Scores of vehicles were yesterday trapped at land borders as the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) began the full restriction of vehicle importation through those areas.Some stakeholders especially clearing agents who claim that their vehicles were ordered months before the announcement of the restriction are caught on the wrong side.
It was learnt that many of the clearing agents are also considering alternative ways of delivering their consignments through smugglers’ routes, but the NCS said that would not be possible as its officers had beefed up security at all routes linking the borders.
With the takeoff of the ban, the prices of fairly used vehicles popularly called tokunbo will rise as many Nigerians who are contending with economic recession may not be able to buy new ones. It may also increase smuggling, thereby making government to lose revenue. But it has the potential of revving up the local production of vehicles.
The Federal Government had on December 5 placed a ban on the importation of used and new vehicles through land borders with effect from January 1, 2017. The order, however, gave the importers of vehicles through the land borders a grace period of up till December 31, 2016 to clear their vehicles at neighbouring ports.
The Public Relations Officer of the NCS, Wale Adeniyi, confirmed to The Guardian yesterday that the borders were already shut and the officers were at their duty posts to enforce the law.
President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Olayiwola Shittu, in a telephone interview with The Guardian yesterday said the government was avoiding the real issues. He urged the Federal Government to solve the problems at the ports; review the auto policy and publish the duty payable on every model of vehicle to halt the regime of extortion by the customs.
He said: “What we expect is a total review of the auto policy by the Federal Government. Where the vehicles come through does not matter. It is because of that policy that people are taking their consignments to the neighbouring country. Blocking the borders against vehicle importation is just like an ostrich burying its head in the sand. The problem is not solved. We need to adopt the Ghanaian model about clearing cars and we have told the customs this in the past four years, we don’t know the reason why, other than protecting themselves because of the extortion they do on vehicles.
“Let them forget about banning vehicles from the borders. What they should do is, the newer your vehicle, the lesser your duty. The older your vehicle, the higher your tariff. If you go to Ghana now, you will see them using new cars, not all these old things they are dumping here,” he said.
Shittu stressed: “Whether you are coming through the border or the ports, everybody should know how much he is paying as customs duty. You will pay the money and take your vehicle. You don’t need to appeal to anybody. Why is that difficult for them to do? It should be a public thing. They should put it on their website. This will reduce the level of extortion on importation of vehicle, if they can do that. It will solve the problem.” On the stranded vehicles at the ports of neighbouring countries, Shittu said the only viable option is that shipping companies should engage barges to bring vehicles from neighbouring countries to Nigerian ports.
“They will use coastal vessels to transfer them. But the problem will continue to be there as long as the customs continues to make the duty payable on vehicles a secret,” he said.
The Public Relations Officer of the NCS, Seme Command, Mr. Selechang Taupyen, said “the Federal Government has directed that importation of cars through the land borders be banned and we are the agency to enforce it and we have started with that.
“The border is close to the point of importation of cars and the command has placed its men and escorts at strategic places to ensure that there is no smuggling of cars through the border.“We also have a good working relationship and synergy with other security agencies who assist us in enforcing this policy because we all work for the same government.
“We advise the public to abide by the government policy and if they must purchase a car then it should come through the sea port as any vehicle that tries to come through the land border would be seized and confiscated. Violators of the law would face the full wrath of the law.’’
It is unclear how the issue of orders that had been made through land borders before the enactment of the policy would be handled. Officials were not forthcoming if such vehicles would be permanently restricted in the ports of first entry or allowed into Nigeria at added cost to the importers. If the latter becomes the case, there will be great wailing among importers and clearing agents who will be made to lose everything. One vehicle importer told The Guardian that ‘‘this is an area the government has to resolve one way or the other to stop people from committing suicide.’’
The President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), Lucky Amiwero is even more concerned about the workability of the policy.
He said: “The same policy was reviewed by the previous government because we were losing revenue. All the old vehicles were in Cotonou and that policy alone enriched that country. Now we are bringing the policy again when we have failed to address the issues at the ports. If you bring in vehicles to the ports with high costs, how do you sell the vehicles? And the kind of valuation that customs are giving vehicles at the point of entry, these are the issues we must address.”
Amiwero lamented that procedures at the ports in terms of valuation of vehicles are worrisome, alleging that the customs are not complying with the valuation principle.
“Government should address the issues of valuation of vehicles; cost of bringing in the consignment into the country; and the entire procedure. That is when you can then start to talk about banning it. Besides, government must understand that it is not every vessel that can come into Nigeria due to shallow draft. Most of the vessels can decide to go to Togo than coming here because of our draft level. Go to Togo, Benin Republic and Cameroun and see how many ships are berthing,” he said, even as he expressed doubts about the capacity of the customs to combat massive smuggling that would arise as a result of the policy.
In another development, the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (Rtd), has approved the redeployment of eight Assistant Comptrollers-General and 238 Deputy Comptrollers of Customs in a bid to strengthen operations and reposition the service to meet the challenges of the New Year. Customs Spokesman, Wale Adeniyi has been redeployed to Apapa Customs Area Command, Lagos.