Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, has warned the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) to stop extorting money from innocent Igbo traders under the guise of checking the contents of their containers.
He gave the warning when the Comptroller of Customs, Federal Operations, Zone C, Mr. Azarema Abubakar, paid him a courtesy call yesterday at the Government House in Owerri,
Okorocha, who decried the communication gap between the Customs authorities and most Igbo traders, advocated for a summit between the NCS and the businessmen at the highest level to correct the impressions in some quarters that some of the actions and policies of the Customs were targeted to harm the success of Igbo-owned businesses.
He also advised the customs personnel to concentrate at the borders in doing their work instead of mounting road blocks in the cities, stating that if the customs personnel do what they are expected to do at the borders, there was no need to mount pressure on the city roads.
He maintained that “Custom operatives should concentrate at the borders and not inside the cities, chasing goods and materials that have passed the borders which show leakage at the borders. Once the goods have passed the borders and enter the cities, checking them becomes the duty of the police and no more the functions of the Customs officials.
“Custom officials have no business mounting road blocks inside the cities. Even the issue of under-payment should not be the responsibility of the Customs. Customs should also assist the Nigeria Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) to fight illicit drugs, because the NDLEA does not have the needed personnel and resources to fight illicit drugs.
“I request that Customs’ authorities come down to Imo State or anywhere in the South-East and talk to the Igbo traders because 90 percent of the importers are Igbos, come and talk to them and explain to them why the customs take the actions or do some of the things they do that do not go down well with the importers. Our people misunderstand some of these customs actions. The impression in the country now is that the Igbo people are being witch-hunted by the customs on a daily basis because they are Igbo. While that may not be true, there is need to give them proper explanation to some of these actions.”
The governor added: “Due to this lack of communication, some corrupt customs officials take advantage of it and extort money from innocent importers. I will be ready to discuss with other governors on this summit. This will help to smoothen the relationship between customs and Igbo importers because for now, the relationship is sour and not good for our national unity.”
Okorocha, however, commended the organisation for saving millions of lives in Nigeria through the seizure of illegal arms imported into the country as each of those AK47 could take over 100 lives if they had entered into the wrong hands.
He encouraged the prosecution of those importers who brought in the containers that had arms and ammunition as a deterrent to others.
The Comptroller of Customs, Federal Operations Zone C, Abubakar, told the governor that Zone C is made of South-South and Southeast with headquarters in Owerri, adding that the Southeast is the hub of trade which makes it incumbent on them to seek cooperation and support of the governor.
He said aside checking illegal goods or import, the customs officials also do the job as a security agency, adding that they would work closely with all the relevant persons and bodies