By Godwin Oritse
MOTORISTS have decried the incessant harassment and impounding of their vehicles on major highways across the country by officers of the Nigeria Customs Service, (NCS).
Some of the motorists who spoke to Vanguard lamented that officials of the Service hide under the pretext that most of their vehicles are smuggled and therefore did not pay the correct duties and levies at the nation’s ports during clearing.
The motorists said that even when the evidence of purchase shows that these vehicles were bought from reputable automobile dealers, they are harassed and asked to prove that the dealerships paid appropriate duties and levies, a development many of the motorists find very embarrasing.
Mr. Emeka Mbagunuju, a worker in one of the multinational companies in Lagos, said that “when these vehicles are purchased, the dealer give you receipt and papers that would enable you register the vehicle. I was stopped on the Lagos-Benin highway by men of the Customs Service.”
“They capitalised on the fact that I was travelling with my family to the east and delayed me needlessly.They asked me to go to Lagos and get the papers from the dealer, a reputable one for that matter.
“The car is new and they know the showroom where I bought it. If they have any issue about payment of customs duties they should take it up with the dealer.”
Another motorist,Omobolanle Sobowale, who spoke to Vanguard on the condition of anonymity , said:“This is counter-productive as they impeded smooth movement of goods and services. They should go to the border posts and the various foot paths that they know so well to stop smugglers instead of harassing people who legitimately bought their vehicles inside the cities.”
Sobowale told Vanguard that he sells vehicles adding that he was aware of the duty rate on vehicles.
“I sell cars and I know the duties to be paid and I pay them to avoid any form of embarrassment either at the ports or elsewhere. These customs officers capitalise on the fact that not everybody knows the charges to be paid and what papers to present to the police. Once goods are in the streets the customs have no business checking for import papers; they should have done that at the point of entry.”
Underpayment of tariffs and charges
He alleged that some customs officers connive with some unpatriotic Nigerians to facilitate smuggling of goods into the country adding that duties are not paid on smuggled goods. “It is not possible for anybody to underpay tariffs and charges because this process is automated and once the fees are generated the next step is to proceed to the bank and pay.
“No vehicle that came into Nigeria from recognised land and sea ports can avoid payment of these charges.” He said. Another victim, Mrs. Kike Olaode, whose car was impounded on the Akure road, asked the customs officers to check out her claims from the auto dealer she bought the car from in Ilorin but that they said it was her responsibility to get the papers.
“It was a senior officer who was driving past and saw us arguing that intervened and gave me back the car. Before the man came they were already telling me to give them money so that I will not be delayed” she added.
Those who encounter these customs officers said they sometimes park their patrol vans close to the Lagos Ports, on the Leventis Bridge close to Ijora in Apapa and on the Oshodi-Apapa road and take advantage of the slow traffic to stop vehicles and extort money from unsuspecting importers.