PRESSURE by President Muhammadu Buhari on the revenue generating and reporting agencies to ensure they meet their yearly targets to be able to pay the new minimum wage and meet other socio-economic needs may have forced the management of Nigeria Customs service to take it up with the comptrollers at the seaports and land borders to ensure areas of revenue leakages were blocked.
This may have forced Comptroller, Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone A, Ikeja, Lagos, Mohammed Aliyu and his counterparts in Kaduna, Owerri and Bauchi, to beam their searchlight on the cart shop owners. The essence is to ensure that the vehicles on display on the cart marts have the relevant import documents and appropriate duties paid on them.
Investigation shows that the exercise turned out brutal in the ancient city of Kano, regarded as the haven of vehicle smugglers in the north as Customs patrol vehicle was destroyed by hoodlums.
The situation was said to be different in Lagos where Riks Lura, a no nonsense Chief Superintendent of Customs, and Head of the FOU, Zone A, Operations and Lagos Roving Team was said to have taken effective control of the situation. Insiders informed our reporter that he had led the operations in the Lagos axis with his team members following behind.
Unconfirmed report shows that between Saturday, September 28, 2019 and Monday, September 30, 2019, the team sealed about 76 cart mart marts in Lagos alone. This is a signal to other car mart owners in Ogun , Oyo, Osun, Eki and Ondo States , that the game is up. They have one option, either to go back to FOU, Zone A, Ikeja , office , to perfect their vehicle documents to avoid being taken unawares by Ricks who is used to big challenges.
As at October 2, 2019, most of the Cart marts were still under lock and key. It was learnt that Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, has set up a Committee, Headed by the FOU, Zone A Deputy Comptroller Revenue , with members drawn from the Customs Headquarters , Abuja, and the command, to attend to the cart mart dealers . They were said to have the Comptroller General’s mandate to recover all the lost revenue from the cart mart dealers before giving approval for their cart marts to be reopened for business.
It was learned that one of the notable car mart dealers around the FOU, Zone A, premises , Ikeja, who disclosed that the committee had started sitting to receive complaints from the dealers who were affected in the lock up exercise. He noted that genuine cart mart owners have no reason to worry as the committee members are not out to witch hunt any person.
Those who are dealing mostly in smuggled vehicles may not have any cause to worry either, as the vehicles may not be seized . This is because the Customs Committee may not be ready to recommend for the seizure of such vehicles but to ensure that appropriate duties and surcharges are paid on such vehicles. This is because of the Customs drive to beef up its revenue generation to ensure that it sustains its trillion naira revenue target which it had maintained over the last three years.
Auto shop owners which include Elizade Motors-Toyota Nigeria Limited, Stalion, COSCHARIS and Globe Motors have bemoaned the attempt by the Customs to label them as car smugglers. The dealers who spoke to journalists in Lagos were unanimous in their condemnation of the shut down and the Gestapo style it was carried out and bemoaned the huge loss they have suffered since the action by the customs.
They said they are responsible citizens of Nigeria who contribute massively to the economy of the country through employment of a good number of Nigerians and payment of conservatively over N20 billion as duty to the federal government.
The dealers wondered why the customs authorities were only focused on southern part of Nigeria when smugglers who don’t contribute anything to the economy are having a field-day in other parts of the country.
A reliable source at Coscharis said the company was at a loss as to what was going on.
He said Coscharis represents reputable international companies and that the action of the Customs will run counter productive 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 are 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 dealer allegedly smuggled in vehicles.”
Also reacting, the Chairman, Globe Motors, Wilie Anumudu said they were taken aback by what the customs just did, stating that they usually come to take inventory, and check chassis numbers.
”Tomorrow is holiday, but on Wednesday, after a meeting with them, we will have a clearer view of what is happening,“ he said.
A dealer who sells luxurious cars on the mainland who spoke on condition of anonymity said the customs should be aware Nigeria is not under a military regime where businesses are shutdown without notice.
According to him, “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 already.
“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, mechanic, licensing agents all depend on us for survival. If I employ 20 people, imagine how many Stalion, Globe and Elizade Motors are employing. We need to be treated with respect in this economy.”
He added, “Even as I talk to you right now, customs has not told us why they locked our shops. If I bring police to your house, I will at least tell you why I am arresting you. I can tell you that none of us know what the problem is. They just came and lock all the shops up our places and walk away. What they do normally is they come in, count the number of vehicles and check our documents, which they do regularly. If they want to seal your place so that you do not move out any of your vehicles, they will tell you to bring the documents of all the cars to Ikeja, when you do so, they see it and they are happy they come and open your place, which is even in an extreme case. Easily they can come and ask for the document of any car and we show them. They have told us that we have complied up to 95 per cent on the importation of cars through land borders. Nobody is bringing cars through Cotonou anymore because we all know what the possibility is, customs can come in at any time to check. So if they are looking for car or any smuggled item will you find that in an open place? If I have a car that was brought through Cotonou, I will not put it in my shop, who does that?