By Stephen Ubanna
For the past three weeks since the Customs Ad-hoc Committee on Revenue recovery set up by Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, stared sitting at the Federal Operations Units, FOUs, in Lagos, Kaduna, Owerri and Bauchi, car dealers appear to have taking a advantage of the soft landing provided to pave the way to return to their business to voluntarily rush to settle the Demand Notice, DN, that had been raised on the suspected vehicles on display in their sealed car mart.
They may have voluntarily been coming up to pay the outstanding duties allegedly owed the government in order to return to their business as many of them were said to have lost millions of naira from their unsold vehicles.
Some of the car dealers, according to sources who, have retainer ship with Corporate Organisations for supply vehicles on demand but had failed to do so were said to have lost the business. Take for instance, Chinedu Obeche, an Owerri based car dealer, reportedly said that he had lost over N100 million following the clamp down on his cart mart by FOU, Zone C, Owerri, Imo state, under the close watch of Kayode Olusemire, the Area Comptroller.
Opeche and others had hanged their hope that President Muhammadu Buhari and the Leadership of the National Assembly would intervene to force Ali, the Customs Comptroller General to have a rethink in order to give them another opportunity to return to their auto shops to resume their business. They had they had their way as they they are currently reconciling the payments made for the vehicles on display and sold in their auto shops to confirm that the duties paid were not smuggled.
Note that in taking the decision to Clampdown on the car marts , the Customs Comptroller General, had declared that ‘’ it was an opportunity to prove that that the cars within the country’s borders are fully Compromised as duties were not paid on them’’.
‘’We have these people who brought in vehicles into the country either through the seaport or unapproved routes but failed to pay duties on them. He had said that the car dealers had defrauded the government of over N2 billion unpaid duties which they must refund. It was therefore not very surprising that he mobilised his men to enforce the Law, to ensure that the vehicles on display on the various car mart marts across the country have genuine papers that are roadworthy.
Indeed,the Customs helmsman, had never left anyone in doubt that based on snippets from informants , particular, in the north that many vehicles on display for sale in the auto shops across the country were smuggled.
It is instructive to note that the recent FOUs raid were said to have led to the closure of over 200 car marts across the major cities in the country, thus forcing the car dealers temporally out of business. In Lagos alone, the Command Operations and Lagos Roving Team, Headed by Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs, CSC, regarded in Customs circles as a fearless officer, with the backing of Aliyu Mohammed, the Area Comptroller, had mobilised members of the Team to comb the city where over 70 car marts were sealed.
The revenue loss to the car dealers due due the closure of their car mart was so pronounced that they had cried out , pleading with the Katsina state born Nigerian President and the Leadership of the National Assembly to intervene to save their business from collapse.
Take for instance, Chinedu Obeche, an Owerri based car dealer claimed that he had lost over N100 million following the Clampdown on their car marts by FOU personnel on the orders of the Customs Comptroller General.
This may have informed why the car dealers heaved a sigh of relief when Ali opened the door for them to come and reconcile their vehicle papers with the Customs Adhoc Committee On Revenue Recovery to facilitate the reopening of their car mart.
When The Value News visited the FOU, Zone A, premises on Thursday , October 31, 2019 and Friday, November 1, 2019, it was beehive of activities as the car dealers waited for their turn to appear before the Ali Ibrahim, a Deputy Comptroller in-charge of the Command Enforcement Unit and who is incidentally, the Chairman of the Committee in Lagos. The Magazine cited dome of vehicle dealersruminating over their documents which were presented to the Committee for appraisal and calculation of the DN to be raised .
Several others were also cited loitering around the premises making contact with officers for help . Those who were said to have gone through the Committee screening process may have been directed to the Revenue , Accounts and the Legal Seat for final crosschecking of their documents to ensure that the DN ,raised were paid without cutting corners. At the close of work on last Friday, many of the car dealers who had settled their DN, across the country were said to have resumed business
The Value News findings shows that the DN raised by the Committee on the individual car dealers depended on the model of vehicle on display for sale and the year of manufacture. It was found that tThose selling brand new vehicles and exotic Tokunbo vehicles, were the worst hit as they were made to pay outrageous DN , which run into millions of naira .
A dealer who spoke to the Magazine lamented how he bought a vehicle which is on display in his cart for N39 million but was given a DN of N29 by the Committee . The dealer , who disclosed that he had made the payment because he needed to go back to his business in order to recoup the money has vowed to do business with Customs personnel as it ought to be done without looking back.
He was said to have made it clear to those that cares to listen that any Customs officer who wants to buy any car from his car mart must come to the auto shop to pick the car model of his choice and negotiate for the price like other Customers instead of making their request through phone calls.
Many believe that the Customs Comptroller General measure to recover the government lost revenue from the car dealers may have opened a can of worms about their activities and their business dealings with importers who supply Containerised vehicles to them for sale in their car mart.
Many believe that it has opened their eyes to know that most of the importers who bring Containerised exotic vehicles into the country may have flied it as some of them have no genuine papers.
Given some of the dealers had Contact with officers on the vehicle Seat who aid and abet their nefarious activities, were said to have successfully cloned vehicle import documents from Tin can Island port and Port Multi-services Terminal Limited, PMTL.
Until the government banned the importation of vehicles through the land borders across the country, the Seme Command vehicle Seat import documents were the most cloned by the car dealers to facilitate the sale of such vehicles in their car mar marts.
Perhaps, to avoid running into trouble with the Customs Authorities in the future , the car dealers who patronise importers of Containerised vehicles were said to have make it clear to vehicle importers approaching them for business with their Containerised to be ensure that that such vehicles have their covering import documenets or should not border coming to them .
They may have suddenly realised that their major problem came from the Containerised vehicles on display in their car mart as many of them have no genuinuine papers. This is bad market for those who have been flying exotic vehicles into the country for sales by their agent from their oversea base and subsequently transfer the money to them.
Investigation by The Magazine shows that since the Adhoc Customs Revenue Recovering Committee started sitting , it had recovered millions of naira lost revenue for the government from the car dealers, an indication that li, the Customs Comptroller General was right when he alleged that most of the vehicles at the various car marts in the country have no document , let alone the owners paying duties for them.
Going by the amount of money that was said to have been recovered by the Customs Revenue Recovering Committee sitting in Lagos, Kauna, Owerri and Bauchi, business analysts have estimated that the revenue generating agency of government would generate over N300 billion as duties on vehicles on display and sold on car marts sealed in Abuja, Lagos, Ibadan, Kaduna, Owerri , Bauchi and other major cities across the country.
Recall when the Customs Authorities launched the offensive against the car dealers by sealing up their business premises, there was nothing they did not do to frustrate and blackmail Ali, the Customs Comptroller to force him to call Aliyu, the FOU Zone A, Comptroller and his counterparts in Kaduna,
Owerri and Bauchi to order but that was how far they could go.