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Operators query transparency, effectiveness of Customs’ electronic auction

By Adaku Onyenucheya
24 August 2022   |   4:10 am
Industry leaders have doubted the transparency and efficiency of the Nigeria Customs Service’s (NCS) electronic auctioning of seized items.

Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali

Industry leaders have doubted the transparency and efficiency of the Nigeria Customs Service’s (NCS) electronic auctioning of seized items.

Recall that the Customs Comptroller General, Hameed Ali, had, in 2017, unveiled the electronic auction facility also known as e-auction and called on interested Nigerians to take advantage of it.

He said the e-auction initiative is part of efforts by the Service to eliminate the sharp practices that had characterised the manual auction system, grow its revenue generation capacity, as well as provide equal opportunities to all Nigerians in the seamless disposal of seized/condemned and overtime/abandoned cargoes.

Officers of the service are excluded from participating in the electronic auction, while owners of the seized item are excluded from bidding for them.

It was gathered that the auction, which is supposed to be a regular exercise, was last carried out in 2020 with many Nigerians unaware of it.

However, stakeholders in the maritime industry lamented that the e-auction system has not been transparent, alleging that it is just a platform used by the Customs to share seized items among their cronies.

They said the requirements stated on the platform have not been followed by the service, as bidders have to pay to get an opportunity to partake in the auction.

According to the NCS, the requirements to take part in the e-auction bid process by interested public/bidders include: “A valid tax identification number (TIN) issued by Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) with an active e-mail account for the issued TIN, an authentic and nationally accepted means of identification, such as international passport, driver’s license, national identity card or voter card among others.”

But the Secretary General of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Agents (NCMDLCA), Festus Ukwu, who shared his experience said, before one can get access to the portal, N10, 000 must be paid to Customs in a designated bank.

He said it was very difficult to monitor the auction sales from the portal as the portal is not easily accessible.

Ukwu also alleged that auctioned items are not easily sold to bidders without them paying their way through.

“I have personally benefited from e-auction. To be able to gain access to the portal, I was asked by Customs to pay N10, 000 to a designated bank (Jaiz Bank). Sometimes they don’t open the portal easily for you to pay that money. They will open it whenever they want you to get inside and close it back after you have paid. It is not easy to get into the portal to monitor the auction sale.

“In most cases, they just don’t bring out containers for auction anyhow again. You won’t even know they are doing the e-auction, they do it among themselves; unless you pay money to get into it. They will ask you to pay before you would even get the auction paper. It is going on, but they share it amongst themselves,” Ukwu alleged.

Also speaking, the National Secretary of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Babatunde Mukaila, said the services of certified professional auctioneers, who are duly licensed to perform the functions of auctioning, should be engaged for transparency, noting that the Customs management cannot be the judge and the jury in its case.
Another freight forwarder, Frank Obiekezie, lamented that the electronic auction process by the Customs is not transparent enough.

“Impounding rice and taking them to camps of Internally Displaced persons or exotic cars and pretending to be auctioning them, which are given to cronies or members of the same service is not right. No matter the system they use, they will still do what they want to do. They can draft people and give them papers but in the real sense of it, the paper belongs to their candidates. This is part of the corruption we are having in this country,” Obiekezie said.

The Acting General Secretary of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Francis Omotosho said the Customs e-auction process is shady and lacks transparency.

He advised that the system be seriously looked into to ensure that it has human face.

The Public Relations Officer of the Tin Can Chapter of the African Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics of Nigeria (APFFLON), Clinton Okoro, said the electronic auction system is a welcome development but Customs should make sure the items are not sold to same persons they were seized from or to Customs officers.