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Senate halts Customs on vehicle duty policy

OrderPaperToday – The Senate on Tuesday directed a temporary halt to the implementation of a proposed plan to collect duties on old and new vehicles by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).

The red chamber directed that the status quo be maintained until the Controller-General of NCS, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd) appears before its relevant committees to explain the rationale behind the policy.

The decision of the Senate was sequel to a point of order raised by the Senate Deputy Leader, Senator Bala Na’Allah (APC, Kebbi).

In ruling on the motion, President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki, said the directive contravenes the law and will not be allowed to stand.

“This is a very straightforward motion and our responsibility here is to ensure that we oversight agencies and ensure that they comply with the law. It is very clear that this circular does not meet the requirement of the law. The Customs Committee should quickly look into this matter and come out with a way forward,” Saraki noted.

In his remarks, Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu called on his colleagues to resist the new directive by NCS, saying it is illegal and lacks common sense.

Ekweremadu added that the policy was retrogressive because punishments cannot be melted out over actions taken years ago.

He said: “Just last week, one of our colleagues raised a motion in respect people that bought bags of rice and some tins of groundnut oil taken to their houses and Customs came into those houses, harassed them and took away those items on the pretence that appropriate Customs duties were not paid or they were prohibited materials.

“Today, we have been inundated with again another development, where cars bought many years ago are been asked from car owners or are been asked to come back and show Customs papers or pay appropriate Customs duties.

“Let me also say that we share the concerns of the Customs boss on raising revenue to run our country, but unfortunately, it cannot be at the expense of common sense and illegality.

“Government is run on the principles of checks and balances. It is our responsibility to call the executive to order where recklessness is introduced in governance of any country and I believe that our constitution is clear on who does what at any time.

“Not even the National Assembly itself can impose punishment on crime that was committed years ago. It cannot happen. If we cannot do that, the Customs cannot do that either. What they are doing is totally unacceptable and we must say no to it.”

Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi) who seconded the motion, came down hard on the NCS boss.

He said: “What the Nigerian Custom has done by this announcement is pure advertisement of incapacitation and incompetence. An innocent Nigerian who will go to Kano or Kubwa, approach a dealer and bought a vehicle from a dealer, five to seven years ago, will now be stopped for stop-and-search by Customs.

“Whereas, on a day he is rushing his son to the hospital and they will now ask him if he has paid correct duty for the car he bought from a dealer. He was not the one that cleared this vehicle. He was not the one that imported this vehicle.

“I was thinking the Comptroller General of Customs will react to what the Senate had said that he stop wearing ‘agbada’ up and down and wear the uniform of the Nigerian Custom and be proud of it. Then he will identify and know how to do the work properly.

“It is ridiculous that no Nigerian went to in Apapa and drove out an imported vehicle without the satanic collaboration of Custom officers.

“Having failed in their duties and responsibilities as a result of indoctrinated and imbibed corruption, they now want us to pay for their incompetence and their failure.

“It will not happen in a democratic setting when you have a vibrant and a sincere 8th Senate.

“We should send a message to the Comptroller-General of Customs that old things have passed away and behold, everything has become new. He should please go and man our borders.

“He should preach to all Customs officers to become born again and to start collecting appropriate amounts for Customs and Import Duties, not to chase innocent Nigerians who are hungry and on 001 to pay for duties.

“They did not import. The hunger in the land is enough. The confusion in the land is enough and this is the reason why President Olusegun Obasanjo banned Customs from checking vehicles on the road in 2007.

“Because this will become another avenue for Customs to start collecting N100, thereby corrupting them on the streets of Nigeria.

“The appropriate committee must call the Nigerian Customs to order and protect the masses of this country.”

Other lawmakers who indicted interest to speak on the issue, were not allowed by Saraki. Instead, he referred the issue to the Senate committee on Customs and Excise. He mandated the committee to act quickly. No time frame within which the committee is to report back was given by Saraki.

The statement issued by NCS on the new policy reads in part: “All persons in possession of such vehicles should take advantage of the grace period to pay appropriate dues on them, as there will be an aggressive anti -smuggling operation to seize as well as prosecute owners of such smuggled vehicles after the deadline of April 12.”

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