The Nigeria Customs Service yesterday succumbed to intense pressure over vehicle duty verification policy.

The service had given vehicle owners and importers in the country between Monday March 13 and Wednesday April 12, 2017 to verify whether appropriate import duty was paid on their vehicles or risk their seizure.

This development was greeted with wide condemnations from every segments of the national economy including the Nigeria Labour Congress NLC and the Senate, the nation’s upper legislative chambers, which ordered the Comptroller General of Customs Col. Hameed Ali to appear before it in plenary session on March 15, 2017, dressed in full uniform.

However in what appeared a 360 degree u-turn, acting Public Relations Officer of the service Mr. Joseph Attah, told newsmen in Abuja on Monday that the policy was not targeted at car owners, contrary to widespread rumours.

According to him, the policy was to enable auto dealers who have yet pay full import duty on their vehicles to do so to reduce loss of government revenue through import duty payment evasion.

He also explained that this was based on the request of the Association of Motor Dealers of Nigeria, AMDON, whose members; he claimed had approached the service in that regard.

While insisting that the main focus of the policy was not individual vehicle or car owners, he described the policy as mostly misinterpreted and misunderstood.

But stakeholders, who reacted to the current clarification of the service expressed reservations over claims by the service that the policy was informed by request of vehicle dealers association.

A clearing agent, who spoke on phone on the condition of anonymity noted that the current management of the service has gone haywire in its desperate efforts to meet its N1 trillion revenue target despite the sharp decline in the volume of trade.

He insisted that the service had been overwhelmed by the sharp criticisms from every segment of the nation as well as public outcry.

He further argued that even if the vehicle dealers made such a request, the CG would not have obliged them if it was not going to boost the revenue of the service, saying that the Customs boss s not that open to suggestions from operators, all of who he sees as corrupt and should therefore be clamped down on.

“The original intent of the policy was to jerk customs revenue up by imposing arbitrary import duty on vehicles including those that have been in use in the last 20 years or more because there have been several such cases where operatives of the service would stop car owners on the expressways and impound their cars on the excuse that appropriate duty was not paid on their vehicles and tell them how much to pay to make it up”, he said.

A recent statement issued by the acting PRO of the service, Mr. Joseph Attah in Abuja had said that he Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (Rtd) has approved a grace period of one month.

Under the one month grace period, the importers and vehicle owners vehicles within the country whose customs duty has not been paid have been given between Monday March, 13 and Wednesday, April 12, 2017 to do so.

The statement reads in part: “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”.

The Comptroller General therefore called on all persons in possession of such vehicles to take advantage of the grace period to pay appropriate duty on them.

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 also listed four Zonal Offices in Yaba, Lagos, Kabala Doki, Kaduna; Nigeria Ports Authority, Port Harcourt and Yelwa Tudu Road, Bauchi State where the verification would be done.