Apprehension heightens as Senate issues fresh order on CG Customs
Strong indications emerged that there are fresh apprehensions over the decision of the Senate, Nigeria’s upper legislative chamber yesterday to issue a fresh order on the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service Hameed Ali to appear before it in full Customs uniform over the payment of import duty on vehicles imported into the country.
The service had penultimate week, given vehicle importers and owners one month ultimatum between Monday March, 13 and Wednesday, April 12, 2017 to pay up duty on their imported vehicles or have them impounded by operatives of the service.
This directive, which gave rise to public outcry had prompted the Senate to direct the service to halt the implementation of the policy while efforts should be made for top management of the service and the Senate Committee on Customs to look at the issues with a view to harmonising all the grey areas.
But rather than tow this line of action, the Customs CG on Wednesday addressed a media conference in Abuja where he said there was no going back on the policy and went ahead to grant a 60 per cent rebate on duty on such vehicles, which the Senate saw as an affront.
The upper legislative chamber therefore on Thursday summoned the CG to appear before it dressed in full service uniform in plenary to answer questions on the ultimatum given to vehicle owners who were yet to pay import duty on such vehicles or have them impounded by its operatives.
This directive follows a motion by Senator Dino Melaye on a point of information in which he expressed dismay over the decision of the Customs-boss, who is an appointee of the Federal Government to flagrantly ignore a directive by the upper legislative chamber.
He referred to a newspaper publication where the CG reportedly disregarded the directive by the Senate, saying such a behaviour was improper, especially in a democratic dispensation.
Melaye also reminded the Senators that the Customs CG had also before now disregarded a directive of the Senate to wear uniform of the service as is statutorily expected of any head of such organisation in Nigeria.
The CG had claimed that being a retired General of te Nigerian Army, he was not obliged to wear Customs uniform.
Melaye said: “I asked under which law did he get that? Let me educate and also remind him that while he retired as a Colonel, General Hananniya retired as a General in the same Nigerian Army and when he was appointed Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Commission FRSC, he wore the uniform of the commission daily”..
“There is urgent national need to stop the CG from implementing the new policy on import duty on vehicles already purchased and being used by Nigerians because it is against the general interest of the ordinary people”
“While the President, Senators and high-ranking government officials may not be affected when Customs officials start checking these cars and vehicles, the ordinary Nigerians would definitely be at the receiving end in the implementation of the policy. If the President or a Senator is driving past, no Customs officer would attempt stop him to ask for his papers, they will standstill till his convoy passes”.
“But we are doing this in the interest of the Nigerian people and they have now confronted the institution of the Nigerian Senate”
The Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the session, regretted that the activities of the service w as giving the Senate cause for concern.
“We cannot allow impunity to take root in this country. Today we are talking about vehicles that were imported many years ago, but we forget that there are beds in our rooms that were also imported and prohibited. I believe that the earlier we deal with this matter the better for all of us Nigerians”, he said emphatically.
The service had in a statement signed on behalf of the Comptroller General by the acting Public Relations Officer, Mr. Joseph Attah conveying the directive saidt: “Consequently, all motor dealers and private owners of such vehicles are advised to visit the nearest Customs Zonal Office to pay the appropriate Customs Duty on them”.
“For the avoidance of doubt, all private car owners who are not sure of the authenticity of their vehicles customs documents can also approach the Zonal Offices to verify with a view to complying with the provision of the law”.
It was also gathered that the service would embark on an aggressive anti-smuggling operation, which would focus attention on imported vehicles with a view to impounding them and possibly prosecute owners of such vehicles suspected to be smuggled.
The service however ordered members of the public to crosscheck their vehicle papers in their four Zonal Offices in Yaba, Lagos, Kabala Doki, Kaduna; Nigeria Ports Authority, Port Harcourt and Yelwa Tudu Road, Bauchi State.