By Gift Samuel, The Sight News
Abuja- Following the recent activities of the Nigeria Customs Service, storming car dealers’ shops and evacuating some exotic vehicles perceived to be smuggled, many have been left to wonder where the officers of the NCS were when these cars were smuggled into the country.
Some Nigerians are of the opinion that the men of the NCS collected bribes from the dealers at the border thereby giving them free access into the country with the smuggled cars. However, the National Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Customs Service, Mr. Joseph Attah in this interview with The Sight News reporter, sheds more light on the matter as well as other issues such as online auction and recruitment scam.
See excerpts from the interview below
There was a recent case of some exotic cars being seized and paraded by Customs, what exactly does Customs look out for to ascertain if a car was smuggled into the country?
The only way to prove that your car is not smuggled is to show evidence of duty payments. The present fiscal policy of government prohibits the importation of cars through land borders.
We evacuated some exotic cars, some Toyota Hilux and they are under detention, the onus now lies on the owners to come and prove that they did not smuggle them. If they don’t come forward, the cars will be seized, taken to court and the court will pass verdict condemning it and forfeiting it to the federal government, it becomes a federal government property and those are the kind of vehicles you eventually hear are auctioned to the general public.
What actions does the Nigeria Customs Service take against officers caught taking bribe at the borders?
Well, you know that the present Comptroller-General of Customs, Colonel Hameed Ibrahim Ali retired is a man of high integrity, he has zero tolerance to any act of indiscipline and corruption and he has said it over and over and he has demonstrated it that any officer caught collecting bribe, aiding and abetting smuggling will not only be dismissed but also be prosecuted along with the smugglers.
He has done this, you recall the first seizure of arms, the one that exited the port of Apapa and was intercepted somewhere around mile 2, while those who seized it were promoted for doing good, those who were indicted by the investigation were dismissed and handed over for prosecution, so he is not a leader who just talks, he talks and does what he talks about.
When You Say Smuggling and Bribing Men of the NCS is a double Offence, what do you mean?
I am referring to the reaction of some ignorant people about our recent step up anti-smuggling operations within the cities. You recall that our operatives have been raiding some car stands and intercepting smuggled vehicles.
When we evacuate the cars, we bring them to customs formation, we detain them and tell owners of such car stands to bring evidence of appropriate duty payment that shows that the cars were imported through the sea ports and you pay your duty, these vehicles will be released to you, but for you to sit down there and say “where were customs when these things came in?” could it be that some of them have collected bribe there and they want to collect another one here?
If indeed you bribed some Customs officers to be able to come in with these items, of course, come forward and tell us that at a particular check point and a particular place, I met officers there and I gave them a particular amount of money. Those officers will be dismissed and will be prosecuted along with you who by the way is the smuggler.
You smuggled these things in, you refused to follow the law of the land. The present extant law says that vehicles can only be imported through the sea port not through the land borders so your bringing it through the land borders already is an offence, your attempt to compromise our officers is another offence.
We know that most of the vehicles that comes in do not even pass through any Customs officer, our borders are porous, these people are rich. We know that some of them go to the border community, give them money, buy mobile phones and sometimes motorcycles for some unemployed youths along the border communities which they use to monitor the movement of our patrol men and then they call the smugglers to give them information on which roads to follow.
Most of the so called success stories of smugglers is actively supported by some border community dwellers who are enticed by the money offered to them.
Is it not possible that these Duty payments may be forged?
If you forge it we will know, of course it can be forged but then if it is not the real one, it is not the real one. Once we see it, there is a seal number which if we key into our system, everything about your vehicle will show, we know and it can’t be two.
There are some many supposed auctioning from Customs on the social media, how frequent does Customs auction cars?
We have been telling people to be wary of these so called auction, recruitment, contracts from the social media, the Nigerian Customs Service does not conduct it’s auction on an online chat platform like WhatsApp, Facebook as you commonly see, No!
Right now we have an online auction process that goes on, that’s the e-auction and you have to have a Tax Identification Number (TIN) to be able to be part of it and our web address is www.app.trade.gov.ng/e-auction then you key in your TIN number and all your details will appear then you go and bid and at a point you reach a page where you go and pay a non-refundable N1,000 administrative fee to the bank then you come back and bid, its competitive.
It starts every Monday by 12:00 PM and ends every Wednesday by 12:00 PM that’s 48 hours and at the end of that 48 hours, electronically the winner is declared and then you go to the bank and pay the complete money and get your car.
What you will see from all these criminal elements that parades themselves on social media, they will ask you to pay a certain amount of money for processing and they give you a private bank account and all that and people go and pay which is wrong.
Sometimes these people are told that the Customs Service is doing replacement, does that exist?
There is nothing like replacement in a paramilitary organization. In a military or paramilitary organization, when you are recruited, you go for documentation, you are given a service number, every officer has a service number that is personal to him even if he resigns, he is dismissed or he dies or retires, no body can take the service number so there is no word like “replacement”.
The very moment you hear the word replacement, you should know that it is fake and run away from them. People must know that our recruitment process is absolutely free.
Any time we are going to do recruitment and we open the portal, we advertise it on the national dailies. Of course it will be in the news, it will be in customs duty on NTA and we will announce the platform where you go and fill the form and submit online free of charge. Any thing that has to do with money is not from the Customs
There have been stories in recent times of some officers asking people for money to get them placed in the service and sometimes they are Customs officers.
That certainly cannot be Customs, I say so because Customs for goodness sake is not a job that they just recruit you and give you uniform to wear. You have to be recruited, documented and given a service number and all of you move as a batch for training.
Are they going to recruit you and open the training college for you alone? There are certain things that does not even exist, it’s not a matter of me defending the service. Just like NYSC goes to camp in batches, you can not just open the camp for 10 or 15 people, it does not exist.
What would be your advise to Nigerians on the online auction and recruitment?
We must be wary of these scammers, do not agree with any body who gives you a private bank account to go and pay money into it. Do not agree with any process that begins and ends outside the premises of the Nigeria Customs Service.
If it is a recruitment, of course it will be done properly in the premises of the Nigeria Customs Service and you don’t have to pay money into any body’s account. Whenever you are approached with such offers, please endeavor to go to the nearest Customs office to verify the claim.
This interview is exclusive to The Sight News and should not be used in part or whole without permission from the publisher.