The Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service Hameed Ali, has traced the genesis of the lingering crisis between him and Senators of the federal republic to the suspension of waivers, reduction or non-payment of duties on imported items to highly-placed Nigerians and influential politicians.
Col. Ali stated this at an interactive session with reporters in Abuja.
The Customs boss said the law is clear on what should be paid as import duties on imported goods, adding that the rich mostly import exotic cars and luxury goods with the belief that they can always get waivers due to their status.
He said: “With regards to the importation of high valued goods, including cars, it happened in the past. Our big men from the political arena used to bring in vehicles. In some cases, it is cleared for them. They just dump the Bill of Lading and walk away and the vehicles are cleared and delivered to them.
“There is no way we can allow it to happen. I am sitting here, by virtue of Section 171 of the Constitution which gave Mr. President to appoint anybody. If my coming will not add value to what Customs does, then I have no business being here. I don’t think the President would have appointed me if he knew that my coming will create an avenue for business as usual.
“There is an idea behind my posting to Customs. It is to make sure that those ills that have been identified are blocked as much as possible. So, I have done that to the extent to which we can with the cooperation that I have gotten from the management and officers.
“But I must say also that there is no way that I can beat my chest and say 100 per cent all customs are compliant. The true position is that yes, when I came in, one of the most difficult task was to deal with our own big men in quote, not only in the line of import but also area of vehicle importation but also our big time business men.
“We discovered that they have in the past, created a situation whereby they are the beneficiaries of waivers and concessions. Huge amount of money is lost through waivers and concessions and when I came in, that was one area I felt we should not let go because if John is allowed to hoard things as a trader and he is made to pay duty, why should Ali, because he is a big business man that has status in the society be given waiver when the law is clear about it?
“And so, we decided we were going to face that area squarely and make sure that everybody is made to pay duty and I think the President agrees with us and the political will is behind us. As at today, apart from the statutory waivers which the law allows, the President since his arrival has not approved a single waiver. And so we have been able to stop it.”
Meanwhile, an Abuja-based lawyer, Mohammed Ibrahim, has approached a Federal High Court in Abuja, seeking an order to restrain the National Assembly from compelling retired Col. Ali from wearing uniform.
Ibrahim is seeking a declaration of the court that the oversight functions of the National Assembly did not extend to compelling, mandating and enforcing Col. Ali, who is the first defendant in the suit to wear uniform before performing his duties.
Last Thursday on the red chamber’s invitation, Ali appeared before the senate in mufti to defend the proposed implementation of the controversial policy on payment of import duty on old vehicles but was turned back and ordered to return today in Customs uniform