipping company that is collecting money on their behalf. There was a container I was working on Friday, before I could finish processing, they told me that Maritime Police has blocked it, I couldn’t meet up with their demand until the following week Tuesday, I ended up paying demurrage for five days. The police should not come and be doing the job of the Customs at the port”, he enthused.
The actions and reactions of the maritime police command puts question mark on a lot of issues including questioning the competence, professionalism and ethical conduct of the customs service.