By Nseobong Okon-Ekong
The National Association of Automobile Marketers (NAAM) has announced that its members have lost over N5 billion since September 28, when men of the Nigeria Customs Service sealed their premises on suspicion that they were trading in smuggled vehicles.
A statement by the association’s secretary, Mr. Joseph Iriah, noted that before the sealing, no court order was obtained, neither was any notice issued from the Customs Service informing the automobile dealers of reasons behind the sealing of the premises of its members.
Recounting what has become an enduring nightmare, Iriah said, “The siege has entered its fourth week, thereby occasioning untold financial loses and severe hardship for not just us, the auto dealers but for the thousands of Nigerians employed in our businesses.” He further said that when the men of the Nigeria Customs Service arrived their respective premises, they were told the issue would be resolved within a few days, “after the verification of the importation documents of the automobiles in the sealed premises.”
While observing the zeal of Col. Hammed Ali (rtd), Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service to improve the revenue generating capacity of the service, the automobile dealers, expressed grave reservations about the legality of the action that has affected their operations. The group, which is made up of 25 members, noted that their collective and individual reputation as responsible corporate citizens is being scandalized due to the prolonged closure of the business premises of its members, which has given the impression that they are “economic saboteurs and smugglers.”
Iriah appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to prevail on the Nigerian Customs Service to rescind and desist from carrying out such unlawful and draconian actions in the future, failing which he threatened that the group may institute a N10 billion court action against the Nigeria Customs Service. “We are well aware of our rights at law and should our premises continue to remain shut, we shall be constrained to enforce our rights and seek legal redress by commencing legal proceedings against the Nigeria Customs Services which would naturally come with damages for the huge amount of losses we have suffered.”
According to him, “As bona fide businessmen and corporate citizens lawfully engaged in the business of importation, sales and service of automobiles, we do not have the license and or authority to personally clear automobiles directly from the ports as that duty statutorily belongs to Customs Licensed Clearing Agents. Therefore, any discrepancy in the documentation of any automobile imported through a Nigerian seaport should be placed at the doorsteps of the Customs Licensed Clearing Agents and the Customs Service.”
He said further, “We are at a loss as to why we should bear the brunt of this draconian, ill-conceived and drastic blanket action. Even though we have been groaning under a cocktail of duties, multiple levies, taxes and terminal charges that have made the landing cost of automobiles into Nigeria the most expensive in the world. We are particularly burdened by the 35% automotive industry levy payable after the stipulated 35% import duty. A fact not lost on the Comptroller General of Customs who has had cause to complain about it recently.”
The automobile dealers tasked the Comptroller General of Customs to introduce international best practices in the process of clearing goods at our ports in the face of the chaotic state of affairs, “we believe that due process should be followed without jeopardizing the businesses of thousands of law abiding automobile dealers by this brazen and blanket clampdown.”