The Lamentation Of An Importer.

Here is a long narration from somebody who passed through a harrowing experience for attempting to do something that would cause minimal stress in more civilized environments – importing a vehicle.

It has been massively edited for brevity, greater clarity and poignancy.

The following is the story of the ordeal I pass through in the hands Nigerians Customs and Nigerian Ports.

I shipped in two buses into Lagos. despite being familiar with the general processes of vehicle importation into Nigeria through the Lagos ports, I didn’t realise that a vehicle is assigned to a particular dock based on the shipping company that brought it into the country. I normally use Grimaldi Shipping Line for my importations, but in this case, I made use of a Belgian Shipping line.

That proved to be a mistake.

When my clearing agent saw my Bill of Lading documents, he hinted that there could be some hiccups with the clearance process.

The Nigerian factor was about to kick in.

A week later, I was informed that all cargoes from my particular shipping line are automatically taken from Tin-Can Wharf and driven to another location east of Apapa (towards Festac) where the clearing process is done.

The dock in Tin Can is said to be reserved for Grimaldi Shipping which had paid for concession and therefore privately manages that dock.

In this other secluded docking center, my buses became a target for hoodlums, wharf rats and customs officers! The stamp duty and excise process dragged on and on with one excuse or the other, all geared towards extracting money from me. It is either no power supply, workers are fighting, the server is down, or an Oga who should sign a relevant document is not available on seat.

According to my clearing agent, it was nightmarish getting things done, with his having to run back and forth between the inland dock and Tin-Can port to facilitate things.

After a week of running back and forth, my agents came to me to ask for money complaining that every Abubakar, Chinedu and Afolabi wanted to be ‘settled’.

Even when the final duty paperwork was about to be completed, a customs officer decided to audit the valuation. He backtracked all previous processes and insisted on verification from the former officer who had evaluated the vehicles and signed, earlier on. This resulted in my having to pay close to a million naira for each of the buses, after a re_valuation.

After fulfilling all, righteousness pulling out the bus from the entangled mess was a herculean task which lasted days, with daily demurrage beiing charged – per bus.

A Customs officer required to sign the release was insisting on N80K per bus before signing the papers!

The vehicles stayed over two weeks because of their endless flip-flops! The demurrage charge was double the normal rate, which they insisted must be charged at a “special rate!”.

It leaves a bitter taste in the mouth knowing you have been brazenly cheated, blackmailed and extorted – and there is not much you can do about it!

I was even charged N50,000 for Crime Investigation Unit (C.I.U), and a gate fee of 50,000 per Bus.

The buses are now a shadow of their former self, with lots of damages inflicted on them, requiring very expensive repairs! A simple ( in other countries) process of clearing two 15-year old buses became an “all you can eat” buffet for these guys.

I ended up spending more on clearing the buses than the original cost of purchase and twice what had been originally quoted! Imagine,!

Something like this is one of the reasons we are so backward, remaining one of the worst nations on the face of the planet for ease of doing business.

Why would investors want to operate in such a hostile business environment?

Everywhere you look, government agencies are manned by criminals, fleecing the citizens steadily. Government ministries aren’t any better. There is only a thin line between what is legal and illegal here in Nigeria.

Nevertheless, for the average Nigerian, life is a continuum, businesses have to jog on. This is why the cost of doing business is so stratospherically high, with the costs ultimately being passed to the final consumer.

The Tin-Can experience made me to realise that, Tin-Can port works only when you use Grimaldi Shipping line! If you’re importing anything into Nigeria, you are better off using Grimaldi , or forget about it!

Sallaum Lines and A.E.S are also private companies like Grimaldi, but since they did not invest in having their own NPA dock like Grimaldi did, you are left at the mercy of Nigerian agents and agencies who are not under any obligation to do the right thing – they will make your life hell and the clearing cost will be considerably higher too!

Corruption is at almost all levels of our national lives. Both among the leaders, and also withing the followers. It is why I keep insisting that the main problem with Nigeria is traceable to the mindset among the followers, and not just the leaders.

Ordinary people on the streets become leaders. The leaders of tomorrow are selected from the pool of today’s followers.

Humans are who they are, first, irrespective of the political height they eventually attain. A decorated monkey is still a monkey..

A follower (customs officer or port worker) who cuts corners, inflates charges and demand bribes to do their legitimate work would simply graduate, given greater opportunity or authority.

I therefore believe the solution to most of our problem is to tackle the problem from the cradle.. the followership level.

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