The Senate on Tuesday asked the Nigeria Customs Service to suspend action on the plan to clamp down on vehicles without correct duty papers.
The upper chamber of the National Assembly asked the leadership of the NSC to appear before its Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff to brief Nigerians on the plan.
According to the lawmakers, the border agency has failed to provide adequate information to the public despite giving a one-month deadline to Nigerians.
The Senate called for the suspension of the plan based on a motion moved by the Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, at the plenary on Tuesday.
Na’Allah made reference to a circular issued by the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hammed Ali (retd.), which gave a one-month ultimatum, from March 13 to April 12, 2017, to owners of vehicles whose correct customs duties were not paid to pay the balance.
Consequently, the lawmaker said all motor dealers and private owners of such vehicles were advised to visit the Customs zonal offices to pay the appropriate duties on them.
Ali was quoted to have called on person in possession of such vehicles to take advantage of the grace period to pay appropriate duties on them, as there would be an aggressive anti-smuggling operation to seize as well as prosecute owners of such smuggled vehicles after the deadline.
Na’Allah, however, said there were only four NSC zonal offices across the country.
He said, “The Senate is aware of a recent circular allegedly issued by the Nigeria Customs Service directing all vehicle owners who have not paid customs duty to do so within one month. It is aware that the same circular dated March 2, 2017 and signed by one Joseph Auta was issued without clear guidelines as to what category of vehicles are going to be affected.
“The Senate is concerned that the implementation of that not-so-clear circular will cause significant discomfort to the teeming law abiding citizens of Nigeria, coupled with the fact that the same circular is causing significant anxiety within the Nigerian public already.”
The two prayers of the motion, which were unanimously adopted by the lawmakers, included, “That the Senate do hereby resolve to direct the Nigeria Customs Service to stop all actions regarding the implementation of the same circular until it appears before the Senate Committee on Customs to explain in details the purpose of the circular to the Nigerian public.
“To direct the Committee on Customs to immediately engage the Nigeria Customs Service with a view to fashioning out what can clearly be acceptable to the Nigerian public under a democratic dispensation like ours.”
Na’Allah stated that the basis for being parliamentarians was to define the rule of engagement between the government and the governed, adding that the legislature existed to ensure maintenance of the rule of law, including the law establishing the NCS.
He added, “By that law, we are all aware that the area of operation specifically designated for this service is principally our borders. And we are aware of the fact that in this situation, we are unable to find the specific provision of the law that the Comptroller of Customs relied upon to issue this circular. I think we have a compelling need to protect the Nigerian public against this arbitrariness.
“I ask: If I buy a car eight years back, for example, (and it was) duly registered and I live in Sokoto and, then, you require me to come to Kaduna to know whether my customs duty is authentic or not; what you are requiring from me is even outside the provisions of the law. I think it is sufficiently ridiculous to call the attention of this Senate to say no to this kind of arbitrariness.”
Seconding the motion, Senator Dino Melaye, said what the NCS had done by the announcement of the deadline was “pure advertisement of incapacitation and incompetence.”
The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, recalled that a lawmaker had last week moved a motion “in respect of fact that people will buy bags of rice and some tins of groundnut oil, take them to their houses, and Customs will come into those houses, harass them and take away those items on the pretence that appropriate Customs duties were not paid or they were prohibited material.”
He said, “Today, we are inundated with another development where cars bought many years ago are been asked from car owners or are been asked to come back and show Customs papers or pay appropriate Customs duties.