The Senate on Tuesday ordered the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to henceforth halt its recent order directing all vehicle owners to visit the nearest NCS zonal offices to verify the payment of their vehicles’ customs duties within one month or face dire consequences.
The upper legislative chamber therefore ordered the agency to suspend the directive until it has duly appeared before the Senate to brief it on the rationale behind the move.
Raising under Order 42 of the Senate Standing Rules, Deputy Majority Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah, who described the NCS circular as ridiculous, said the agency failed to present a clear-cut guidelines on which category of vehicles would be affected by the directive.
According to Na’Allah, the implementation of such ambiguous circular will create a huge discomfort for innocent Nigerians, bearing in mind that it has already caused significant anxiety among citizens.
Against this background, the Senate ordered the NCS to suspend all moves towards implementing the directive and also resolved to engage the Service with a view to ensuring that it comes up with acceptable policies to Nigerians in a typical democratic setting.
“Mr. president, the basis for being here as parliamentarians is to define the rule of engagement between us and those who elected us into this very, very coveted office, to the effect that we would all swear to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the law. We already have an existing law called the Nigerian Customs Service,” he said.
While describing the directive as ridiculous, Na’Allah challenged his colleagues to uphold the oath they swore to by resisting any obnoxious policy meant to further complicate life for the already troubled Nigerians.
According to him, it was the responsibility of the NCS to ensure the verification of customs duty at the right time, insisting that any attempt to shift the task of such verification to Nigerians must be absolutely rejected.
“Mr. President, by that law, we are all aware that the area of operation specifically designated for this service is principally our borders and we are aware of the fact that this is the situation and unable to find the specific provision of the law that the comptroller of customs relied upon to issue this circular.
“I think we have a compelling need to protect the Nigerian public against this arbitrariness. I ask if I buy a car eight years back for example, duly registered and I live in Sokoto, and then, you require me to come to Kaduna to know whether my customs duty is authentic or not. What you are requiring from me is even outside the provision of the law.
“It is the responsibility of the Nigerian customs to verify this document and if they now shift it back to the citizens to determine whether what they have is authentic or not, I think it’s sufficiently ridiculous to call the attention of this Senate to say no to this kind of arbitrariness,” Na’Allah stated.
The circular issued by one Joseph Auta last week on behalf of the NCS had stated that the Comptroller-General of Customs, Hameed Ali, advised all persons in possession of vehicles to seize the opportunity of available grace period of March 13 to April 12, 2017, to pay up their appropriate duties to avoid being victims of aggressive anti-smuggling operations.
The anti-smuggling operations, the circular added, would witness the prosecution of owners of perceived smuggled vehicles after the expiration of deadline on April 12.
Na’Allah recalled how the circular further stated that “for the avoidance of doubts, all private car owners who are not sure of their authenticity of their vehicles’ customs documents can approach the zonal office to verify with a view to complying with the provisions of the law”.
Supporting the motion, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu highlighted the excesses and outrageous policies of NCS as he recalled how the Senate last week adopted a motion decrying the harassment of traders in Sango-Otta, Ogun State, by men of the Customs who violently took away purchased items from the market under the guise of non-payment of appropriate customs duties.
He said it was unfortunate that the Senate was yet considering another outrageous move of the agency which he said was attempting to foist illegality on the citizenry in its drive to generate more revenues.
He also said the NCS lacked the power to impose punishment on Nigerians over deeds committed in the past, arguing that even though the constitution vests the National Assembly with the power to make laws for the federation, the legislative institution does not possess the power to impose penalty on anyone over perceived wrongs of the past and much less a mere agency like the NCS.
“Today, we have been inundated again with another development where owners of cars bought many years ago are being 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. If you look at Section 4 (1) of our constitution, it states that the executive power of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be vested in the National Assembly of the federation which shall consist of the Senate and House of Representatives.
“It does not include the Customs. 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,” Na’Allah insisted.
Customs Agents, Shippers Disagree over NCS Policy on Vehicle Duty
Meanwhile, the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) and the Shippers’ Association, Lagos State have disagreed over the one-month grace period given by the customs concerning payment of duty on vehicles.
Both bodies, according to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), expressed diverse views in separate interviews with newsmen on Tuesday in Lagos.
The National President of ANLCA, Mr Olayiwola Shittu, advised the customs to make the deadline for duty payment on vehicles an open-ended operation, saying the policy would check smuggling.
The President, Shippers Association Lagos State, Mr. Jonathan Nicol, described the customs’ policy on vehicle duty as outdated and not in conformity with the current situation in world trade.
Shittu said such a policy should be extended or be an open-ended operation so that the duty on some vehicles that passed through customs and not properly cleared, would be paid.
The customs agent said if customs continued with this policy, vehicles owners would be forced to pay duties on those vehicles that were not cleared but found their ways into the country.
He said the new policy by customs would discourage smuggling along the border areas.
Nicol described the policy as “outdated”, saying that such a policy did not conform with the current trends in world trade.
“Customs should go back to the drawing board if smugglers beat their network,’’ he said.
He said that there was no vehicle that passed through the borderline without paying duty, whether official or non-official.
The Chairman of ANLCA, Seme Border, Mr. Bisiriyu Lasisi-Danu, however, commended the efforts of customs in issuing an ultimatum for payment of duties on vehicles to avoid seizures.
“The Comptroller-General of Customs says if anyone has a car and such a person knows he has not paid duty, such person should visit customs zonal offices and make duty payment.
“If any car user did not pay duty on his car, customs would go after the owner and seize the car for not paying duty.
“I have told some of my friends whose vehicles have been impounded one way or the other, to go and pay.
“Those affected should go to Customs Zonal Offices to raise duty and the person will be free to move around with the car,” Lasisi-Danu said.
He said that customs was on the right track. The ANLCA chief said government would soon link Vehicle Identification Number with local government, Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and customs for easy identification.
A maritime lawyer, Mr. Tino Bouro, said: “Customs is a statutory body that must act within the law.
“If anybody does not comply with customs directive on duty of vehicle, such a person would face the consequence.’’
The Customs Public Relations Officer, Zone A, Mr Ephraim Haruna, said that one of the automobile associations sought the support of customs to create a platform for payment of duties.
Haruna said that the association wanted to ensure that smuggled vehicles did not escape duty payment.
According to him, this is why customs gave a month’s grace to enable all vehicle owners who had yet to pay duty, to do so.
“Many car owners who have not paid duty have been calling our zonal office and some had been calling on phone that they want to come and pay duty on their vehicles,“ said Haruna.