In continuation of its war on smuggling in line with the closure of land borders across the country, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) in a major crackdown shutdown some car marts suspected to have smuggled vehicles into the country through land borders.
Members of the Comptroller General of the service’s strike force and officers attached to Federal Operations Unit (FOU), Zone ‘A’, Ikeja stormed the popular Berger along Apapa-Oshodi Express Road and other major car dealers’ premises across Lagos in search of smuggled vehicles and subsequently shut down the car marts until further notice.
It was learnt that the car marts were closed on the orders of Comptroller General of the Service, Mr Hameed Ali, for allegedly retailing smuggled vehicles in the shops.
Customs Public Relations Officer, Mr Joseph Attah, who confirmed the development, however, denied that car dealers who are not involved in selling smuggled cars were shut down.
According to him, “Yes a number of car marts were shutdown based on credible information that there were smuggled vehicles in these car marts, but the sealing is just temporary. As from this week we will assess the situation and advised them accordingly as to what they should do.”
Asked how many dealers were shutdown, he said, “As of now I don’t have the numbers but those not involved in any bad business were not shutdown. But I can confirm that some numbers have been shutdown. Within the week, customs will take a look at the records of each vehicle in these car marts and appropriate actions will be taken.
Attah who also confirmed that no arrests were made added that the action was not taken to inflict harm on anyone but to ensure that government gets its due revenue.
“The target is not really to bring any unnecessary hardship to any individual, the idea is to see the possibility of either seizure or recovery of revenue for such vehicles,” he added.
When contacted, managing director of one of the companies affected said car dealing marts were stormed in a Gestapo style with four trucks load of customs officers who pasted closure notices on their premises and asked that they report to the FOU today.
“All car dealers in Lagos were shutdown, Affordable Cars Limited, Carlink Limited, InehmicAutos, Globe Motors, COSCHARIS and Skymit Motors, Arrowhead Motors, Wonder Wheels Motors, Auto Point Motors and any name that you can think of were all shutdown. Even Stallion Motors was affected. The only one I cannot confirm is Toyota Nigeria Limited or Elizade Motors.
“They came and put a sticker, sealed off the place and said come to FOU in Ikeja. That was all. No information or notices. It was not as if they came and found smuggled cars in our premises. They didn’t even ask for anything. Globe Motors and Inehmic were the first place they went to around 7a.m. They came to my place in the evening. One would expect that they will at least ask for documents but nothing, they just sealed off the place,” he said.
Another car dealer whose mart was shut around Oregun said his documents were up to date.
The dealer, Mr Chukwudi Nwachukwu, said he was surprised that his stand was shut down by the service.
“I was shocked when my mart was shut. I operate at Oregun and I can tell you that my documents are up to date. In fact, am printing my documents to take to FOU, Ikeja for them to unseal my business,” he added.
One of the dealers with link with a global brand said the company imported its vehicles through official channels and had documents to prove the legitimacy of its transactions.
The source from the company said they would find out from Customs what went wrong when they honour the invitation to appear before the FOU today.
In a related development, men of the Nigeria Customs Service on Monday sealed car dealers’ offices in Kaduna and Sokoto States. The Service was reportedly in search of vehicles smuggled through land borders.
Comptroller-General’s Strike Force and officers attached to the Federal Operations Unit, Zone ‘A’ in Ikeja had earlier raided car dealers’ offices in Lagos.
Our reporter who visited car dealers’ offices in Mogadishu area of Kaduna reports that they were empty as dealers had removed their vehicles.
It was gathered that customs men warned that any dealer who reopened the sealed points would be fined N5m. Some of the sealed locations were KB Lamah Motors, Royalarms International Motors Limited, 2020 Motors, MD Parking Space, Urgent Motors Nigeria Limited, among others.
Ladan Abubakar, a dealer, expressed dissatisfaction with the shutdown, saying “There was no notice given to us, in fact, we were caught unawares here.”
A similar operation had started in Sokoto on Monday.
“They came to our place, took chassis numbers of all our vehicles before sealing up the premises,” one of the car dealers, Shafi’u Bankanu, said. He added that the same operation was taking place in Kebbi and Zamfara States as gathered from their colleagues.
“They told us they would take away our vehicles whose duties were not paid,” he noted.
Our reporter, who went round some of the car dealers’offices around 7:30 pm yesterday, observed operational vehicles of Customs, with armed operatives, were stationed at gates of the premises.
When contacted, spokesman of Sokoto Area Command of Customs, Mr Magaji Mailafiya declined comment on the development.
However, a senior Customs officer said the operation was carried out by the strike force of the Comptroller General of Customs, not their men.
“They will collate the chassis number of vehicle to check if its duty is paid or not,” he said. According to him, the operation is taking place all over the country.
Meanwhile, vehicle dealers in Abuja yesterday expressed the fear that they might be affected too.