Customs agents are at the mercy of hackers, who hack their passwords to clear containers at Tincan Island Port, culminating in suspension of 80 licences over illegal release of cargoes. BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
The Federal Government has lost revenues running into billions of naira at the ports due to activities of cyber criminals.
The loss was visible in 2011 when the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS)’s Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) was severally hacked several times and hundreds of containers cleared by fraudsters without payment of appropriate fees and duties.
Customs’ ASYCUDA is the central system through which Customs control its cargo clearance process with a view to monitoring revenue generation and volume of imports,
However, unscrupulous people have taken advantage of the system to rob government and importers, most especially at Tincan Island Port.
Worried by the recent attacks by hackers, the NCS warned that anyone that allows unauthorised persons to gain access to his or her password to perpetrate fraud would be directly held liable.
Already, 80 licences of customs agents have been suspended, while some officials have also been sacked by NCS.
It would be recalled that in October 2016, no fewer than 44 Customs officers lost their jobs over the issue and other anti-trade practices capable of compromising national economy and security.
Miffed by the seizure of their licences recently, members of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) accused NCS officials at Tin Can Island Port Command of conniving with cyber cafe operators to clear goods illegally with their passwords.
The Managing Director, Mickey Excellency Nigeria Limited, Alhaji Babatunde Abdulazeez, alleged that Customs officers were deeply involved in hacking of passwords.
He explained that such misconduct had plunged some licence owners into problems with NCS.
The managing director said that the association would confront Customs officers suspected to be involved in the unwholesome acts.
Abdulazeez alleged that some Customs operatives had access to their classified passwords and that they had been conniving with unscrupulous persons to hack into their accounts to clear cargoes without payment of requisite duties.
He recalled that the Customs had pledged to close down all commercial cyber cafes in a bid to put an end to the fraudulent operations but no step had been taken.
The managing director added that the existence of the cafes had further truncated efforts of genuine operators.
They noted that the illegal practice had led to the suspension of the operational licence of affected agencies in addition to their having to pay for the appropriate charges.
Also, a customs agent, Mr. Samuel Ndubuisi, explained that some of their members had incurred losses running into millions of naira.
As part of measures to tackle the problem, it was gathered that members of ANLCA had petitioned the Area Controller of the command, Bashar Yusuf, alleging that four Customs officers were colluding with the operators of cyber cafes to release containers.
They urged the area controller to prevent unscrupulous persons from having access to Assessment Notice Numbers (ANN).
Also, the Executive Director, Salim International Limited, Sir John Ofobike, said APM Terminal should stop processing of document declarations in order to allow ANLCA unmask the government agencies that release cargoes from shipping lines.
Also, he said that the agency of government that exited cargoes from terminal operators should be revealed.
Abdulazeez lamented that NCS had failed to live up to its promise of issuing individual password to owners of licences.
He stressed that plans were on-going to confront Customs officers allegedly involved in the unwholesome acts.
Abdulazeez sought the prompt intervention of the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), to put an end to the malpractice, noting that individual password would curb the growing and incessant hacking.
Spokesman of the command, Uche Ejesieme, while exonerating officials of NCS from the crime, urged the agents to come up with evidence of hacking.
He warned that the command would not tolerate unsubstantiated allegations against its officers, adding that issues surrounding password hacking would be a thing of the past soon as measures are being put in place to check the practice.
As the situation becomes so disturbing, government should deploy agents to monitor activities of commercial cyber cafes in and around the port in order to put an end to the fraudulent operations.
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