By Chioma Obinna
A former member of Nigeria’s junior national basketball team, David Ode has filed a suit at a Federal High Court, Lagos against the Nigeria Customs alleging criminal extortion in the hands of officials of the Federal Operations Unit, Ikeja. Ode is accusing men of Nigeria Customs of orchestrating a compromise on duties paid on a luxury car he shipped from his current base in the United States to Nigeria.
In his suit, Ode is claiming that the men of the Nigeria Customs in the said unit connived with a clearing agent who handled the shipment to short-change him. He disclosed that he paid an initial sum of N850, 000 to cover the cost of shipment and duties, as allegedly quoted by the Nigeria Customs, for the vehicle, a 2008 Model of Mazda CX9, into Nigeria through the Apapa Port in 2016.
Having thought that he had satisfied all legal obligations involved in the clearance of the car for use in Nigeria, Ode said he was dumbfounded to hear that the same vehicle that was certified cleared by officials of the Nigeria Customs was impounded along Ijebu-Ode road axis while being taken to Benue State for delivery.
Although the vehicle was released after several efforts and spending money, Ode slammed a N50 million damages on the Nigeria Customs. The legal battle started since 2017 with a petition and Pre-Action Notice detailing the incidence and the damages and addressed to the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs in Abuja.
Recounting his ordeal, Ode said, “Upon shipment, I paid the sum of N850, 000 to the agent for clearing of the car but to my dismay, the customs receipt via Zenith Bank account showed I paid N384, 505.00. I was subsequently forced to pay to the Customs another N750, 664.00 as duty when the car was impounded. This was aside all other monies they extorted from us.”
On the reasons given by the Customs for impounding the car, he stated: “The reason for the detention was that, duties paid on the car was under estimated. By our understanding of this, the actual duties due for payment on the vehicle (car) was not made, suggesting a kind of compromise arrangement between the agent and some officials of the Nigeria Customs Services at the port of clearance in Lagos.
“The most reprehensible aspect of this unfortunate incidence is the fact that the said car was assessed by officials of the Customs Services, duties paid and due process followed and the car was eventually cleared before delivery to the owner. The questions begging for answers now are: who were the Customs officials who cleared the vehicle after duties were assessed and paid? And, why was the vehicle cleared at the Nigerian Port, having gone through the necessary checks by officials of the Nigeria Customs only for the officials of the same establishment (Federal Operations Unit) to impound the vehicle they have cleared? This amounts to double standards and points to the rot that is existing within the rank and file of the Nigeria Customs.
The Nigeria Customs, in response filed a preliminary objection to the case which has been mentioned at the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos. Further hearing in the matter has been adjourned till October 7, 2019.
Ode, a beneficiary of Athletic and Academic Basketball scholarship played as Semi-professional with Nigerian Basketball teams including Benue Braves, Niger Porters and Nigeria’s Under 21 National Team before emigrating to the United States under the scholarship programme. He is now a permanent resident in Maryland, USA where he serves as a Compliance and Civil Rights Administrator at the University of Maryland.