Tension over community spread at Apapa Port as Covid-19 hits customs officers

  • Controller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd)

Apprehension is growing over an imminent community spread of Covid-19 in the maritime industry following confirmation that some officers at the Apapa Area Command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) have contracted the virus.

The confirmation of active cases among officers of the command by the Public Relations Officer, Nkiru Nwala, means that the Lagos Port Complex particularly, which hosts container, bulk and multipurpose terminals, could pose serious danger to the nation’s economy.

Though Nwala disclosed that the required protocols had been followed through, and that all was now in the past, stakeholders have continued agitation against the agency’s practices that put the entire industry at greater risk of the pandemic.

To avoid the imminent danger to lives and the economy, however, President of the National Council of Managing Director of Licenced Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero, urged the Federal Government to redesign port operations and reduce the physical presence of customs officers and other regulatory officers at the ports.

“We have raised this issue with the presidency because the problem has to do with the whole port system,” he said. “The men contracted the virus as a result of poor spacing. It (the problem) is not only at the Apapa Port but everywhere.

“This time is an emergency; there is need for the NPA, Customs and licenced agents to look at how the port can be redesigned. Apapa Port might have got the virus from a traveller or someone else who was exposed to it. When you go round the whole ports, you have the same system in place.

“Agents are exposed to the virus because of clustering, including at the banks and shipping companies. This is because of the way the bill of entry is processed. Everybody wants his/her consignment to leave the port.”

Similarly, Vice President of the Association of Nigeria Licenced Customs Agents (ANLCA), Kayode Farinto, wants the agency to stem the spread by employing the Bill of Sight in sections 28 and 29 of the Customs Excise and Management Act (CEMA) to reduce human contact.

“If there is an outbreak of Covid-19 in the maritime industry, the NCS should be held responsible,” he said. “We are in a period of war and we suggested invoking section 28 and 29 of the CEMA on the Bill of Sight.

Recently, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman, had flayed the agency’s continued insistence on 100 per cent physical examination of cargoes, stating that the terminals have scanners for that job.

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