Nigeria Customs’ Offensive Against Car Dealers

By Casmir Igbokwe

Nigerians deserve an unreserved apology from the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (Retd). Recently, he used the mouth with which he eats yam and cocoyam to say that 90 per cent of cars in Nigeria were smuggled. This was to justify the action of his men who sealed many car marts in the country in commando style.

In Lagos, the raid affected big-time dealers like Coscharis, Globe Motors, Skymit and many others. Punishment for unauthorised removal of the seal is a fine of N100 million or 10 years imprisonment or both.

The Customs public relations officer, Joseph Attah, justified this raid. He said the action they took was based on credible information that there were smuggled vehicles in those car marts.

But the question is, did the Customs carry out any investigation before sealing the business premises? From different accounts of some of the car dealers, the Customs strike force took this action without any investigation, without any notice and without asking for any document.

In a pre-litigation letter to the Comptroller-General of Customs, the lawyer to the car dealers’ association in Lagos, Monday Ubani, described the Customs action as a “demonstration of gross irresponsibility, unprecedented impunity and abuse of power.” It added that though the Nigeria Customs and Excise Management Act gives the Customs the power to examine, mark, seal and take account of any goods, the service “did not examine, mark, seal and take account of the particular vehicles identified as not being properly cleared, but rather sealed the entire premises without any form of examination or inspection of papers.”

Thus, the dealers have demanded the unsealing of their car marts. They have also asked the Customs to pay them N10 billion compensation within 30 days or face court action.

Meanwhile, many of these businessmen struggle to survive Nigeria’s harsh business environment. They provide almost everything for themselves – water, electricity, roads and what have you. Even most of the major roads the government provided are in a terrible state. People spend hours in traffic because of bad roads and sometimes end up being attacked by miscreants.

Undoubtedly, what the Customs has done is to open an avenue for its men to harass and extort money from innocent Nigerians. Now, they will randomly stop motorists on the expressway and ask for Customs papers. If you cannot provide them on the spot, they seize your car.

Hameed Ali said so himself: “The law allows us to stop you and ask for the car papers; if your papers are intact, we thank you and bless you. If it is otherwise, we will ask you to pay the duties.”

The same way they reportedly stopped Mrs. Adaeze Nwagboliwe at the Abuja International Airport and asked her to pay a duty of about N175,000 on a pair of trainers and a mini boy bag. The woman, who recently returned to Nigeria from London, said she bought the personal effects at a duty-free shop in Heathrow.  According to reports, the officers said her items did not qualify as personal effects because they were far above N50,000 worth of goods Nigerians were entitled to. Well, those who love to travel and buy gifts for loved ones should brace up for a raw deal.

Customs officers should realise that laws are made for man and not the other way round. They don’t have to kill businesses while carrying out their duties. Earlier in the year, importers and manufacturers of chemical substances in the country accused them of abusing the end user certificate. The office of the National Security Adviser usually issues this end user certificate. It is a document certifying that the buyer is the final recipient of a product and will not transfer it to another party. But Customs men allegedly demand this certificate on products that are not on the list of those that require it. Importers lament that this has caused them enormous losses.

It is high time Customs officers deployed their commando skills at the borders. Once inside the country, they should use tact and intelligence in enforcing their law.

Recall that their lack of tact was what led to the killing of five innocent Nigerians in January 2019. It was during a raid on a house suspected to be harbouring contraband goods at Yewa Community in Ogun State. One of the dead, Jamiu Bello, was a fresh graduate of Tai Solarin University of Education. In March 2017, they killed a cab driver known as Taofiq at Kobape town in Ogun State for allegedly carrying three bags of rice suspected to have been smuggled.

In February this year, there was uproar in the country when a Customs officer killed one Godwin Onoja while allegedly trying to extort N5,000 bribe from a group of travellers who just returned from Europe at Shagamu Interchange on Lagos-Ijebu Ode Expressway.

As Nigerians would say, agents of this government look for money with red eyes. The Customs boss put it succinctly when he said the country needed revenue from everywhere for development.

Hence, the Federal Government increased Value Added Tax from 5 per cent to 7.5 per cent with effect from 2020. It recently introduced charges on cash deposits from N500,000 and above for individuals and N3 million and above for companies. This is to encourage cashless transactions. Ironically, the cashless transactions are also taxed. Now, some marketers charge extra N50 if you make purchases with a point of sale (PoS) machine. They tell you it is a new rule from the Central Bank of Nigeria. The state and local governments have their own taxes. Also, the police and touts have a way of collecting their own levies.

Naturally, these formal and informal charges engender an upswing in the prices of goods and services. When the dust on the sealed car marts settles, for instance, the dealers will naturally increase the prices of cars to recoup their losses.

Ultimately, we only end up de-marketing the country greatly. Foreign investors will be wondering if investing in this country is worth it. With Ali’s 90 per cent smuggled cars theory, they may think all Nigerians are criminals. Do we still need to wonder why companies are relocating to Ghana?

 

Re: Aisha Buhari’s last laugh

Dear Cas, do you not think that some residents in Aso Rock are disturbing our queenly First Lady for no just cause? To be candid, no matter her gait, she deserves it and it is her God-given turn. From today, let all the noise about her cease forthwith. Fatima should be automatically banned from the Presidency. That place should not be for all kind of people. We have had other First Ladies in the past, but not with this kind of noise.

– Pastor Livy Onyenegecha, Ibeku Okwuato Mbaise, Imo State, 08036174573

Now that our First Lady Aisha Buhari has apologised to Nigerians, may we accept her apology. The so-called cabal’s plans to boot her out with a failed marriage show that God is on the side of our First Lady over her outspokenness against evil vices happening in governance.

– Gordon Chika Nnorom, Umukabia, +2348062887535

Casmir, the attitude of Mr. President to various national issues was re-enacted in that Aso Rock embarrassment. When you think about the economy, security and general governance, the President seems to be asleep until much pressure is mounted on him. From the Aso Rock episode, I see Aisha Buhari as a very respectable hardworking woman who desires her husband to succeed. Unfortunately, she is slowed down by Mr. President’s attitude, which she can’t change.

– Pharm. Okwy Njike, +2348038854922

The Daura family is the cause of the tension in Presidential Villa.

– Mr. Chinedu Ekwuno (JP) 08063730644

 

Re: Malleable judiciary and executive recklessness in Nigeria

There’s no separation of powers in Nigeria. Everything bordering on governance is decided by the all-conquering executive that ‘does no wrong’. As you have rightly observed, the executive headed by the President controls the DSS, police, army and the like, which it mindlessly uses at will to coerce both the legislature and judiciary to submission so that they remain as mere appendages of the executive. The Nigerian President wields the most enormous powers, more than the United States’ President who presides over not only America but also carries out ‘oversight’ functions over the rest of the world. The Nigerian President, by virtue of his enormous powers, makes, executes and interprets our laws, even to the extent of unilaterally determining what constitutes national interest and which in his own ruling supersedes or is superior to the rule of law. Government prosecutors, aware of the enormity of the President’s powers, are occasionally heard threatening to report a non-compliant judge to the President over their poorly prosecuted cases, which they feel must always be decided in favour of government.

The beginning of Nigeria’s true democracy is if and when we have a constitution amendment that whittles down these undeserved powers of the President, which are mostly used to protect his political interests and or cover his nakedness. The very unfortunate peculiarity of Nigeria demands that the heads of judiciary and legislature must similarly enjoy constitutional immunity in order to avoid executive distractions.

– Edet Essien Esq., +2348037952470

Dear Casy, currently, we have a weak, myopic, religious and tribal bigot that doesn’t know anything about democratic leadership. As for the judiciary that provided court affidavit that gave Buhari the presidency in the midst of these electoral frauds in the last general election, what do you expect from this present government? Nigeria has become abracadabra state. God bless you.

– Eze Chima C. Lagos, +2347036225495

  • First published in the Daily Sun of Monday, 28 October 2019.

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