For nine straight working days in December, ‘Fisayo Soyombo, editor of TheCable, disguised his appearance – first as a hungry, hapless job seeker; later as a trainee clearing agent; and finally as an intending importer of cars, computers and Italian suits and shoes – to penetrate into the importing and clearing ring at the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). Presented in this comprehensive reporter’s diary, his findings reveal series of sharp practices involving men of the service, other border and security agencies, the clearing agents, and banks – leading to massive short-changing of government revenue. They also underline the scale of work required to purify an agency that is arguably the armpit of corruption in the most populous black nation.
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. Sourced from two different chapters and verses (Mark 10:25 and Matthew 19:24) in the Christians’ holy book, the Bible, this quotation is one of the most popular pastoral tools for summarizing the vanity of wealth – and life.
But nothing better captures the secrecy shrouding business activities at the NCS than a parody of this saying: it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for anyone to enter into the Apapa premises of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). Before setting out for Apapa, which houses the largest and busiest seaport in Nigeria, and is one of the most horrendous traffic-gridlock zones in the densely-populated city of Lagos, I had been warned by everyone who knew something about the ports that I would be unable to enter.
Still, on Monday, December 14, 2015, I arrived Apapa in the company of my one-day guide who knew the area so well, and graciously offered to help with navigating opening-day impediments. Much of the first day’s work was to revolve round securing temporary accommodation in Apapa pending the conclusion of the assignment – this didn’t happen, by the way – and general surveying operations around the port.