Automobile dealers accuse Nigerian Customs Service of corruption

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Automobile dealers whose shops were shut by the Nigerian Customs Service in Lagos have accused the agency of corruption and illegally sealing their business premises.

On September 30, officers of the Nigerian Customs Service invaded and sealed up the shops of the dealers in Lagos without any official notice.

At a press briefing held in Lagos on Thursday, the businessmen expressed outrage over the closure of their shops for the past one month.

The clampdown on automobile dealers across Nigeria by the Nigerian Customs was to identify smuggled cars and underpaid vehicles.
The automobile dealers staged a protest at the press conference.

“We are really suffering, for the past one month, there has been no business,” one of the businessmen shouted from the crowd.
Morgan Ogbede, the President of the Automobile Dealer’s Friends Association in Lagos, said the businessmen were tired of alleged extortion, harassment and intimidation they had suffered in the hands of customs official for several years.

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Speaking to PremiumTimes, Mr Ogbede said that the present closure makes it the third time the Customs would be sealing their business this year. Although, the previous closures only lasted a few days after some members visited the officials.

He said the reasons given by the customs were that there were smuggled cars in their possession and cars whose duties were underpaid.

“Our cars are duly cleared by the Nigerian Customs, we pay duties on them. No vehicle can leave the port without being cleared, they sign their release to us.”

Mr Ogbede said the association denied all the allegations from the Customs because “almost all the members import cars through the port and no car or truck will pass through the ports without custom clearing procedures.”
He said their customers were also extorted by custom officials on the roads while transporting the purchased vehicles outside of Lagos. He said this had led to a reduction in patronage they receive from people outside Lagos.

Monday Ubani, the legal counsel for the association and a former Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association, said the action of the Customs officers was a “demonstration of gross irresponsibility and unprecedented impunity and abuse of power.

“The Nigerian Customs & Excise Management Act gives them the power to examine, mark, seal and take account of any goods upon reasonable suspicion.

“Rather than doing the above, the Nigerian Customs sealed up the entire premises without any form of examination or inspection of papers,” Mr Ubani said.

He said that the action of the Nigerian Customs is not only lawless but very oppressive.
While emphasising that the association was not encouraging illegality, Mr Ubani said if there are cars suspected to be smuggled, they should be evacuated from the premises and legal actions taken, rather than sealing up entire businesses.

Ganiyu Afolabi, the Vice President of the Automobile Dealer’s Friends Association, said the Nigerian Customs lacks good approach and this does not portray them in a good image.
“Their intention at first was to find smugglers amongst us but when they could not find them, they turned against us, the legitimate dealers.”
Adebayo Adenihun, an automobile dealer said someone amongst the Customs officials was shortchanging the government since automobile dealers were not short-paying.
He requested that officers who sign at the entry and exit of vehicles at the Port should be investigated.

“The Customs in Nigeria are still on analogue because they want to shortchange the government. If we pay N1 million on our vehicle, N600, 000 will show on our papers. ”
“Members are demanding that the Nigerian Customs create a portal for payment where the dealers can also access their payments and ensure they are correctly entered,” Mr Adenihun said.

Mr Ubani further disclosed that a letter has been written to the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs, giving him 14 days to unseal all automobile business premises and pay a compensation of N10 billion to the automobile dealers.

Phone calls and text messages to Joseph Attah, the spokesperson of the Nigeria Customs Service were not replied.

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