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Controversy shadows new customs duty policy on old vehicles

By Sulaimon Salau
12 March 2017   |   4:34 am
Stakeholders are of the view that Customs would be operating outside the procedures (Customs Legal Notice) if it goes ahead to impound old vehicles that have been registered over non-duty payment.

Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hameed Ali

• Stakeholders Oppose New Policy
• We Are In Order – Customs

The new vehicle import duty rules put in place by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) to combat smuggling of vehicles across the borders has been enmeshed in controversy.

Stakeholders are of the view that Customs would be operating outside the procedures (Customs Legal Notice) if it goes ahead to impound old vehicles that have been registered over non-duty payment.

But the Customs argued that registration of a vehicle does not change its status, as it remained a smuggled vehicle. It claimed to be working in line with section, 46, 47 and 147 of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA).

Customs Licensed Agents in a petition to President Buhari said the existing procedures did not permit Customs officials from impounding any vehicle that has undergone legal process of registration/licensing with the Vehicle Licensing Authority, as applied under home consumption/ free circulation on private ownership.

The petition, which was copied to the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, Secretary to The Government Of The Federation; Attorney General of The Federation, Federal Ministry of Justice; Minister for Finance; the Comptroller-General of Customs, and obtained by The Guardian, said there was urgent need for the Federal Government to intervene to reduce the conflict and tension the directive will generate in the economy.

The petition signed by the National President, National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, Lucky Amiwero, said: “We hereby bring to the attention of His Excellency of the possible tension and conflict the recent directive will generate on the reassessment of already registered/licensed privately owned motor vehicles that is in use under home consumption, for additional Import Duties by the Nigeria Customs Service,”

“The importation of motor vehicles is covered under the Customs Legal Notice 30 that contains the terms and procedure, which comprises of the requirement for importation of Motor Vehicles, payment of import Duty, clearance, registration/Licensing and ownership for usage under home consumption.”

According to the petition, the issuance of certificate of payment of import duty on any motor vehicle by Nigeria Customs Service certifies the payment and transfer of ownership. Following this is registration/licensing by the Vehicle Licensing Authority.

The petitioner argued that Customs officials are not permitted by their procedures to have anything to do with any vehicle that has undergone the legal registration/licensing process, which gives the vehicle a new ownership.

Amiwero told The Guardian in an interview that the policy is against the Customs Act. “The law terminates Customs process at the issuance of certificate. That Customs law instructs the licensing authority not to issue any registratiom/license without the payment of duty, so if any vehicle is licensed it should have been the problem of Customs to go to the licensing authority and sort it out, not with the people who have gone through the normal process. This is position of the law of Customs, so they cannot go contrary to their law. The process is very clear, so this new import duty policy this is a contravention of their own law, the policy is illegal,” he said.

Customs Acting Public Relations Officer, Joseph Attah, told The Guardian in a telephone chart yesterday that the Customs Legal notice is irrelevant, when they are working in line with the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA).

“Customs derived its power from the CEMA not notice. This is not superior to CEMA. And it stated that anything that is brought in without due clearance runs contrary to Sections 46 and 47 of CEMA, and Section147 of the same Act empowers Customs to seize or intercept anything that is a smuggled item that is stored anywhere.

President, Shippers Association, Lagos State, Jonathan Nichol, said: the policy is aimed at making Nigerians pay for the inefficiency of Customs, even as they are acting above the law.

“What we are telling the government is that they should call the Comptroller General of Customs to order, because these vehicles did not fly from the space, they passed through a route and those routes were manned by Customs officers. So, if the vehicles found a way into our market, they should ask their officers how manage?

“They don’t have to punish Nigerians twice for their own inefficiency.  In advanced countries when people break their security network, they will go back to the drawing board and find out how they did it, not rushing out to follow people to their bedroom for duty payment, the next now is to ask people to present their marriage certificate.”

Nichol also argued that the policy is in contravention of the Customs Act, saying:  “The Customs Act is what you used in registering your vehicle and if you present those documents to the registration officers and they accepted it and gave you a license, I think it is even above any organisation to stop you because the Coat of Arm states that you have been licenses by the Federal Government to drive the car, so, they are not respecting that Coat of Arm anymore in this country.