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Cargo exporters lament losses, seek probe of warehouse closure by customs

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Okakpu

Okakpu

Perishable cargo exporters have appealed to the Federal Government to investigate recent closure of export sheds at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, over alleged housing of prohibited items.

The group, apparently still counting their losses, berated actions of some government officials and men of the Nigerian Customs, who shut the warehouse without consideration of attendant losses.

It would be recalled that Nigeria Customs Service (NSC) last week clamped down on export warehouses of the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) and the Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCOL) over alleged stolen donkey skins from Kenya.

Customs alleged that the contraband items were on the verge of being exported to China by some Chinese nationals.

Captain John Okakpu of ABX World, said that the agro-allied exporters numbering over 100 were affected.

Okakpu said although the Customs have re-opened the warehouses, “such incident is tantamount to economic loss, as international off-takers are developing cold-feet with regards agricultural produce from Nigeria.”

Okakpu, who said the exporters lost over N100 million worth of goods within 48-hours the export warehouses were shut, called on the Federal Government to urgently commence full-scale investigations into the immediate and remote causes of the warehouses closure to avoid future occurrences.

He said that with government’s focus on agriculture in the diversification exercise, agro-allied exporters deserve protection as partners.

According to him, “We have made fundamental mistakes in the past as a nation by becoming a mono-economy. But, we cannot continue to lick the wounds. We have to reverse the case and agriculture provides us with a better option to grow.

“That is why as agro-allied exporters, we are seriously worried over the actions of some government officials, who seem not to underestimate the peculiarities of perishable items for export.

“Shutting down the warehouses was actually an indictment on Customs, as they ought to have carried out surveillance before shutting down all export businesses at the Lagos Airport.

“If such act is not checkmated in future, it will compound issues and create a logjam in the system. Or, do we prefer to ship our cargos to countries like Ghana or Cameroun before they can be shipped to Europe and other markets?

“We wouldn’t want the issues surrounding brown beans and other agricultural produce from Nigeria, to happen to vegetables and other perishables like ginger, garlic and Nsukka-yellow pepper, among others. That is why we are calling on the Federal Government to urgently investigate the matter and punch who ever are the culprits to serve as deterrent to others. So, as Professor Yemi Osibanjo was inaugurating the new agric roadmap, those warehouses were been shut. What an irony. Enough is enough,” he said.

President, Nigeria Vegetable Exporters Association, Oluwatoyin Temitope, said that her company alone lost over N1 million worth of cargo within 24-hours of the export shed closure.

Temitope lamented the widespread impact on her members numbering over 20.

She said: “It was a devastating day for us. We worked at night so that as early as 6:00am our partner airline Arik Air would ship the vegetables. So, when the news got to us that Customs have shut down both NAHCO and SAHCOL export shed my blood pressure went up.

“I have been in this business for over 30 years; exporting vegetables to South Africa and London almost every week. Unfortunately, the Customs Service and some other government agencies do not have regard for us.

“They do not any way intimate us before embarking on any clamp down. They know those who are engaging in illegal businesses. Ask them, who cleared the items in the first place! In countries like Uganda and Ghana, vegetable/perishable goods exporters are accorded special attention; why is ours different?”

Managing director of Kiverlin Foods, Veronica Ezigbo, said that the incident should be thoroughly investigated, citing the impact as a negation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s change mantra.


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