By Ray Ugochukwu
The Kirikiri Lighter Terminal (KLT) Command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), the worst hit Customs formation by the perennial Apapa traffic gridlock, says it has kept its head above water through the ingenuity of the management.
One of the major survival strategies devised by the area, plagued by a 24/7 traffic lockdown, is its one-stop-shop dispute resolution initiative that has continued to lure importers and agents to the command for business despite the challenges.
According to the Customs Area Controller (CAC), Comptroller Hammi J. Swomen, it had been hail for both the service’s personnel and stakeholders navigating the area for business but the saving grace had been the dispute resolution system.
He explained that the one-stop-shop dispute resolution centre housed the Customs Processing Centre (CPC), Customs Investigation Unit (CIU), Post-clearance Audit (PSA), Valuation Unit, among others. In the event of any dispute or discrepancy, he disclosed, what the importer or his agent needed to do was to report to the centre and in a matter of minutes, the issue would be resolved.
Comptroller Swomen, who spoke to Seabreezenews in his office, said the Command deployed the method to encourage stakeholders to continue to patronize the area as anything otherwise would add to the traffic stress that they encountered on daily basis.
He said with this strategy and others he did not reveal, despite all the challenges, the Command had been facilitating trade, generating revenue to government and executing its anti-smuggling mandate through seizures and arrest of culprits.
The Plateau State-born Controller however admitted that it had been a harrowing experience operating in the area either as a Customs officer or stakeholder.
“It is almost impossible to drive into this place with vehicles. If you attempt it, you may end up spending the whole day in traffic. You can see trucks and trailers parked everywhere with no space for movement”, he said.
He lamented that the traffic gridlock has had unpleasant consequences on the morale of staff, some of whom he said, had had serious motor bike accidents as that was the only available means of accessing the command for duty.
Aside the environment making officers prone to accidents, Swomen also regretted that the fear of one being attacked by robbers in traffic, could weigh one’s spirit down in office.
In his words, “Our officers have been hospitalized for injuries sustained in motor cycle accidents, as this is the only way one can navigate to office each day. As a result, you could expect that the morale of officers could be low because of possibility of being prone to accidents and attacks by robbers in the gridlock”.
“There is difficulty in moving containers exiting the port by road and this has made the 48 hours cargo clearance timeline very difficult to achieve. You also consider its effect on cargo delivery, which has made prices of goods very high for the common man. Of course it affects the volume of traffic in the area and also impacts negatively on the revenue of the command.
The KLT Command boss, however, expressed optimism that things would improve in the near future with the road reconstruction of the Federal Government nearing completion.
On the recent promotion exercise in the Service, Swomen commended the Customs Comptroller General (CGC), Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), for making it a regular feature. He disclosed that one of his officers was elevated to the rank of Comptroller from Deputy Comptroller and hoped to see more of his men benefitting from the gesture.
“Promotion is the reward for hardwork and also a call to higher duties. I want to appreciate the CGC and the management team of the Nigeria Customs Service for the gesture. The gesture is a morale booster to officers. Nothing encourages an officer like when he is recognized and appreciated; he’ll be ready to do more.
“The ACG (Assistant Comptroller General), Aremu, Zonal Coordinator, charged them to redouble their effort in service and I hope they understood what she meant by that. We’re appreciative of the promotion and hope to see more of such in the near future”, the CAC said.