Customs: United Berger Car Mart Owners Cry Out Over Lack Of Patronage

By Godwin Obi

This is not the best of times for the United  Berger  Motor Dealers Association, UBMDA, described as one of the biggest car mart  in the African Continent. The  one- time bubbling  auto  market , housing  hundreds of  car dealers, selling different  brands of fairly used vehicles imported through the nation’s seaports , according to Metche Nnadiekwe, President General of the Association, has suddenly become a shadow of its own due to lack of patronage..

According Nnadiekwe, buyers are finding it difficult  to visit the Berger Auto car market because of the dilapidated road of  the Apapa road, thus causing gridlock.  An angry Nnadiekwe, who has lost  most of his  loyal Customers, who come from different parts of the country to buy cars from  his car mart, lamented. ‘’The Apapa roads are bad’’ but   the ‘’ trucks laden Containers and petrol tankers plying the road had made the situation worse’’. 

Given an  instance, he noted  that a trip from Berger to Kikiri, another sprawling car market  within the vicinity,  takes close to four hours, blaming it on the truck owners who park  on both sides of the road  without caution.  ‘’We don’t  know  who are the owners  of these ‘’20’’ or ‘’40’ trucks. : whether they are owned  by top government functionaries or their cronies’’, he  queried.

Many believe that the situation may not have not gotten that worse  at the UBMDA, if the Presidential Task Team, on the clearing of the Apapa gridlock, placed under the  supervision of the office  Yemi Osinbajo, the Vice President  has been alive to their duties. Osinbajo may have left the day to day  activities  of the team to Kayode Oopeifa, the  Executive Vice Chairman, to enable him attend to other state matters, that may be assigned to him from time to time.

Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman,  the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA,  may have given the team, which drawn from the various security agencies , including the police a soft-landing to  them to do their job by allegedly picking some of  their bills including Hotel Accommodation, an  indication that the  Katsina state born Nigerian President  may have set up the team without financial provision to do their work. This may have  exposed the the team to the manipulations of the truck laden Containers  and  tanker owners who prepared to spend any amount  to bribe  their way  to jump the queue  to put their heavy duty  vehicles  on the road without proper clearance and get away with it.

Insiders told the Value News  that the Presidential Task Team  may have found it difficult to clear the Apapa gridlock in the recent time  to clear the Apapa gridlock to ease traffic along the Apapa Express road because of the decision of the NPA, Management to relocate the team members from the luxurious Rockview Hotel to a lower Hotel within Apapa  to reduce its expenses because of the directive by Rotimi Amaechi , a former governor of Rivers state and now minister of Transportation  to  stop accommodating unnecessary expenses but  improve on its revenue generation to be  paid into the Federation Account. This may have may have thrown the Opeifa led team  into confusion to do their work at Apapa and its  adverse effect on the  UBMDA market.

  Babatunde Fashola , a former governor of Lagos state and minister of Works and Housing who is fully  abreast  with the state of the Oshodi Apapa Express road  may have taken advantage of it to push for the award and approval  of the multi-million the Contract for the rehabilitation of the road by the Federal Executive COUNCIL, FEC.  The government  may have known the importance of the Oshodi – Apapa road , which handles over 80% of the volume of the cargo traffic in the country that it  was said to have awarded the  contract to different Contractors  to facilitate the its completion in order to ease traffic on the road.  The worry of the UBMDA, may  not  be as much as that of the Lagos state government which  is raking billions of naira annually as revenue from the  Association and nation’s maritime sector in general.

Speaking as a businessman,  Nnadiekwe, the UBMDA, President General,  who may have  spoken the mind of other members of the Association  accommodated at  the famous area has appealed to  the government to  ‘’fast rack  the project  to save their Auto business  for imminent collapse.

Metche Nnadiekwe: President General, United Berger Motor Dealer Association

In a related development,  the  President General,  may have taken advantage of  the low patronage  of their  vehicles on display for sales at their  various car  marts   at the Berger axis to dismiss the claim making the  rounds that the recent Customs clamp down on cart marts across the country affected the facility.

Note that the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A,  Operations  and Lagos Roving Team,  Headed  by Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs, and his boys , at the instance of Mohammed , the Area , Comptroller, who  was said to be acting on the instruction of Hameed Ali,  a retired Army  Colonel and the Customs Comptroller  General, had swooped on the car marts in Lagos and other major cities in the south west for  owning the government billions of naira , over sales of smuggled vehicles.  The Riks  led team, were said to have sealed about 80 car marts  still awaiting to be  re-opened  for business.

According to him, no car mart was sealed at Berger, noting that  it may appear as if  most of them  are out of business because of the Apapa gridlock. Giving an insider information,  he noted that members  of the Association,  know the implications of selling smuggled vehicles  from Republic of Benin to Customers  because of the chances of refunding the  money to the buyer   if intercepted by Aliyu’s men or Yahaya Usman, a Deputy Comptroller of Customs, led  CGC Strike Force, Zone A, Command, and who incidentally was  formerly in-charge of Enforcement at FOU, Zone A. ‘’No car dealer, would want to lose his car and money to Customs’’, he had said.

Perhaps to ensure that smuggled vehicles  are not sold at the Berger under Bridge various  Car marts ,  the leadership of the Association, according to sources, carry out routine  checks   on the vehicles in the market  to avoid exposing  the vehicle dealers to FOU , Zone A or the CGC Strike Force personnel  raids or unnecessary weekly extortion  by Customs patrol teams and other Lagos  government agencies.

Recall, that the Magazine in one of its reports had exposed how  some of the car mart owners  make a weekly payment of  about N25,000.00 to some  Customs patrol teams to avoid  harassment.  Note that the government had stopped the importation of vehicles through the country’s land borders on January 1, 2017.

Nnnadiekwe, who could not hide his feelings.  Stressed that since the government  gave the  order for  vehicles to come into the country through the land border, they  have sensitized the members of the UBMDA, of the dangers of flouting the government order. ‘’No genuine car dealer worth his salt  would still  want to caught corners  to clone Tin-can Island  or Port Multi-services Terminal document  to sell smuggled vehicles.

He told the Magazine, if we  happen  to find  any of such dealers. ‘’ you will be encouraged to  do more  because you are the one losing out to Custom’’. A reasonable car dealer who wants to remain in business will stop it, he insists.

It is not surprising why some   members  of  UBMDA, who are not Auto  importers,  prefer to deal directly with  Auto importers who get their vehicles delivery  through  Five Stars, Tin can Island , port or PTML with complete documents of transactions.        

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