By Shedrack Onitsha,
Men of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) mounting checkpoints on the country’s major highways have been accused of harassing and corruptly extorting money from unsuspecting Nigerians, particularly importers.
Importers, entrepreneurs and others who travel through the different Customs checkpoints mounted are been subjected to untold hardship, leading to loss of goods and money.
Our investigation reveled that the Customs men stationed at Ekiadolor and Oluku end of the highway in Benin (Edo State) which is the main route that connects the South West to the South East and South-South axis of the country, has become law unto themselves.
According to sources, those who have been passing through this route with some goods or consignment have terrible tails to tell of what they go through in the hands of the gun totting customs officials whose menacing looks and threats put fears into the mind of anybody who dare to question the legality of their actions/operations.
Sources disclosed that the customs men usual style of operation is to intimidate and harass anybody travelling enroute with any consignment especially choice automobiles, gas tanks, luxury goods etc.
Narrating his ordeal, an entrepreneur and the Managing Director/COE of Sykes Energiprojects ltd, Olorogun Johnny Esike, said that the activities of men of the Custom, particularly those stationed at Ekiadolor and Oluku end in Benin, Edo State, is unbecoming.
Esike who owns one of the biggest gas plant at Ughelli, Delta State, stated that he imported a gas tank and the duties were fully paid and was cleared at the Tincan Port, on 13th March, 2017.
He added that he was shocked when his manager called him to say that the tank which was been transported to Delta was impounded at Ekiadolor by customs, for alleged undervaluation.
According to him’ “ we demanded know why the tank was seized, they told us that the tank was undervalued at Lagos, they are now demanding N500,000 as bribe to release it to us.
“I refuse to part with that kind of money, and they have been holding the goods since last week, the actions of Customs are discouraging genuine business men from coming back home to invest, and if the Buhari-leg government wants to grow the economy, it must check the activities of customs. He added.
When approached to get their reaction, customs officials at Ekiadolor who spoke to us but refuse to mention his name denied the allegation, insisting that they never demanded for payment N500,000(Five Hundred Thousand Naira)before the tank would be allowed to continue its journey.
According to him, “It’s a complete lie. How can a tank which has been duly cleared at the port and all duties paid for as you claim become a subject of argument here (in Ekiadolor) to the extent that N500,000 bribe is been demanded.
“You (the reporter) should even question such cheap blackmail.”
He refused to make the phone number of the leader of the team available insisting that the reporter should wait till the late hours of the day when the team leader will resume duty for the day.
“In the alternative, you can travel down to Owerri where our zonal office is located to make your enquiries. This place is just an outpost station,” he volunteered.
“No explanation or proof will be accepted by these customs men when they’re on a mission to extort you,” a source who craved anonymity stated.
Another source who operates a petty business concern close to one of the aforementioned checkpoints added:”how I which you are around in the late evenings when they share their ‘loot’. “You will marvel at the large sums of money they each take home on a daily basis. Also they lure women in the area (married or single) with money such that in some instances they contribute to the breakup of some marriages.”