Plans by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) to start collecting duties from the owners of old vehicles on Nigerian roads have run into stiff opposition, as the Senate, reflecting the yearnings of the Nigerian public, last week called for its immediate suspension pending explanation of the policy by Customs authorities.
Comptroller-General of Customs, retired Col Hameed Ali, has been ordered to appear before the Senate Committee on Customs to offer clarifications on a circular that directs owners of all vehicles on our roads to report to the nearest zonal office of the Service to ascertain whether correct duties on their vehicles were paid or risk having their vehicles impounded.
The Customs Service, which resorted to the measure in order to catch up with smuggled vehicles, including those with incorrect customs duties paid at the ports, also aims to shore up Federal revenues.
It is imperative that Col. Ali responds to the summons of the Senate in order to ensure that the interest of the general public is fully protected in view of the untold suffering vehicle owners have been subjected to, especially on the highways. Travellers are stopped in their tracks, and many who had used their vehicles for years are made to truncate their trips to settle issues concerning their vehicles with Customs officials.
This policy will induce a draconian atmosphere of government siege on the democratic freedom of Nigerians to move around. Since most Nigerians live from day-to-day by moving around, any attempt to curtail their efforts will strangulate economic activities and worsen the plight of the ordinary person in an already depressed economy.
Nigerians should not be made to pay for the failure of the Customs and other border agencies to secure our borders and prevent smuggling. It is the job of Customs to stop smuggling at the borders and to impose any statutory duties on imported items before they are allowed into the system. That way, they are able to apprehend contraband items and impose sanctions on those behind their importation.
We are totally against the tactics of ambushing Nigerians and preventing them from living their lives in freedom simply because the agencies of state charged with preventing smuggling and corrupt assessment of customs duties fail to do their jobs at their designated duty posts.
Allowing armed Customs officials to run riot among civilians in their homes, offices, markets, and on our highways is a barbaric way of implementing the law, and should not be allowed in a democratic society like Nigeria.
We urge the National Assembly, and indeed, the Federal Government to protect the people and ensure that Customs operatives perform their duties without unduly terrorising and intimidating the populace. This will only open new avenues for corrupt self-enrichment by Customs operatives.