N30b seized vehicles waste away in customs custody

N30b seized vehicles waste away in customs custody
Some of the vehicles seized by the customs

Thousands of seized vehicles estimated to cost about N30 billion are currently wasting away at various warehouses of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) nationwide as bidders prospect for opportunity to buy them on the e-auction platform.

Media source learnt that the vehicles, including exotic brands and top models, were either abandoned by importers or seized from smugglers across the borders, seaports and other locations.

Among those sighted by media are Mercedes Benz G wagon and various Mercedes Benz 4matic models, Hummer, Mercedes Benz, Range Rover Evolution, Ford Edge, Toyota Land Cruiser, Highlander, Toyota Hilux, various models of Lexus, Porsche cars and a host of other sport utility vehicles (SUVs) from Ford and Toyota brands. There were also a variety of trucks, salon cars and buses.

The seized vehicles, many of which have reportedly gone through the process of court condemnation and are awaiting auction, are detained at the border stations, seaports commands and at the Federal Operation Units (FOU) in Lagos, Owerri, Benin, Bauchi, Kaduna and Kano.

The Comptroller-General of the NCS, Hameed Ali, had introduced an e-auction platform (app.trade.gov.ng/e-auction) on July 3rd, 2017, which recorded little progress due to some glitches being experienced with the digital technology.

The last phase of the auction had only 806 vehicles uploaded on the platform, and bought by 753 bidders. It generated about N346.1 million. Another phase began late May this year, but media source learnt that it did not last one month before it was shut. At present, the e-auction process has stalled, due to the banks’ e-wallet challenges.

Customs Public Relations Officer, Deputy Comptroller Joseph Attah, confirmed to media source that the banks’ e-wallet challenges posed difficulties for bidders in making payment.

“The e-auction is active and still on. Just that bidders at a point were experiencing difficulties in making payments through the e-wallet. The CGC had a meeting with the managing directors of the affected banks who promised to sort out the challenges at their own end. Uploading will continue immediately the banks are ready,” he said.

Attah had earlier told media source that some of the vehicles in their custody were due for auction, while others were still undergoing court processes.

“It’s not everything that you see there that must be auctioned. There are several conditions that are keeping some of them. There are those whose cases are still in court, and we have no right to auction them. We don’t have control over the court, and we don’t know how long the cases will take,” he stated.

When contacted, some banks, which were reluctant to comment on the issue, said the customs should sort out its problems and stop apportioning blame. The Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc (NIBSS) said the NCS should mention the specific problem for it to know how to intervene.

Some of the vehicles at Seme Customs, FOU Zone A, Ikeja, Idoroko Command, and TinCan Island Command in Lagos are already depreciating and losing value due to the wear-and-tear caused by the long period of packing.

In its reports, the NCS said some of the vehicles were intercepted during attempts to smuggle them into Nigeria. Others were seized for being used to convey smuggled items.

The spokesman for Seaport Terminal Operators of Nigeria (STOAN), Bolaji Akinola, said over 5,000 vehicles were rotting away at the ports alone, taking over the space that could have been used for incoming goods.

“The available spaces in the ports are being overtaken by overtime cargoes, including vehicles, and this is unfortunate. For several years, government has refused to auction the vehicles, and nobody can remove them except they are auctioned by the customs.

“The advantage of auction is two-fold: it will make valuable space available in the port for other cargoes. The law provides that any cargo in the port, after 45 days, has become overtime cargo, and it automatically becomes government property, and in a move to free the space, government auctions them. Apart from freeing the space and reducing ports congestion, it will also help raise the much-needed government revenue.

“What is the economic sense in leaving vehicles at a particular space to rot away for years? So, we appeal to customs that whatever modality they want to use, (e-auction or manual auction), they should auction them,” Akinola stated.

A clearing agent, Benson Izuora, decried a situation whereby vehicles would be allowed to rot away when millions of Nigerians are seeking to buy them.

“It is unpatriotic and a waste of resources. Sometimes I begin to wonder what is happening to this government, some officials seem not to know what they are doing. We all know that the country is in dire need of funds to implement the 2019 budget. Why not auction all of those vehicles and earn money, rather than letting them waste away. If the e-auction is not working, they need to do something about it, or go back to the manual system,” he said.

While the customs decides how best to sell the vehicles, some unscrupulous people are taking advantage of the situation to exploit innocent Nigerians on the social media, by posing as officers coordinating the auction, among others.

Some of them were even bold enough to use the NCS official Facebook account to perpetrate the fraud.

One posted: “Nationwide auctioning is currently ongoing now. Impounded vehicles for sale in a cheap and affordable auction price, interested buyer should kindly contact… on …9296.” The fraudster listed about 30 vehicles for auction with prices ranging from N350,000 to N800,000.

Another person, with a woman’s picture on his page, said: “The 2019 NCS auction is ongoing. Purchase cheap bag of rice, clothes, groundnut oil and cars. Call the marketing officer on …05892.”

When called by The Guardian for a Lexus 330 SUV, the fraudster was discovered to be a man with a completely different name who identified himself as a customs officer at Idirokko Command in Ogun State.

The responder who appeared to be well grounded in the deal said: “Lexus 330 is available. You have to come down to Idirokko in Ogun State. We also have some in Badagry/ Seme Border. You will need your border permit and your inspection form for you to come inside the border. If you want to get your border permit, I can process it for you, it’s just N7,500, while the inspection form is just N5,000. You will take the inspection form to the warehouse where you want to inspect the vehicle. We need to process the paper. If you are buying it now, we will create a fake document for you here, which we call the clearance paper to clear the vehicle. This is just N85,650,”

At the end of the discussion, he said the total cost of the Lexus 330 model was N1.2 million. Media learnt that the model goes for between N3.3 million and N3.5 million in the market.

When probed further on the need for border permit since the vehicle was being auctioned, he changed the point, saying, “You need it to bring the vehicle from our premises into the country.” He banged the phone when more enquiries were made about his real identity.

The NCS has disowned the “fake officers”, saying it does not auction vehicles, rice, vegetable oil, and other items via social media or third party.

It stated in a notice, titled “ Facts about car auction”: “If it were the way the public is misinformed, then every customs officer would be driving an exotic car. NCS officials work, earn salaries, and plan for life, just like every other person. Auctions are not a function of just the NCS alone. There are a total of 18 government agencies involved.

“NCS never advertised auctions on Facebook or Twitter; it has never offered jobs on social media and cannot transact any business using the personal bank account of any official. Fraudsters feast on your gullibility, greed, or desperation. You have been warned,” it stated.

The Guardian

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