• NLC condemns directive, says it’s unrealistic
By Senator Iroegbu and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
The Vehicles Owners Association of Nigerian (VOAN) and Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) have expressed their opposition to the Nigerian Customs Service’s (NCS) ultimatum to all vehicle owners in the country to pay the duties on their cars between March 13 and April 12, failing which they would have their cars impounded.
Both bodies have described the policy as unrealistic, with VOAN threatening to drag the Customs Service to court if it fails to withdraw the directive within seven days.
VOAN, in a letter to the Comptroller-General of NCS, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd.), through its counsel, Tolu Babaleye, called on the Customs Service to consider the interest of 35 million Nigerians who would be adversely affected by the “ill-timed and ill-conceived” policy if enforced.
According to him, “As much as we would love to commend the NCS for this laudable step, we would like to state that this policy is ill-timed, ill-conceived and directed at the wrong set of people in the country, and same will unleash untold hardship on car owners in Nigeria and pit government against the general public.
“About 35 million Nigerians would be affected by this policy if same is carried out.”
He stated, without mincing words, that the failure to pay customs duties on imported vehicles should not be laid on the doorsteps of innocent vehicle owners but the car dealers that imported those vehicles and who should be held responsible for circumventing customs checks with the connivance of some Customs officers.
Babaleye was emphatic that innocent Nigerians should not be made to suffer for the acts of car dealers who imported the cars without paying the necessary import duty with the active connivance of men of the Customs Service.
“Towards this end, we give the Customs Service seven days from the date of receipt of this letter to comply with our demands on behalf of our client, failing which we shall not hesitate to approach the court of law to seek redress on behalf of our client and in the interest of downtrodden and oppressed Nigerians,” Babaleye said.
In addition, the NLC on Sunday condemned the recent policy directive by the Customs Service on imported vehicles.
NLC President, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, in a letter dated March 7, 2017 and addressed to the Comptroller-General of Customs, described the new policy directive as “unrealistic”.
Wabba said that though the labour union fully supports the NSC to carry out its statutory functions of collecting taxes on behalf of the government, often times in the form of duties on vehicles, it however opposes the new policy.
“We strongly hold the view that those who break the law or seek to break the law should be sanctioned to serve as a deterrent to others. The need to enforce tax laws in our country is all the more necessary because of social justice and other dwindling revenue sources.
“Our support for the Nigerian Customs Service is therefore not in doubt. If anything, the Customs should be encouraged to do their work well,” he stated.
Wabba, however, disagreed with Customs on the new policy directive on the basis of it being “logistically callous and will create unimaginable chaos and suffering for innocent vehicle end-users”.
According to him, the policy was self-serving and will in the end enrich unscrupulous Customs personnel who contributed in no small way to the present situation through acts of commission or omission.
“It would amount to rewarding their complicity,” Wabba stated.
He said it was common knowledge that duties on imported vehicles are payable at the point of entry, and subjecting vehicle end-users to this kind of trauma, in which they had no hand in the importation of their vehicles was unfair and unacceptable.
The NLC president stressed that “there is no information on the vehicles to be excluded from this exercise”.
This, he said, presupposes that the owner of a Morris Minor or a Peugeot 404 brought into this country in the 70s is similarly affected.
“Beyond this, a state of mental siege is being created by all manner of endless verification and re-certification exercises in the country.
“It is thus morally wrong to inflict on the citizenry this kind of discomfort,” he cautioned.
Wabba strongly advised the NCS to shelve its plan, arguing that “lessons ought to have been learnt from the violent outcome of the brutal raids of Ota market and the ambush and extortion of money from vehicle-owners on the highway at yuletide seasons”.
He stated that the porous borders, as the Customs claims, are no justification for these actions or the proposed policy action.
Wabba advised that in place of what he described as an “unpopular policy”, which has received condemnation from all sectors of the economy, the Customs Service should devise a coherent response that would deal with these challenges.
He further called for a robust response that should focus on capacity building, modernisation of operations, use of technology, the clampdown on massive corruption in the system, and motivation/incentivisation of officers and men of the Customs Service so that they could deliver on their mandates and meet annual targets.