Tinapa: Investors, Customs at war over imposed duty

Business activities may soon grind to a halt at the Tinapa Business and Resort in Calabar, Cross River State, as local and international investors have threatened to shut down their operations at the free trade zone.

They are protesting an alleged imposition of duties on transit goods meant for the Free Trade Zone by officials of the Nigeria Customs Service at the Onne Port, Rivers State.

The management of Tinapa Business and Resort, which also accused the Customs officials of intimidating the investors, described the imposed levy as illegal.

A spokesperson for the investors, Mr. Nnamso Nyong, said at a press briefing in Calabar on Wednesday that the law establishing Tinapa Business and Free Zone Resort recognised it as a transit hub for goods within the sub-regional Africa.

He stressed the existing gazette stipulated that Tinapa was 100 per cent import duty free.

Nyong said. “The Customs has no right to hold any consignment coming to Tinapa. For the Customs to come and ask us to pay duty at the Onne Port is a total violation of the law establishing Tinapa. The Nigerian Customs is frustrating us.

“We are indeed shocked that the Customs at the Onne Command have stopped the processing of investors consignments which are on transit to Tinapa Free Trade Zone. This is a unilateral and illegal act by the Customs.

“We view this Nigeria Customs’ serial impunity with regard to trade transactions in the Tinapa as a calculated attempt to truncate business activities within the Free Trade Zone, thus rendering all human, material and financial resources invested in establishing the zone a total waste.”

With this development, the investors said over 20,000 jobs were on the line.

According to them, one of the companies was charged about N50m by the Customs as a levy on its Tinapa-bound goods.

An investor, Mr. Chris Nedum, said, “Shops are shutting down; people are losing their jobs; demurrage is increasing every hour on these containers at Onne Port, whereas others are busy smuggling rice through the borders while the Customs look elsewhere.”

He said the Customs’ action had led to a loss of revenue running into millions of naira.

Nedum gave some of the problems the action had caused as: loss of confidence from trade partners; inability to honour Letters of Credit hinged upon receipt of goods; inability to meet financial obligations; loss of supplier’s confidence and closure of shops.

An Indian investor, Mr. Poadeep Kumav, decried the activities of the Customs, adding that policy inconsistency on the part of the government could ruin business expansion and economic development.

When contacted, the Zonal Coordinator, NCS Zone C, Onne, Mr. F O. Effiong, said he had no business with Tinapa, saying if the investors had any complaint, they should contact the Comptroller-General of the Customs.

“I have no business with the development at Tinapa. If they think they have any reservation, they should contact the Comptroller-General of Customs,” he said.

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