•Stallion, Elizade-Toyota, Dana, Westar Associates also shut
Eromosele Abiodun and Benneth Oghifo
Car dealers across Lagos State, including Coscharis, Globe Motors, Stallion Motors, Elizade-Toyota and Westar Associates, whose offices were shut down by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) in search of cars smuggled through the land borders, have condemned what they described as harassment and the attempt by the agency to label them as smugglers.
The dealers, who spoke to THISDAY separately, were unanimous in their condemnation of the shutdown and the Gestapo style it was carried out and bemoaned the huge losses they claimed to have suffered since the seal-up.
Customs officials in search of smuggled vehicles, had at the weekend stormed the outlets of the car dealers, including Elizade Motors-Toyota Nigeria Limited and Stallion Motors, and sealed up the dealers’ marts.
THISDAY gathered yesterday that the clampdown also affected Elizade Motors-Toyota Nigeria Limited, Dana Motors, Westar Associates Limited and Stallion Motors.
The dealers told THISDAY that they were responsible citizens who massively contributed to the economy of the country through employment of Nigerians and payment of over N20 billion as duty to the federal government yearly.
They denied involvement in smuggling, insisting that they were law-abiding corporate citizens.
The dealers wondered why the Customs authorities were only focused on southern part of Nigeria when smugglers who do not contribute anything to the economy were having a field day in the northern parts of the country.
In his reaction, an official of Coscharis Group, who craved anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said the company was at loss on what was happening.
He said Coscharis represents international companies of repute, adding that the action of the Customs would run counterproductive to the government’s foreign investment drive, adding that it was also not good for Nigeria’s ease of doing business index.
He assured their foreign partners, customers and stakeholders that they were not involved in smuggling of vehicles.
“We don’t understand what is happening yet but we cooperate with all agencies of government and if the Customs need any information about our business, they ought to ask instead of sealing our showrooms, and thereafter ask us to come for a meeting.
They should understand the implications of shutting down our facilities because an unnamed dealership allegedly smuggled in vehicles,” he added.
Also reacting, the Chairman, Globe Motors, Mr. Willie Anumudu, said they were taken aback by what the Customs did because they usually come to take inventory and check chassis numbers.
“Tomorrow (today) is holiday, but on Wednesday, after a meeting with them, we will have a clearer view of what is happening,“ he added.
A dealer, who sells luxury cars in Ikeja, who spoke on condition of anonymity, warned the Customs to be aware Nigeria was not under a military regime where businesses could be shut down without notice.
He said: “We are not smugglers; we bring in our cars through the ports and pay amazing amount of money. To clear the average car now like Toyota Corrola it is over N3 million. To clear a Toyota Prado, it is over N9 million; a Land Cruiser over N15 million, a Lexus N18 million, G-Wagon N21 million.
“In my compound I have 70 cars and I pay an average of N10 million per car that is N700 million.
“We add to the economy, bear in mind the number of staff that we employ, in my office alone I have over 20 staff. We also employ people indirectly. Clearing agents, mechanics, licensing agents all depend on us for survival. If I employ 20 people, imagine how, many Stallion, Globe and Elizade Motors are employing. We need to be treated with respect in this economy.”
He said Customs were yet to tell him why his shop was locked up.
On his part, one of the major dealers around mainland area said the harassment by the NCS had continued for about five years, “whereas nothing of sort happens to dealers in the North.”
He said: “All the car dealers in the North never get harassed nor checked. For your information, cars in the North come through Niger Republic without paying duty.
“Before now, individual buyers and car dealers come from the North to buy cars in Lagos but we don’t see them anymore. Agencies of government should do their work but not one-sided or at the detriment of the economy. We employ hundreds of thousands of people apart from thousands of Customs licensed agents we give direct service to; they are also employers of labour in hundreds of thousands and Total live dependents of millions of Nigerians.”
Reacting to the allegation that the Customs deliberately targeted dealers in southern Nigeria, the Public Relations Officer of the NCS, Mr. Joseph Attah, said the action was taken nationwide.
“How can anybody say that we are targeting the southern part of the country? The action was taken nationwide and as we speak some dealers were shut down in the east today, “he said.
He said the Customs would meet on Friday to deliberate on the report sent by Federal Operation Units nationwide and appropriate action would then be taken.