Investigative reporter, Emmanuel Mayah, discovers how crude stolen from terminals and pipelines in Nigeria finds its way to the triangle.
The trade is brazen. The loot is huge. There is even a secondary market of Togolese hotels that benefit from the influx of foreigners who disguise as tourists to take a slice from the Nigerian cake, a freebie through corruption.
Togo, a tiny West African country, does not produce oil. It has no oil deposit under land or water. Togo, however, is fast making itself the new Kuwait of Africa. This it has done by building a man-made oil city, an offshore floating market on the sea called the Togo Triangle.
Rogue ships and rogue international businessmen travel thousands of nautical miles to Togo to buy crude oil stolen from Nigeria. The volume of trade in the triangle makes Togo the largest black market for crude oil, attracting buyers from as far as Australia, Hong Kong, Russia, the United Kingdom, South Africa, China, Ukraine and Thailand.
A report by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) cites China, North Korea, Israel and South Africa as frequently mentioned destination countries and recipients of stolen crude from Nigeria.
The tell-tale signs of a burgeoning economy in Togo were all too visible as this reporter made the rounds of hotels beginning from the capital, Lome. From Avenida Hotel to Ibis Lome Centre, Hotel Sancta Maria to Residence Hoteliere Oceane and from Hotel Napoleon Lagune to Hotel Cote Sud, Togo is bursting at the seams with foreigners, mostly Europeans, Chinese, Lebanese, Russians and Indians.
Not all of them are tourists and not all have come to buy cash crops or handicrafts, the country’s two key foreign exchange earners. Indeed, the influx of white and Asian visitors and the growing number of hotels speak volume of an economy that has ingeniously attached its umbilical cord to the vast oil wealth of nearby Nigeria.
Crude oil theft in Nigeria is one of the most notorious transnational crimes in the world today. The Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force led by Nuhu Ribadu found hydrocarbon theft as being a major and chronic source of revenue loss to Nigeria.
It warned that theft of crude oil and refined petroleum products may be reaching emergency levels in the country.
The task force noted that oil theft could be as high as 250,000 barrels per day, close to 10 per cent of daily production and amounting to as high as N1 trillion annually.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) reports that about 40 per cent of products channelled through pipelines are lost to theft and sabotage. The Petroleum Products Marketing Company (PPMC) recorded 4,468 product pipeline breaks in 2011 alone, and values the product stolen from its pipeline network between 2001 and 2010 at N178 billion.
Mind-boggling as they may sound to poor Nigerians, deprived from birth of every benefit of oil wealth, industry watchers insist the official figures are grossly understated.
The volume of oil theft is so huge it is bigger than the legitimate oil industry of some African countries. It attracts “vultures” from Nigeria’s military and corrupt political elite to residual rag-tag militias in the Niger Delta to Chinese and Russian Mafias.
Court Convictions, Dismissal of Naval Officers
A total 13 Russians were arrested in Nigeria over oil theft as far back as 2003. Two Rear Admirals in the Nigerian Navy, Francis Agbiti and Samuel Kolawole, were court martialled and dismissed for complicity in allowing an arrested tanker African Pride to escape from custody.
The tanker had been intercepted near Shell’s oil export terminal in Forcados and was found to have taken on board 11,000 tonnes of crude oil without authorisation.
The court martial provided official confirmation of long-held suspicion that top military officers are deeply involved in oil theft.
Military prosecutors said Agbiti had attempted to release the African Pride on the very day it was seized. Her cargo of crude oil was illegally transferred to another ship three weeks later while the vessel was in navy custody.
Court papers showed that Kolawole allowed Russian officials to visit the ship without authorisation and later ensured there was no guard on board the ship when it disappeared around August 10, 2004.
Prosecutors disclosed that Agbiti and Kolawole were responsible for the “simultaneous alteration, destruction and removal of documents” following the ship’s disappearance.
Two junior naval officers, Jonathan Ihejiawu and Suleiman Atan, told the court-martial they were paid N250,000 each by one Lt. Commander Mohammed Abubakar on October 31, 2003 to escort African Pride from Lagos harbour to the high seas where its cargo was transferred to a waiting ship and replaced with sea water.
The two junior officers said Abubakar told them the payment was from the “big boys” in the navy.
Ever since the court martial, more Russians have been arrested in Nigeria with stolen crude. Other nationals, including Britons and Chinese, have equally been arrested.
Earlier this month, a Nigerian court sentenced three Indians, Sailesh Kumar Singh, (captain of a vessel, MT Akshay), Chadrashekar Sharma and Ajay Bhatiya (vessel owner), to 15 years imprisonment for offences bordering on oil theft.
The Indians were among 12 suspected oil thieves, including eight other Indians, one Ghanaian and a Nigerian arrested aboard Akshay by the Joint Task Force, Central Naval Command, Bayelsa, in November 2012.
One court paper read: “Sailesh Kumar Singh, Chadrashekar Sharma, Dharmaraj Kumar, Ajay Kumar, Nimesh Kodi Parambil, Ashraf Ali, Sanjeev Kumar, Sarbjot Singh, Arvind Kumar Bhaedwaj, Gagan Kumar, Dele Johnson Olayemi and Benneth Egbegi, being crew members on MT Akshay with Ajay Bhatiya (now at large) on or at about November 25, 2012 in Brass, Bayelsa State, within the jurisdiction of this court did without authority deal in 157,822 litres of crude oil bunkered from Auntie the Matriach Julie Rig of Conoil Nigeria into MT Akshay and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 1(17)(a) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act CAP M17 of the revised edition (laws of the federation of Nigeria) 2007 and punishment under Section 1(17) of the same Act.”
In the conviction, however, the court was silent on the ship and her content.
The international dimension of the menace of oil theft is such that President Goodluck Jonathan recently urged the United Kingdom and other Western governments to help Nigeria curtail crude oil theft by rejecting stolen Nigerian crude taken to their refineries.
The whimpers from Jonathan have done nothing to stave off foreign syndicates and fat cat Nigerian collaborators who, with the tacit support of the Togolese authorities, have built for themselves a criminal empire which estimated fortunes is bigger than the combined gross domestic products (GDPs) of Togo, Benin Republic, Burkina Faso and Niger Republic.
Journey to Togo Triangle
Almost on a weekly basis, a mixed tribe of fortune hunters arrive Togo and are chauffeured to luxury hotels. A few, for strategic reasons, prefer to tuck away in neighbouring Ghana and Benin from where they track their illicit cargoes.
Though this reporter had arrived Lome by road, the taxi driver was still quick to ask if he was from Nigeria. Without waiting for a confirmation of his hunch, he wanted to know if the visitor had any crude cargo to sell.
The driver added that he had a brother who could help out with bank transactions. He had another brother who could help arrange boat charter to the Togo Triangle. Charter fee was $3,000. The solicitation did not end with the taxi man. One of the hotel porters and a barman offered to provide contacts in the oil business.
Dozens of small service companies have sprung up in Lome, all providing sundry necessities to foreigners doing illegal trade in the Togo Triangle. The sheer number of boat charter services transporting oil traders to the triangle gives a good first impression of an illicit international market that may have become the pride of a tiny country whose best known export yet is footballer, Emmanuel Adebayoor.
For $200, this reporter got a seat in a supply boat carrying provisions and local tradesmen going to the Togo Triangle. The triangle attracts sundry suppliers of goods, including food, alcohol, cigarettes, textiles and DVDs. Pimps and prostitutes are not left out.
Tradesmen shuttle among vessels just as other kinds of businessmen barter their wares for cheap fuel supplied by crews. Ships use diesel to run their engines and power generators on board. Crew members, running low on cash, barter diesel for critical provisions.
Aside white foreigners, West African nationals of Ghana, Benin, Liberia and Nigeria mill around. Naval gunboats occasionally plough the waters, providing a semblance of security in an obviously lawless territory.
Posing as a middleman from Nigeria scouting for buyers, this reporter met a Togolese by the name Narcisse Novinyo who said he was a trade facilitator. A retired produce inspector, he knew almost everything about Nigeria, its people and its president, even though he had never been to the country.
What has changed his life for good was not his paltry pension, rather the Nigerian crude sold in Togo. Novinyo was careful never to use the words ‘stolen crude’ as he narrated his experience working with Nigerians.
For the next three days he stuck to this reporter like an infectious disease. He produced documents as proofs of previous transactions he had facilitated. Stolen as the crude oil may be, transactions are surprisingly covered by carefully-worded documents.
When contacted, NNPC General Manager (Public Affairs), Ohi Alegbe, pleaded with TheNiche to give him time to find out the true situation.
A few minutes later, another employee of the corporation, who identified himself simply as Frank, said: “We are not aware that such an illegal place exists.”
He also asked for time to get back to TheNiche but failed to do so at press time.
- Emmanuel Mayah first published the story on TheNiche
EXCLUSIVE: 10 mystery containers shipped into Nigeria by CMA CGM Delmas
– Police suspect arms and ammunition.
– cargoes cleared without physical examination.
– Warrant of Arrest on CMA CMG Shipping Manager.
The true contents of 10 containers shipped into Nigeria under mysterious circumstances are now subjects of diverse speculations among port workers in Lagos just as a powerful syndicate believed to be behind the shipment has been deploying its influence within the Nigerian Police Force, the Nigeria Customs Service, Ports Terminal Operators and elsewhere to hush the matter. The contents of these containers remain uncertain especially as they were cleared from the port without any physical examinations, using apparently falsified shipping documents to pass through the clearing process.
Documents obtained by SATELLITE TIMES show that the ten containers were shipped into the country by a shipping company called CMA CMG Delmas Nigeria Shipping Ltd with office at 26 Creek Road, Apapa, Lagos. The consignments arrived TinCan Island Port Lagos from Jakarta, Indonesia on board a vessel named Maersk Conakry/CMA-CGM with voyage number 8W100E. The consignee was given as J.I. Ejison International Ltd with address as 109 Upper New Market Road, Onitsha, Anambra State.
Findings by this newspaper show that the 10 containers (5 x 20-Foot containers with Sea Way Bill No. ID20271634 and another 5 x 20-Foot containers with Sea Way Bill No. ID20271677) were manifested as cartons of soap with J.I. Ejison International Ltd as the consignee. At the time of the import, soap was a prominent item on the Import Prohibition List of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Particulars of the 10 mystery containers
The10 mystery containers have the following as their container numbers and seal numbers:
CAXU3378488 D6701293 12500KG
IPXU3358657 D6701484 12500KG
TRLU3957001 D6701386 12500KG
ECMU1295120 D6701340 12500KG
GESU1373150 D6701381 12500KG
CNCU1529716 D6688637 12500KG
ECMU1542317 D6688581 12500KG
XINU1528288 D6688590 12500KG
FC1U3450531 D6688503 12500KG
On arrival of the 10 containers at the port of destination in Nigeria, the original Manifest and Bills of Lading showing the cargoes as prohibited goods were tampered with and new ones generated in their place. Following these, key shipping documents were altered just as the name of the consignee was changed from J.I. Ejison International Ltd to Fadobra Ventures Ltd with address as 44 Abiola Oluwa Street, Lagos. The description of goods was changed from “cartons of soap” to “Manicure and Pedicure sets”.
Ports insiders told SATELLITE TIMES that these changes, described as “grave” and accommodated by CMA CMG were not consistent with best practices, particularly the Port Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) given that the e-Form M and e-Manifest had already been lodged and once so done cannot be reversed.
Explaining the malpractices, the port insider said: “It is like Ekene Dilichukwu Motors receiving 10 cartons of milk from Company A to be transported from Lagos to Port Harcourt. But after the goods had arrived destination, the waybill is changed to read 10 cartons of nails while the name of the owner is changed from Company Ato Company Z”.
SATELLITE TIMES was able to obtain a copy of the Form M, one of the most important documents used in shipping transactions. The Form M No. 20140069224 used in this controversial transaction was altered in favour of Fadobra Ventures Ltd instead of J.I Ejison International Limited – the original beneficiary.
Not a few maritime operators told this newspaper that the Form M could only have been forged given that at the inception of any importation, the importer/consignee, in this case J.I Ejison International Limited, must first apply for and obtain Form M only after meeting specified requirements including providing the company’s tax record as contained in its unique Tax Identification Number (TIN). Form M are issued by banks to an import company only after the said company had presented itself to mandatory scrutiny, including stringent Forex guidelines and money laundering prevention measures. As a result, a Form M obtained by one company cannot be transferred to another company just as a Form M obtained by a company for the importation of a specified item cannot be utilised even by the same company to import a different type of item.
SATELLITE TIMES investigations revealed that virtually every document associated with the 10 mystery containers is riddled with discrepancies. The shipping company CMA CMG claims that in swapping both the consignees and the contents of the containers, it acted on instruction from the shipper (Messers. Sea Air & Land Forwarding Ltd)leading to an amendment dated 27th April 2015. Curiously, other documents show that the amendments to the consignee’s name and contents were carried out by CMA CMG on 18th March 2015. This was 40 days before the purported instructions from the shipper.
Yet another glaring anomaly in the documentation is that while the amended bill of lading describes the 10 containers as containing manicure and pedicure sets, the cargo was eventually released by the shipping company CMA CMG, as the prohibited item, soap. This is clearly captured in CMA CMG’s delivery order issued on 8th May 2015, a copy of which was obtained by this newspaper. This development led dock workers tracking the mystery cargoes to second-guessing the true contents of the 10 containers which they said might neither be soap nor manicure and pedicure sets as alleged.
Botched physical examination
Prince Jide Olowu, a Customs agent familiar with the Nigeria’s current Clearing & Forwarding regime, told SATELLITE TIMES that irrespective of the claims by any importer, the only way to ascertain the true contents of a container is by subjecting it to physical examination.
“I must say that because of corruption, the Customs is very selective when it comes to physical examination, but at least, that was how recent imports containing Tramadol were detected”, Olowu said.
Though the shipping company, CMA CMG’s claims the 10 mystery containers were subjected to 100% physical examination by Customs officials before they were released to the importers, documents available to SATELLITE TIMES show that no physical examinations was carried out.
The 10 containers were supposedly transferred on Saturday 9th May 2015 to Don Climax Bonded Terminal for 100% examination by the Customs and other statutory agencies of government. Shipping documents however show that the 10 containers were released by Customs, CMA CGM Nigeria Shipping Ltd and security agencies earlier days earlier – on/or before 8th May 2015.
Prince Olowu assured it is never a normal practice for cargoes to be released to the consignee (the last stage in the clearing process) before the same cargois transferred to a Bonded Terminal (in this case Don Climax) for 100% physical examination.
Additional evidence showing the 10 containers were never subjected to physical examination before they were released to Fondora Ventures Ltd can be found in documents from the official records of Tin Can Island Container Terminal (TICT). Whilst CMA CGM claim the 10 containers were transferred on 9th May 2015 to Don Climax Bonded Terminal for 100% examination by Customs and other statutory agencies of government, the containers were still in the custody of TICT as evidenced by receipts of rent payment on the 10 containers to TICT. Receipts show the 10 containers were still attracting rent at TICT even on 9th May 2015 when they were supposedly already transferred to Don Climax Bonded Terminal.
As tongues began wagging over the 10 mystery containers, the attention of the Zone 2 Monitoring Unit of the Nigeria Police was soon attracted. Statements made by TICT Terminal Manager and other workers to Police investigators at Force Headquarters Alagbon on March 2018 show that the 10 containers were still at TICT at the time they were said to have been transferred to Don Climax Bonded Terminal for 100% physical examination. The Terminal Manager and other TICT staff members had been invited by the Police to say what they knew in connection to the 10 containers.
Warrant of Arrest on CMA CMG Shipping Manager
On 20th April 2017, a Warrant of Arrest was issued by the Igbosere Magistrate Court in respect of CMA CMG Shipping Manager, Mr. Anthony Ukawoko. A copy of the warrant obtained by SATELLITE TIMES shows that police investigators had stated that CMA CMG “conspired to import prohibited goods suspected to be arms and ammunition by Fondora Ventures Ltd, J.I Ejison Int. Ltd, F.N Njoku, Donatus Obele and Don Climax Bonded Terminal and Ventures”.
The Police came to that hypothesis following the serial contradictions in the documentation process for the 10 containers as well as the apparent determination to conceal the true contents of the containers, changing them from soap to manicure and pedicure sets and back to soap which by the evasion of physical examination remains a mystery.
None of the telephone messages sent to the Customs Public Relations Officer, Mr. Joe Attah, were reverted to just as CMA CMG staffers refused to grant entry to SATELLITE TIMES’s reporter who had gone to the Lagos office of the shipping company to obtain official reaction for the story.
Resorting to the services of a courier company, GIG Logistics, SATELLITE TIMES on 28th September 2018 in Abuja sent a two-page media enquiry to the Managing Director of CMA CMG. About three weeks later, the company sent back the same media enquiry to this newspaper without commenting on any of the issues raised.
In November 2018, the same reporter returned to CMA’s office and after two days of attempts, the media enquiry was received and acknowledged by a staffer who claimed the shipping company had no Public Relation Officer.
Whistleblower hounded for exposing corruption in Federal Medical Centre Keffi
-millions diverted to private pockets, unqualified lab scientists employed in haematology unit
A senior Medical Laboratory Scientist on grade level 10 at the Federal Medical Centre Keffi, Umeh Gabriel Uzoma, has known no peace for blowing the whistle on a cabal of corrupt officials who for years set up different conduits, funnelling government money into private accounts.
Since exposing what turned out to be serial corruption, life has become a living hell for the whistleblower whose salary payment was frozen pronto as he faces a technical dismissal.
Umeh has suffered multiple harassment and indignities to a point a female colleague once spat in disgust, asking him: “what are you still doing here?” That incident was succeeded by “violent assaults from my head of unit, Mrs. Afolake Bello, who held my phone and asked me to leave the laboratory.
Umeh’s actions as a whistleblower was inspired by a circular with Reference FMC/KF/ADM/538 from the office of the Medical Director to all HODs/Units. The circular, dated 23 January 2017 has the heading: ILLEGAL COLLECTION OF CASH FROM PATIENTS.
It reads: “Management has observed that some staff are in the habit of collecting cash illegally from patients for some services rendered. No staff should collect cash under any circumstances from patients but to direct such patients to pay at the bank.”
The circular goes on to say: “It is the responsibility of the Head of Department/Unit to ensure as a matter of duty that all services rendered are properly captured and payment made via the EMR platform. Any officer that violet this will be meted with proper sanctions. This should be considered as the last warning.”
The whistler exposed how cash was collected from patients and remitted to the HOD, Laboratory Services, Mr. Haruna Muhammad Aminat and Head of Unit Mrs. Afolake Bello Saidat including cash for cross matching of blood and from sales of pints of blood.
He also exposed how unqualified ‘cover-up’ staff were accommodated as part of the ring perpetrating illegal activities in the Laboratory Services Department of the hospital under Mrs. Afolake Bello Saidat, head of the Haematology unit and the HOD, Mr. Haruna Muhammad Aminat who the whistleblower alleged would bring into the laboratory, a personal genotype machine and conduct medical test to enrich his pocket.
According to Umeh, “My HOD Laboratory Services, Mr. Haruna Muhammad Aminat and Head of Unit Mrs. Afolake Bello Saidat asked us to be collecting money from patients and their relatives remitting it to our senior colleague by name Abdul Mohammed for hospital services rendered instead of patients or their relatives making payments at the cash point or bank, which I asked patients to pay and bring receipts of payments.”
Documents obtained by SATELLITE TIMES show how the directive from the Chief Medical Director was brazenly violated. Secret log-book leaked to SATELLITE TIMES detailed records of cash collected from patients. Most times patients were extorted as monies they were made to pay were above official charges.
Quacks employed in the Haematology Unit
The whistleblower revealed that some members of staff in the haematology unit are not qualified, adding that they were ostensibly smuggled into the hospital employ just to play the money game.
Documents revealed that they were not licensed by the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria (MLSCN). The implications of unlicensed practitioners made to work in one of the most sensitive units of the hospital where blood samples are analysed know no bound.
The Whistleblower described the unlicensed staff members as “cover-up staffs”. Though not qualified to work in the laboratory, they are “untouchable”.
SATELLITE TIMES obtained a letter dated 31st May 2017 from the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria (MLSCN) to the Keffi Chapter of the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria. Some staff members working as Medical Laboratory Scientists at FMC Keffi were considered as “either not qualified or are yet to be registered with MLSCN” as their names were not found in the MLSCN data base.
The letter from MLSCN named Namo Allu Fidelis and Lekshak Grace Sunday, emphasising that “the underlisted names were not found in our database which suggests that they are either not qualified or are yet to be registered with MLSCN”. The letter was signed by G.A Aikpitanyi-Iduitua, Deputy Director, Practitioners’ Regulation and Discipline.
The MLSCN is the National Medical Laboratory Accreditation Agency, a federal statutory body established by Act 11, 2003 which is responsible for the registration and licensing of Medical Scientists in Nigeria.
After Umeh squealed on the corrupt officers, he was first deployed from the haematology unit to the histopathology unit where his services were not needed.
Even after he had vigorously argued that he studied haematology and clinical chemistry and that he lacked the requisite knowledge and skill set to work in the histopathology unit, he was given a deaf ear. Histopathology is the study of changes in tissue caused by disease. Haematology, on the other hand, is the branch of medicine concerned with the study of the cause, prognosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases related to blood. The whistleblower is a trained haematologist.
After the redeployment to the Histopathology Unit where he was forced to work as a quack, to which he refused, Gabriel Umeh’s salary was stopped November 2017. Upon enquiry, the accounts department informed him his name had been removed from the schedule of payment in the Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System (IPPIS).
SATELLITE TIMES visited FMC Keffi seeking official response. The Chief Medical Director, Yahaya Baba Adamu, said he was only seven days on the job.“I am actually in the process of taking over. Unfortunately, I have not been able to get this privilege information since I arrived here” the new Chief Medical Director said.
Yahaya described Satellite Times investigation as, “something quite commendable” adding it was “an eye opener” as it will help him to widen his searchlight. He pledged for time to look into the allegations and clean up the system. That was on 12 July 2018.
Two months later, in September, SATELLITE TIMES returned to the hospital but met with hostilities from the secretary to the Chief Medical Director. This reporter was however able to speak to some patients who pleading anonymity lamented countless cases of corruption they had experienced in the hands of hospital officials.
Located some 52 kilometres from Abuja, the hospital’s proximity to the neighboring states of Benue, Plateau, Kaduna, Kogi and Niger, contributes to the increase in the number of referral cases to the FMC Keffi.
Yet another attempt was made by this newspaper in November to get an official response, this time from the Public Relation Officer, Mr. Abdullahi Mohammed. Speaking over the phone, he promised to get back but never did.
A staff member of the hospital (name withheld) corroborated the whistleblower’s story, adding that among the senior officials who sat in a group with the new Chief Medical Director inside his office to welcome SATELLITE TIMES in July, were actually those mentioned in the petition written by the whistleblower.
“How can the same people be in the group investigating their own case,” she quipped.
Exclusive: 44 companies import 500 containers using cloned Form M
-over N9 billion diverted in tariff fraud
In what is probably the most brazen display of impunity by powerful syndicates at the Lagos seaport, a total of 44 companies are discovered to have imported about 500 containers into the country using same Form M. Of the 44 companies (see list below) 30 brought in various consignments using Form M with number MF20170010026/ BA No. 21420170005250 which was cloned and recycled 29 times over a period of two years between 2017 and 2018 in a massive and sophisticated serial tariff fraud.
Five of the 44 companies namely Max Holding & Sons Ltd, Auto Creation E-Hub Ltd, Joneble Holding & Sons Ltd, Bossman Holding Ltd and Vintage Nigeria Ltd used another cloned Form M with number MF20170019026/ BA No. 21420170005260 for their shipping transactions while the Form M used by three companies, Garba Murtala Tafida, Ogwuni Rolland Edwin and Pedrona Ltd are so tampered with vital information scrubbed out that this newspaper is unable to read them.
Two companies with business names The Seacorp Nig. Ltd and Flex Nig. Ltd utilised for their transactions one Form M MF2017013894/BA No. 21450034.
The last four companies each quoted Form M numbers in their documents thus: Sonai Shipping Ltd MF20180052740; Cosmos &Sons Ltd MF20170010111; Duncan Maritime Ventures Nig. Ltd MF20170094928 and Emoko Real Properties Nig. Ltd MF20130010026. Curiously, all the four Form Ms have no batch numbers thus making it impossible to determine the name of the bank that issued the Form Ms in the first place and also making it difficult to track the source of funds used by the business owners in the transactions.
Two months ago, in September, SATELLITE TIMES blew the lid on a powerful “Port Cabal” that specialised in using clone Form M documents to perpetrate large scale fraud at the Lagos seaports. The report exposed how the Cabal imported millions of dollars’ worth of luxury vehicles, many of them armoured, into the country using just one Form M. The offensive Form M with number: MF 20170010026 was used in importing a total of 554 luxury vehicles that included one Rolls Royce, 84 Toyota Landcruiser, 41 Toyota Fortuner, 123 Toyota Prado, 46 Lexus 570/460, 140 Toyota Hilux, 32 Toyota Camry, 21 Toyota Coaster, 43 Toyota Hiace, 21 Mitsbushi Pajero and 2 Range Rover, most of them armoured and targeted at high-end market.
While the September report about 17 companies colluding to use one Form M had left ordinary Nigerians and anti-corruption crusaders in utter disbelief, the story pales into insignificance with the latest discovery of 44 companies pulling off an even bigger fraud without the Colonel Hameed Ali-led leadership of the Nigerian Customs Service being any wiser. Intriguingly, it was the same Form M MF 20170010026 used by the 17 companies to bring in 554 exotic cars that was also utilized by a new group of 27 companies to import more cargoes, bringing the number to 44 consignees.
Form M explained
Form M is the most important item in the documentation process put in place by the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), to monitor goods imported into the country as well as to enable collection of import duties where applicable.
Any person intending to import physical goods into Nigeria must initiate the importation by processing a Form M through an authorised dealer (licensed bank). Alongside the Form M, a host of other documentation will be presented to the bank. Where approved, the Form M serves as authority to the bank to open letters of credit for foreign exchange transactions on behalf of the importer.
This form has a unique number which must be quoted/written on all the shipping documents; although there are exemptions such as Diplomatic cargos (of reasonable quantity), personal effects, goods shipped in by government agencies or goods shipped into Free Trade Zones in Nigeria such as the Calabar Free Trade Zone (CFTZ).
Form M is the first official document needed to initiate shipment to Nigeria. The life span of a Form M is 6 months (for general merchandise) and one year (for plant and machinery), after which an extension of 6 months (for general merchandise) and one year (for plant and machinery).
A Form M is usually issued for a particular supply contract (between the oversea manufacturer and the Nigerian importer) and allows for part shipments within the validity period. For large project such as stadium construction, a Bulk Form M can be issued, which allows continuous part shipments throughout the validity of the Form M.
Form M is a form of licence. Approval of a Form M depends, among other things, on the forex okayed for the importer by the CBN for a particular import. To obtain Form M, the importer must present his Tax Identification Number (TIN). In fact, the TIN is now key-username to log into the electronic platform to process this all-important document. Form M is not transferable from one importer to another. And a Form M approved for the import of a particular item cannot be used even by the same importer to bring in a different item.
An industry stakeholder (names withheld) gave “a rough estimate” of the values of the 500 containers imported by the 44 companies as “over N100 billion”. It will take the expertise of forensic financial investigators to arrive at the true value of the imports. However, SATELLITE TIMES was told that “because all the imports were luxury goods, they attract 20% duty of the true value, 50% levy and 5% VAT. Indeed, the cloning and manipulations of Form M and allied shipping documents are aimed at escaping payment of accurate levies and tariffs. The industry stakeholder added that the Federal government must have “lost nothing less than N9 billion to this batch alone of cloned Form M imports”.
Official reactions were sought by this newspaper at the headquarters of the Nigerian Customs Service in Abuja. Clearly-worded text messages sent to the mobile number of the Service PRO, Mr. Joe Attah, was not responded to at press time.
List of the 44 companies
1. Five Stax Group Ltd
2. Emy Cargo & Shipping Services
3. Volta MP Equipment Nig. Ltd
4. Vintage Nig. Ltd.
5. Suplus Nig. Ltd
6. Brasslet Nig. Ltd.
7. Sonnex Nig. Ltd.
8. Zako Bag Allied Nig. Ltd.
9. Kaslak Nig. Ltd.
10.Zeb Holding Ltd.
11.Cosmos & Sons Nig. Ltd.
12. Joneble Holding & Sons Nig. Ltd.
13. Amaju & Sons Nig. Ltd.
14. Zinktex Nig. Ltd.
15. Dabik Holding & Sons Nig. Ltd.
!6. Landhoast Ltd.
17. Ogwuni Rolland Edwin
18. Ruffo Nig. Ltd.
19. Marko Nig. Ltd.
20. Sengenmenge Nig. Ltd.
21. Offor and Sons Nig. Ltd.
22. Lext Vin Nig. Ltd.
23. Modul Oil and Gas Ltd
24. Ducan Maritime Ventures Nig. Ltd.
25. Carmen Ltd.
26. Garba Murtala Tafida
27. Auto Creation E-Hub Ltd.
28. Emoko Real Properties Nig. Ltd.
29. Osland Ltd.
30. Brimax Still Nig. Ltd.
31. Akuabia Prince Afamefuna
32. Max Holding & Sons Ltd,
33.Auto Creation E-Hub Ltd,
34.Joneble Holding & Sons Ltd,
35.Bossman Holding Ltd
36. Vintage Nigeria Ltd
37. Garba Murtala Tafida,
38. Ogwuni Rolland Edwin and
39. Pedrona Ltd
40. The Seacorp Nig. Ltd
41. Flex Nig. Ltd
42. Sonai Shipping Ltd
43. Cosmos &Sons Ltd
44. Duncan Maritime Ventures Nig. Ltd
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Accountant exposes how First Bank, three others, pinch millions from depositors’ accounts