The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has accused shipping firms of being responsible for the importation of illegal arms imports and other illicit items into the country.
Comptroller General of Customs, Hammed Ali, who stated this at a stakeholders’ meeting organized by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) with shipping companies, terminal operators, shippers and other stakeholders in Lagos on Tuesday, said the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) discovered that foreign ships heading to Nigeria change their manifests mid-way into their voyage to conceal the nature of the some of their cargoes.
Ali disclosed that the documents of the recently intercepted pump action rifles imported from Turkey indicated the original content of the containers but was changed when the ship got to Morocco.
He said, “Shipping lines are responsible for shipping illicit items to Nigeria and I say this with all sense of responsibility because what we discovered in the case of arms is that in the last two, when we went to Turkey, we discovered that they were documented as hunting rifles.
“So, the exit certificate from Turkey indicates the actual content because to them, they did not know that the pump action rifles are on the restricted list in Nigeria because we have not transmitted our own prohibited list to them, they did not see it as offensive to our own law so they did not contact us before allowing them export it.
“But the importers of these weapons knowing that it is prohibited in Nigeria, when they got to Morocco, they changed the manifest to now read something else and concealed the riffles with sanitary wares.”
Ali who queried why shipping lines would feign ignorance of content of containers being conveyed warned that the NCS would henceforth begin enforcement of the law which empowers it to seize and prosecute any shipping line that defaulted.
According to him, shipping agents know the content of the goods they are carrying especially in these days of technology when scanners are all over the places. No shipping line will accept to carry any container on board its ship without knowing exactly what is in the container.
Ali said the Nigeria Customs Service and its Turkish counterpart have concluded plans to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Customs Mutual Agreement. This, he said, would enable the Service transmit all information with regards to export from Turkey to Nigeria and the import prohibition list to deal with changing of manifest by shipping lines.
Executive Secretary, NSC, Hassan Bello assured the Customs boss of the council’s support and collaboration to address the issue of illegal arms imports into the country.
He said, “We have to collaborate with customs because smuggling hurts all over including the shipping companies, terminal operators and government revenue so we have to come together with other stakeholders to tackle this problem.”