Old vehicles: Customs defy Senate on duty payment

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Ifeanyi Onuba, Abuja

The Nigeria Customs Service on Wednesday defied the directive of the Senate that it should suspend the planned clampdown on vehicles without correct duty papers, insisting that the one-month ultimatum for owners of such vehicles to pay the appropriate duties remained sacrosanct.

The Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (retd.) had last Thursday approved a grace period of one month from Monday, March 13 to Wednesday, April 12, 2017 for owners of all vehicles within the country whose correct customs duties had not been fully paid to do so.

He had in a statement advised all motor dealers and private owners of such vehicles to visit the nearest Customs zonal office to pay the appropriate duties on them.

But the decision was rejected by the upper chamber of the National Assembly, stating that the NCS had no legal backing to implement such a directive.

Specifically, the Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, while moving a motion on the Customs circular at plenary on Tuesday, said, “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.”

But speaking at a media briefing on Wednesday, the Acting Public Relations Officer of Customs, Joseph Attah, said the one-month grace period was still in force despite the order of the Senate.

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He said that in a bid to reduce the burden of the duty payment on Nigerians, a rebate of 60 per cent had been approved by the NCS for vehicles imported prior to the 2016 fiscal period.

Attah explained, “Payment remains Monday, March 13 to Wednesday, April 12; the points of payments, with exemption of Lagos and Port-Harcourt, will now be the nearest Customs area command. Private vehicle owners who know that duty has not been paid on their vehicles can take advantage of this grace period to do so.

“Therefore, owners of such vehicles or their representatives are expected to go to the nearest pay-point for assessment and payment. It should be noted that the 60 per cent rebate applies only within the grace period.”

He added, “The 60 per cent rebate is to create a soft landing for people who are in possession of these vehicles. Sixty per cent rebate on the value of such vehicles across board from 2015 downward simply means 60 per cent of the total value, which means calculation will always be based on 40 per cent.

“Any private vehicle owners who wishes to take advantage of this period and pay duty will save himself a lot before the coming in of the system that will totally block him.

“Concerning the senators, I read in the media that they expect some kind of briefing from the Comptroller General. I’m confident that the kind of information that will be made available to them will help shape their opinions on the way forward in this process.”

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Attah added that vehicles manufactured in 2016 and this year were not part of those to enjoy the rebate because of their status as new cars since they would not normally have issues of smuggling.

He said any officer who compromised on the policy by conniving with smugglers would be dealt with as the leadership of the NCS had intensified its efforts against corrupt practices.

He added, “We have causes to deal with the connivance of our members who undermine the policy of the authority. If not, we won’t have dismissed up to 49 officers last year.

“As I speak with you, we still have officers in our detention cell. We won’t treat with kid gloves people who compromise. The issue here is those in possession of smuggled vehicles have an opportunity to regularise and pay the duty before the take-off of the system that will totally block them out.”

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