As many industry stakeholders condemn the federal government’s ban on importation of vehicles through the land borders, the former Chairman, Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), Iju Tony Nwabunike, has hailed the policy.
According to him, the policy is in order because of the massive corruption among customs officers at the border posts.
Nwabunike accused customs officers at the border posts of being too corrupt that they were collecting ridiculous duties on some Jeeps with a bribe of at least N1million on each car.
He identified such cars as new model Prado Jeeps, which he said every importer, through his agent, must pay a bribe of N1million to unscrupulous officers directly or indirectly on each unit of car to come through Seme or Idiroko border posts.
Nwabunike said while the customs at both Tin Can Island and Apapa collect a duty of between N10 million and N15million, an importer bringing the same car through the border posts pays N1million duty and another N1million bribe and he is free.
He said that this was unimaginable since the customs officers at Tin Can and Apapa ports were supposed to be the same and working for one organisation.
Nwabunike said customs officers at the border routes were the ones responsible for most of the banned goods that are smuggled into the country.
He named rice, explaining that in the case of this food item, it has become a huge money spinner for officers at the borders as they collect only their own bribe and allow many of the smugglers to go.
Nwabunike added that the current ban on importation of vehicles through the border posts will become the same thing as rice and will be smuggled massively into the country after the importers have bribed customs officers at the border routes.
He said: “Some of the customs officers are not sincere. Ordinarily, there is nothing wrong importing cars if appropriate duties are paid. For instance, in Prado Jeep, they will tell you to pay between N10million and N15 million in Apapa and Tin Can Ports, but you find out the same Prado Jeep, if it is coming through the border, you can pay N1million duty and give them N1million bribe and they will let you go. So, the problem we have there is the insincerity of some customs officers and not because of the government policy. For me, anybody can import any vehicle from anywhere as long as what is applicable in Apapa, Tin Can is equally applicable in the border posts or even Kano and Kaduna entry points. But the issue is that they leave those areas as the gateway to smuggling. They encourage so many importations from those areas thereby making our ports no go area.”
Nwanunike disclosed that while all this was happening, some big time importers of new cars refused to cheat government and brought their cars through the Lagos ports.
He also revealed that it was because of the massive corruption at the border routes that was responsible for so many checkpoints on the East-West road.
“That is why when you are going to the East, you see so many checkpoints on the road by customs officers who stop these vehicles, collect bribe and allow them to go if the owner settles. It is because they know what their contemporaries are doing at the border stations. So, they will check you, either they make you pay the actual duty or they take money from you. People like us have stopped talking because if you talk they don’t listen to you”, he said.
He added, “I don’t know why the customs in Apapa, Tin Can and Idiroko are not saying the same thing knowing full well that all these things are coming into the market at the same time. Let me be honest with you, now that customs has banned vehicles import, it is going to be more business for some of the officers at the border, now they will no longer pay N1million to the government anymore.”
On the way forward, Nwabunike called on the Comptroller General, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), to be proactive for a serious fight against corruption among officers.
He also called on the federal government to reduce the tariff on vehicles coming through the ports so that the nation’s ports can be attractive.
He noted that there has not been any serious car manufacturer yet, except Innoson Motors, and called on the government to help the indigenous company to grow.
He said that while waiting for indigenous companies to be able to meet the high demand for new vehicles in Nigeria, government should reduce the tariff on cars drastically to make Nigerian ports more attractive to forget the neighbouring ports of Cotonou.