Inde Dikko Abdullahi, Customs’ Comptroller-General
Big time importers of automobiles in Lagos have cried out over what they described as the incessant invasion of their car shops by officers of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) after the vehicles have duly undergone all the processes of clearing at the ports.
The car dealers who spoke to THISDAY in Lagos said the action of the customs men amounts to what could be likened to a “second clearing” of their vehicles since the car dealers had previously gone through the necessary checks and had been cleared at the ports of origin.
The car dealers, who pleaded anonymity, said in most cases, officers who invaded their shops last year claimed that they do so to ensure that the Customs Service meets the N1trillion revenue target set for the organisation by the Federal Government.
One of the car dealers alleged that the officers during their invasion usually ask for documents detailing the transactions, including payment of duties, which in most cases are faulted.
He said that many car shops in Lagos, particularly in the Ikeja area, have at one time or the other in recent times been sealed up by the Customs Service over allegations of irregularities.
He alleged that some customs men demand between N1 million to $10,000 and sometimes above as bribes for the car dealers to be let off the hook.
Another car dealer who spoke to THISDAY said some customs officers on the East-West Road are also in the habit of collecting between N150,000 and N200,000 from each car whose owners were found to have falsified documents.
He said such the roadblocks were against the Federal Government’s directive that the Customs Service should not mount roadblocks on the highways.
The car dealers appealed to the Federal Government, particularly the Ministry of Finance and the customs headquarters to restrain customs officers from invading car shops after such vehicles have been cleared at the ports.
The car dealers, who promised to continue paying correct duties, blamed the customs agents for whatever underpayment or incidents of falsification against them.
The dealers, however, said that they have worked out strategies to ensure that they are not found wanting in terms of payment of appropriate duties by their customs agents.
Reacting to the allegations by the car dealers, the Public Relations Officer of the Federal Operations Unit (FOU), Ikeja, Mr. Uche Ejesieme, said it was the duty of the Customs Unit to carry out routine checks on some high profile cars shops under its jurisdiction to ensure compliance with trade regulations.
He said: “In some of the car shops, what we do is risk profiling and by this we try to identify through the system areas where we feel the government may have been shortchanged.
“So when we visit car shops, we ask for clearing documents and once that is done, we scrutinise them and once they are not found wanting we let them go. However, some of them that are having some issues will be subjected to the full wrath of the law.”
On the allegation of extortion against officers of the Customs Service, he said this cannot be true “in view of the fact that whatever additional revenue that is recovered in the course of profiling is always paid into the federal coffers through the various ports of origin in terms of underpayment.”
He added, “For somebody to make such unfounded allegations, it is both unimaginable and unthinkable. This is because the Controller Federal Operations is totally committed to ensuring zero tolerance for any such corrupt tendency.”
On the allegation of mounting roadblocks on the highways, Ejesieme maintained that officers of his command were not involved, adding that this was in compliance with the comptroller-general’s ban on hinterland patrol.
“You cannot see any officer from Federal Operations Unit (Zone A) engaging in hinterland patrol. The controller is very particular about this, and as a way of enforcing compliance, he has set up a monitoring team that is charged with the responsibility of going round the areas under our jurisdiction to ensure that the patrol teams don’t operate outside our mandate,” he said.