Customs e-auction an act of impunity, says ex-Comptroller

Hameed Ali

The last may not have been heard of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) electronic auction as Nigerians continue to pick holes in the exercise.

One week after the official launch of the portal by the Comptroller-General of Customs, Hameed Ali, a retired Comptroller of Customs, Ralph Nwadike has called for the suspension of the exercise.

Mr. Nwadike, in a chat with SHIPS & PORTS DAILY, described the ongoing electronic auction by the Service as an “act of impunity” given that there is a pending court case on the matter.

It would be recalled that the Nigerian Association of Auctioneers had dragged the NCS and Ali before a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja over the e-auction. 

In an originating summons, the auctioneers had prayed the court to declare that by virtue of its incorporation, registration and accreditation pursuant to the relevant laws of the federation, an auction sale cannot be conducted by a committee appointed by the NCS.

According to the legal adviser to the association, Wale Yusuf, the Customs lawyer had filed a motion of adjournment at the last court sitting and the matter had been adjourned to September.

Nwadike, who served as Area Controller, Kirikiri Lighter Terminal Command of the NCS before his retirement, said since the matter was had gone to court, Customs had no right to commence the auction of seized goods.

“The auctioneers are in court over the matter and the Customs is trying to defy the court.

“I have always wondered when government agencies will stop all this impunity. They should obey the court order and go and trash the case out.

“Even if Customs say they have a rule, they should go to the court and prove it to the auctioneers that they can do it their own way and prove the law that gave them the power and not acting with impunity and defiling the court regulations. 

“That is the essence of democracy and rule of law. If somebody takes you to court even if you feel you are right, go to court and prove to him that you are right so that there will be calm in the society.

“When the Customs boss was asked to wear uniform, he went to court to say that he was not going to wear uniform. Then the Attorney-General said the Senate could not rule on the matter because it was still in court so why is it that the CG on one platform hides behind the court and on another platform, he defies the court?

“All these acts of impunity that government agencies are bringing up is part of the problem in the country. 

“Since government registers auctioneers and some people are saying we have right not to use them, why is government registering them?

“If you make the auctioneers believe that the court has no power to control any agency, then you are only saying that there is anarchy in the society,” he said.

Nwadike advised that Customs liaise and work more closely with the auctioneers to make the process more transparent.

Meanwhile, Founder, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Boniface Aniebonam has called on the Nigeria Customs Service management to exercise caution in seizure of goods which are later gazetted for auction over minor infractions.

Aniebonam said rather than impound goods over minor infractions; the importer should be asked to pay additional duty to serve as deterrent to others.

He said, “Most of the goods they are selling on auction are not meant to be sold on auction when we understand what trade is.

“Customs need to look at issues with minor infractions in relation to trade. When there is an infraction, there is remedy and the remedy is to get the appropriate duty with penalty to serve as a deterrent but it is like Customs prefers seizing people’s goods.

“If you look at section 46, 47 and 161 of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA), the infraction of concealment, false declaration and wrong declaration of imports is overruled in its entirety when such consignment is placed for Customs examination. 

“If somebody has anything to hide, will he put it on the examination bay? So it overrules that. All that is required to do is to take inventory of the items and if they are traded goods, give additional duty to pay as a deterrent.

“But here we are, those infractions will be there and a proper Customs officer will go ahead and release the goods only for the consignment to be held at the gate or by the Federal Operations Unit and will be later sold on auction.

“A businessman will always find a way to maximize profit, government is very much aware of this and that is why it has the agencies to go and protect the ports. So what reason do you have to connive even when you are under oath to serve the constitution of the country?” 

Aniebonam advised that owners of seized goods be given priority to bid for their seized goods.

“The need to follow the auction code is critical. The owner of the consignment must be given first priority but if he can still not get it, then it can be auctioned to someone else,” he said.  

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