The Nigeria Labour Congress NLC has warned the Nigeria Customs Service that its new policy on the verification of import duty payment status of imported vehicles would bring about chaos and unimaginable suffering on hapless citizens.

The service had in a recent memo signed by its acting National Public Relations Officer, Mr. Joseph Attah on behalf of the Comptroller General, Col. Hameed Ali given all vehicle importers and owners beetween Monday, March 13 and Wednesday, April 12, 2013 to verify duty payment on their vehicles.

The memo warned that operatives of the service would embark on an aggressive clamppdown and seizure of vehicles that the import duty payment could not be verified.

President of the congress, Mr Ayuba Wabba, who gave the warning in a letter to the Comptroller General of Customs, and sighted by our reporter, described the directive as retroactive and unrealistic and should therefore be discarded.

The president insisted that the new policy which is to address some ugly situations created substantially by the acts of ommission and commission of the officers and men of the service would cause chaos and unimaginable suffering on innocent people who are not part of the cause of the problem.

Wabba  therefore said that the totally opposed the new new policy which will also enrich the same officers and men of the service who caused the problem. The letter reads in part: “NLC  strongly opposed  the directive. We are opposed to this new policy because it will create unimaginable chaos and suffering for innocent end-users of the affecteed vehicles”.

“It is self-serving and will, in the end, enrich the same unscrupulous Customs personnel who contributed, in no small measure, to the present situation through their acts of ommission or omission and will amount to rewarding their complicity”.

“It is common knowledge that duty on imported vehicles are payable at the points of entry. Therefore subjecting end-users of vehicles to this kind of trauma, most of whom have no hand in the importation of their vehicles, is unfair and unacceptable”.

“There is no information on the vehicles to be excluded from this exercise. This presupposes that the owner of a Morris Minor or a Peugeot 404 brought into this country in the 70’s is similarly affected.’’

While reacting to the part of the memo, which directed the vehicle owners to visit any of the Customs offices in Lagos, Kaduna, Port Harcourt and Bauchi zones to certify if customs duty had been paid on their vehicles, the NLC president said that  a stage for all manner of endless verification and re-certification was being created in the country.

“It is morally wrong to inflict this kind of pains on the citizenry, lessons ought to have been learnt from the violent outcome of the brutal raids of Ota market, the ambushing and extorting of money from vehicle-owners on the high way at Yuletide. “, the NLC president said.

He therefore advised the service to shelve the policy, describing it as unpopular; having received wide condemnations from all sectors of the economy, adding that the Nigeria Customs Service should device a coherent response that will deal with the challenges.

“We believe such a response should focus on capacity building, modernising operations, using technology and eliminating massive corruption in the system. Officers and men should be inspired and incentivised in order for them to deliver on their mandate as well as meeting annual targets. NLC is aware that one of the statutory functions of the Nigeria Customs Service is to collect tax on behalf of the government, often times in the form of duty on imports”, the president also said.

As if to underscore the unpopular nature of the policy, the Senate, Nigeria’s upper legislative chamber has issued a fresh order on the CG to appear before it in full Customs uniform over the controversial policy.

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 last week 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 summoned the CG to appear before it on March 15, 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.

Melaye had 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”.