The web of extortion weaved by the officers of the Nigeria Customs Service in South East, Nigeria, has reached an elastic point, according to some information available to 247ureports.com news desk. It was learnt that the Custom Officials in the Southeast rather than rooting out some nefarious smugglers in the region, have continued to make business and life more unbearable for traders.
As a result this, traders in the region lament an intricate web of corruption allegedly spun by an organized network of custom officials with full backing of the service’s high command, a development they add has been ruining the businesses of genuine entrepreneurs and negatively impacting the once boisterous economy of the region.
To put a stop to this, following the assumption of office of Mr. Muhammadu Buhari as the president of Nigeria and following his anti corruption mantra, the traders decided to bring the nefarious activities of the customs officials to the public glare. But none of the stories saw the light of the day.
According to impeccable sources in the service, the reason was that the Controller of the Federal Operations Unit (FOU), Zone C, Owerri, Mr. Victor Dimka, bribed the Lagos editors of the newspapers and television stations. The officials, it was learnt, were able to stop the stories through the president of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Mr. Abdulwaheed Odusile and the producer and co-host for Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily morning show, Chamberlain Usoh.
The source continued that, through these men, the editors were given one brand new car each and cash to kill the stories of their extortion in South East.
The source also added that in order to maintain a continued silencing of the media, the customs chief also bribed the executive members of the Southeast Traders Association to bar them from speaking to the press on any issue concerning the extortion of their members.
One of the traders who spoke with 247ureports.com, in Asaba said “The extortion mostly on highways by officials of the Nigeria Customs Service is one of the daunting challenges we the traders are facing in the course of doing our businesses.
“We know what it takes to bring down our goods from Lagos or Onne Sea Ports to the South East.
“Some of us who bring goods from outside the country are not disturbed the way Nigeria security officials treat traders on the roads.”
He lamented that the traders were always made to cough out between N150,000 and N500,000, before their goods could get to their markets in south east, disclosing that the traders from the zone have lost over N8 billion under Dimka between January and October to extortion and indiscriminate seizure of their goods by the Customs Officers who waylay them at every entry point to the Southeast.
”When you check this properly, you will agree with me that this is the only reason the economy of the south east is shrinking and our members are seriously relocating to Lagos and the North where this intimidation is not felt at all.
“I am of the opinion that the activity of the customs officials is designed to under-develop the south east. If not, tell me why these things are not rampant in Lagos and the North?”
The trader alleged further that the activities of the Customs Officers in the zone were responsible for the continued rise in the prices of essential commodities in the zone, adding that the businessmen are often compelled to inflate the prices as a result of the huge bribe they are made to pay.
The trader, who is an official of the Southeast Traders Association, lamented the situation noting that genuine complaints were pouring in everyday from their members on issues of harassment and intimidation.
According to him, “If you contact our chairman, he will tell you that on assumption of office, Mr. President inaugurated a Special Task Force and the various taskforce teams are located at the borders, at the wharf and at the airports and every other possible entry point. Our question then is why is it that these Custom officials still harass us on the roads? We are no longer comfortable with their overbearing activities.”
Meanwhile, a civil society group based in the South-East, Campaign for Democracy (CD) has called for the probe of top personnel of Nigeria Customs and Exercise serving in the South-East for extortion of importers and other business men in the Southeast.
In a statement made available to 247ureports.com, the CD urged President Muhammadu Buhari to beam his searchlight on the operations of Customs officials in the South-East zone to save traders from further harassment and extortion in the hands of some Customs officials.
The statement signed by the Chairman of Campaign for Democracy, Dede Uzor.A. Uzor noted that traders from the zone have lost more than N2 billion in the last four months as a result of extortion and indiscriminate seizure of goods by Customs Officials.
According to Uzor, “the Customs Officers in South-East are responsible for the continued rise in the prices of essential commodities because they waylay and confiscate goods coming into the zone from every entry points’’,
He added that the businessmen are often forced to cough out sums of money to secure the release of their wares and in turn are compelled to inflate the prices to recover the huge bribe they are made to pay.
“What is worrisome to us is, why is it that these goods are not seized at any other Customs checkpoints from Lagos Ports where these goods are cleared until the goods cross River Niger or Imo River from the Rivers end?”, the statement queried.
“The impunity of the Officers serving in the Southeast zone cannot be compared to what is obtained in other zones of the country. The question should be why is it that these goods are not seized at any other Customs checkpoints until they arrive the Southeast”, the statement read.