By Elizabeth Chukwuma
In spite of the fact that that Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel, and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, had given a directive to the Comptrollers of the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, across the country, through one Fatade, an Assistant Comptroller General, to collect duties from the vehicles found in sealed cart marts suspected to have been smuggled or cloned and a 25 percent surcharge, which the vehicle dealers were said to have agreed to pay. But the FOU Authorities, according to sources are still foot-dragging to collect the duties and levies, let alone re-open the sealed car marts.
From Lagos, Ibadan,, Owerri, Portharcourt, Kaduna, Kano,Sokoto, Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, to Bauchi, the story is the same: continued closure of the car marts sealed penultimate week.
Many of the car dealers who are no longer finding it funny, were said to have taken up the matter with the Customs Management , to force, Mohammed Aliyu, Comptroller FOU, Zone A, and his counterparts in other Zones to collect the duties and levies from them as directed by the Comptroller General , noting that the FOU Comptrollers as they could no longer justify the continued s closure of their business premises.
Many believe that if the Area Comptrollers had followed strictly the instructions of Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, who had cue into President Muhammadu Buhari’s, directive to collect appropriate duties from cargoes import and exotic vehicles intercepted on the road or found in suspected car marts to have been smuggled or cloned, the problem of the car dealers would have been reduced drastically.
Note that in carrying out Ali’s instruction to seal the cart marts until the dealers could supply the relevant vehicle import documents, the FOU, Zone A, Operations and Lagos Roving Team, Headed by the no nonsense Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs, CSC, were said to have sealed about 76 car marts in Lagos metropolis.
The car mart owners were said to have heaved a sigh of relieve when they were given a soft landing to supply the relevant import documents pertaining to the vehicles on display to facilitate the reopening of their business premises. They were said to have been asked to pay N2 billion each owed the government as duties since 2017.
It was learnt that they had jumped at the offer and were ready to Cooperate the Customs personnel mandated by the Management to handle the exercise at the different FOUs across the country but was how far they could go.
The question on the lips of most people was: why the Team at FOU, Zone A, mandated to deal with the car mart owners affected by the Customs clampdown have suddenly developed cold feet to deal with them? Ikechukwu Onyeso, a staff of one of the sealed cart marts at Lekki-Ajah, who spoke to The Value News disclosed, that they are losing millions of naira daily as they had been forced out of business.
Oyeso, lamented that that they have been getting calls from their Customers who had placed order for vehicles to know when their car mart would be reopened but have found it difficult to give them a definite answer. ‘’This is because Aliyu, and the revenue collecting officers, have not given them any signal as to when their business premises would be opened’’, he had said.
Insiders told the Magazine that most of the car mart owners have turned the Ikeja, FOU, Zone A, Premises, as their office to keep a close tab on the team to know their next move. Worried that the FOUs, Comptrollers, are not ready to heed to carry out the Comptroller General’s directive to allow the owners of the sealed car marts pay the statutory import duties and an additional 25 % levy on the suspected exotic vehicles on display at, the leadership of the Association of Motor Dealers of Nigerian, AMDAN, appears to have taken up the matter with the Customs Authorities at Abuja, to force the FOUs Customs Comptrollers to reopen the sealed cart marts.
Adedoyin Ajibade, the AMDAN, President, who could not hide his feelings has urged the NCS personnel to’’ treat car dealers with respect’’, insisting, that the government revenue generating agency could no longer justify the reason for sealing their car marts indefinitely as they have been paying their taxes and equally contribute to the economic development of the country. The FOU Authorities may have acted on the instruction of the Customs Comptroller General, that over 90% of the vehicles on the various car marts across the country did not have the relevant import documents and therefore could not have paid the appropriate Customs duties.
While the FOU Authorities across the country, particular, FOU, Zone A, are still struggling to attend to the car dealers in Lagos and Ibadan, to reopen their sealed business premises by collecting the appropriate duties on the vehicles on display on their car marts suspected to have been smuggled or cloned from Tincan Island or Port Mult-services Terminal limited, PTML, the FOU, Zone A, Operations and Lagos Roving Team officials have continued to intercept exotic vehicles along the Lagos –Ibadan and Lagos –Ijebu-Ode Express way.
A visitor to the Ikeja premises of the Command would be surprised at the number of exotic vehicles at the premises. Some of the exotic vehicles were said to have been transferred to the Government Ware House for safe keeping. The owners of the intercepted vehicles, may not have any cause to worry that the intercepted vehicles would be seized as they still have the opportunity to take delivery of it with the payment of the relevant Customs duties and the mandatory 25 % levy enjoyed by the car dealers whose premises were sealed.
Perhaps to avoid running into troubles with CSC Riks men on the road, many vehicle importers who had abandoned Nigerian orts to Benin terminal and Bollore port to take delivery of their vehicles in Republic of Benin may have been forced to relocate to Five Star Terminal at Tincan Island port and PTML, to take delivery of their vehicles.
Given that vehicle imports through the PTML , had increased in the recent time, going by the N116 billion that was said to have been generated by the Command between January and September 2019, Florence Dixon, the Area Comptroller , who is always working on his systems to ensure that there are no infractions or cases of underpayment over released vehicles or any other cargo related crime was said to have succeeded in blocking areas of leakage in the Command.
An agent who spoke to The Magazine disclosed that’’ it is very difficult for any releasing officer at the terminal to commit any fraud because of her knowledge of the Computer which exposes her to a lot of hidden information on cargoes import transactions, particular, in the Asian country of China. The PTML,rea Comptroller, may not have wanted what happened to one or two former Comptrollers of the Command in the past over their inability to properly supervise the officers under them to happen to her.
An officer who described her as a workaholic disclosed that’’ she is in total control of PTML and could query any officer found to have misbehaved no matter the rank’’. It is not surprising why the officers and the importers with their agents using the terminal to take delivery of their cargoes ensure they make proper documentation and Classification of their imports before taking their documents to her for vetting and approval for release of their cargoes. Those who were said to have made wrong declaration would not forget their experience in a hurry. This may have earned her the name: the iron lady of PTML.