By Obiejesi Kingsley
A group of lawyers known as Public Interest Lawyers League, PILL, has faulted the proposed Auto Duty Payment Policy, which will soon be enforced by the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, after the expiration of a one-month grace period – March 13 to April 12.
Chairman of the group, Abdul Mamud, made this known on Wednesday in Abuja during an interview with icirnigeria.org.
The legal practitioner described the Custom’s initiative as contrary to section 37 of the Customs act, and an abuse of office.
Mamud acknowledged that the Customs has the powers to determine the duty that an importer is supposed to pay for goods imported into the country.
He also agreed that the NCS can at any point in time demand that an importer presents evidence that duty has been paid for goods that they have in their possession.
But he insisted that the Customs act did not in any way transfer the burden of payment of import duty on the consumer or the person who had purchased a product, saying that for the Customs authority to do so is against the law.
He said: “We find it very worrisome that the Nigerian Customs Service and its leadership have not read section 37 of the Customs and Excise Management Act under which they purportedly are now exercising their powers.
“The section specifically refers to importers not private vehicle owners.
“When they mention private vehicle owners, inadvertently, they are bringing second, third to hundred, even infinitum end users of goods that are imported into our country.
“The Customs act is very silent on who pays import duty or customs duty where it is established that the importer has not paid the customs duty.
“If the Nigerian Customs is exercising its powers under section 37, what that section allows in three grounds: go into the warehouses of importers, where you cannot go into the warehouses of importers, when these goods are
found in their possession, it is the responsibility of the importer to show a designated customs officer evidence that he has paid the customs duty. That is what the law says.
“The law does not mention private vehicle owners.”
Mamud said the PILL is writing to the Comptroller General, CG, of Customs, Hameed Ali, to draw his attention to the relevant sections of the Customs and Excise Act so that he could clarify to Nigerians under which provisions of the act that he is exercising his powers.
Also, the legal practitioner criticized the new adjustment announced by the NCS on Wednesday, which indicated that there would be a 60% rebate on duty payments accruable to vehicles imported into the country from 2015
downwards, if the owners paid up within the one-month grace period.
Mamud said that the reductions would be illegal as the law does not give the Customs CG such powers to reduce import duty.
“The law says that where an importer is found not to have paid customs duty on the goods, let’s assume that the good here is a 2012 Honda, that was imported into Nigeria in 2012.
“And if it’s found in 2017 not to have paid the customs duty on that car in 2012, the law says he must pay the customs duty at the time the car was imported.
“So if anybody is arrested for driving a car without customs duty, the papers of the car must reflect the year that car was imported. The duty that the Customs must impose on that individual is the duty that ought to have been paid when the car was imported into Nigeria, not the new 2017 duty.
“If the Comptroller General of Customs had read section 37, he would have known that he has no such powers to reduce duty payments.”
Mamud further said that the NCS has only succeeded in shooting itself in the foot by trying to make the Nigerian people bear the brunt of their inefficiency.
“If they say they are pursuing people with fake customs duties, how did these cars land on our roads?
“How were they cleared from our wharfs and from our ports,” Mamud wondered.
“What the Customs is invariably doing is to cover their mess and impose a new regime of hell on poor Nigerians.”
He added that the new policy would further empower other law enforcement agencies to harass Nigerians in the guise of payment of customs duty.
Mamud advised Nigerians who may fall victim of the new duty payment policy to sue the Customs to court, adding that his group, PILL is also preparing to take legal actions on the matter if the response from the Customs CG is not satisfactory.