Stories by Isaac Anumihe
president Muhammadu Buhari had appointed Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel as Comptroller General of Customs in 2015, following corruption allegation against the former Comptroller General of Customs (CGC), Mr Inde Dikko.
Colonel Ali’s mandate was clear as he assumed office seeing everybody around him to be corrupt. He also vowed to dismantle all the structures that encouraged corruption in the service.
His first step was to sanitise the method of auctioning seized items to the public as he saw the old order as one of the ways customs officials and their cronies enriched themselves to the detriment of other Nigerians. Accordingly, he slammed a ban on the auctioning system in August 2015, without considering that some of these items were perishable.
On January 17, 2016, the president ordered that some of the perishable items that have passed through court judgement should be given to the Internally Displaced Persons, (IDPs). According to the then Customs Public Relations Officer, Wale Adeniyi, the Comptroller-General set up a national committee that would coordinate and manage the movement and the transfer of the relief items.
“It is important to stress that these items are only those that have been condemned properly in the competent court of law and have been forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria. They include food items like rice, vegetable oil, spaghetti and essential items like soap, used clothing materials, mosquito nets, beddings and others,’’ he said. Adeniyi said that members of the committee were drawn from Customs Service, Army, Air Force, Police, Immigration Service and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Before the order, items with Duty Paid Value worth over N6 billion were already rotting away in various Customs warehouses and premises across the country following the suspension of auction by the service management since August 2015
Vehicles numbering over 2,000 most of which were seized by Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) as part of its anti-smuggling drive have started depreciating in value.
Some of the vehicles were impounded along some inter-state highways when their owners could not produce proofs of Customs duty payment.
Some of the vehicles including cars, buses, trucks and tankers were intercepted during attempts to smuggle them into Nigeria. Others were seized for being the mode of conveyance for smuggled items.
Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Controller General of Customs suspended the auction of seized goods upon taking charge of NCS in August 2015.
The move by the government to give the items out to the IDPs is to prevent the rice from expiring or getting infested with weevils and other pests.
Joseph Attah, the new spokesman for NCS said in a telephone interview that the auctions were suspended by CG to finetune it for transparency.
“The CG suspended it to give room for transparency so that the new system will be without bias or favouritism. The new system is planned in such a way that people will be able to apply for auction online and the highest bidder gets it” he said.
He assured that the delay in the auction was temporary and will be addressed soon.
The seized vehicles, many of which have gone through a process of court condemnation and awaiting auction are at the border stations and various arms of Federal Operation Units in Lagos, Owerri, Benin, Bauchi, Kaduna and Kano.
So, the announcement on June 4, 2017 that customs would begin the auction of seized items on July 1, 2017 was a cheery news to most Nigerians.
According to the service, the decision to reopen the suspended auction scheme after about 18 months was taken following successful test- running of the new electronic auction portal.
The new date for the auction was contained in a statement obtained from the NCS website which listed ownership of Tax Identification Number (TIN), among others, as criteria to buy any of the goods put up for sale under the scheme.
Ali opted for electronic system to allow for a more transparent and electronic method that would allow for equal opportunities for all participants.
“After repeated tests of the e-auction platform, NCS is now set to deploy the e-auction portal on July 1, 2017,’’ the statement said.
The statement added that the portal has been fully networked to designated banks to ensure that money accruing from the auction gets to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Treasury Single Account for transparency and accountability.
The conditions for the e-auction qualification include, applicants must have a valid TIN issued by Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) with an active e-mail account and shall pay a non-refundable fee of N1000 as administrative charge.
“An item is auctioned “as is” as such request for replacement or refund shall not be entertained. The successful bidder shall make payment within five working days and failure to pay within the stipulated timeframe, the items reverts to the second highest bidder,” NCS statement said.
Also, the successful bidder has two weeks from the date of payment to claim his items or forfeit them at the expiration of two weeks.
Winners are expected to come with paid assessment of and bank receipt; e-mail code to identify the owner after payment and a notarized letter in case owner sends a representative. Provision of proper identification with the notarized letter such as international passport, driver’s licence, voter’s card or national ID among others.
One of the intending bidders told Daily Sun that the idea is one of the most transparent steps ever taken by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. According to him, it gives bidders the confidence that the winner of the items will take delivery of them without favouritism or godfatherism.
“For the first time in the history of the Nigeria Customs Service, there is an attempt to increase the degree of transparency in the auction sales of the condemned items. When I said condemned I mean items that have gone through the court process and the court has approved the sale. So, it makes it very possible for only identifiable persons, traceable persons, existing persons, not phoney names, not fabricated names, not a state where we have to suspect that the same persons who seized the items will issue auction paper to non-existing persons and give to themselves. This makes it possible that every item that is purchased we know that it is Mr A that purchased it. His identity is verifiable, traceable, without any form of godfatherism or favouritism. In fact this is a groundbreaking transparency method,” he noted.