Cablegate: The Lagos Port Complex: Far From Secure

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Summary: Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and
Customs officials report marked gaps in security at the
Lagos port complex. Access to the port is only
nominally controlled, and electronic surveillance and
tracking systems are non-existent. Goods are
statutorily subject to Nigeria's 100 percent inspection
policy, but Customs officials ultimately see only a
small proportion of total traffic. The addition of new
cargo scanning equipment may improve the situation, but
a sea change in port security is unlikely. End

2. (U) The Lagos port complex is the largest and
busiest of Nigeria's several ports. It handles 40
percent of all traffic, and many consider it the
gateway not only to Nigeria, but also to West Africa.
It is one of the world's most expensive ports (second
only to the port of New York) and one of its least
efficient. Exporters and importers alike face
bureaucratic delays and administrative hurdles, wait
unusually long for goods to clear customs, and contend
with notoriously corrupt officials.

3. (U) The NPA controls the port's physical security.
Except for the side fronting the river, the entire
complex is walled and topped with concertina wire.
Personnel and trucks move through two or three main
gates, each of which is supposedly subject to strict
controls. It appears, however, that traffic enters and
leaves the port with little scrutiny: in a fifteen-
minute period during Econoff's presence, not a single
truck or person passing through one of the gates was
stopped or questioned by officials. The NPA recently
issued photo ID cards to employees and port personnel,
but demands that they display the cards are infrequent.
Captain Stephen Koffi, Harbor Master at the Lagos port
complex, says electronic monitoring and video
surveillance systems are months (if not years) away.
He laments the lack of sophisticated technology but
says resources are limited.

4. (U) Customs officials voice the same complaint.
Funds are scarce, and with limited staff, the Nigeria
Customs Service finds it impossible to conduct thorough
physical inspections of all goods transiting the port.
N. H. Angyu, Customs Area Controller at the Apapa area
of the Lagos port complex, says exports are subject to
a cursory inspection at the port gate (a statement that
seems wholly inaccurate, as trucks are rarely stopped)
and put through a more thorough inspection at the
port's export bay. Even then, it is highly unlikely
that Customs officials inspect each and every item in
each and every container. Customs officials dispense
with the 100 percent inspection policy for certain well-
known exporters. Instead, they conduct random checks,
a practice that violates Nigerian law but fits with
international practice. Angyu hopes the early 2004
introduction of container scanning equipment will
improve inspections of imported goods, but the machines
will not be used (at least not initially) for exports.
These, unfortunately, will continue to undergo the
usual physical inspections.

5. (U) NPA and Customs officials nonetheless say
security has improved over the last few months, mostly
due to more stringent port access controls, but
shippers and freight forwarders disagree. One shipping
company told Econoff that it loses five percent of its
imports to pilferage. People walk away with bags of
rice, flour or cocoa, and NPA and Customs officials do
nothing to stop them. In many cases, the company says,
port and Customs officials are part of the problem.
The shipping company pays for its own security and is
installing electronic surveillance systems, but a small
percentage of its shipments continues to disappear.

6. (U) Freight forwarders also recognize gaps in port
security, and many say Customs officials are incapable
of effectively tracking or inspecting shipments. An
executive at one of Nigeria's leading freight
forwarders told Econoff that 50 percent of all imports
are smuggled into the country. He also claims that 90
percent of Nigeria's non-oil exports are contraband.
Hundreds of containers of putative furniture components
are exported every month, he says, but these are often
full of raw timber (an export prohibited under Nigerian
law) bound for East Asia. The Nigeria Customs Service,
the executive asserts, is corrupt from the top down,
and companies find it easy to under-declare shipments
as long as they bribe appropriate officials.

7. (U) Comment: If this is indeed the case, and if
Customs officials depend on bribes to supplement their
relatively meager salaries, it appears many officials
will have an interest in maintaining the status quo.
As such, new cargo scanning equipment may not be as
effective as might be hoped (or operate as long as
expected). Furthermore, if funds remain scarce,
security improvements will move forward only
incrementally if at all. NPA and Customs officials are
surprisingly optimistic about meeting the 2004 deadline
for the implementation of the International Ship and
Port Security Standards, but unless political will
increases and significant changes occur, meeting the
deadline will be difficult, if not impossible. End


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