With the ban on importation of vehicles through land borders by the Federal Government taking a toll on smugglers, Republic of Niger has become a new route for the illegal business, BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports.
The ban on importation of vehicles through land border and Federal Government’s automotive policy, which attracts 70 per cent duties, have fueled the number of smuggled vehicles through porous routes in the northern part of the country.
Investigation by New Telegraph revealed that smugglers are routing vehicles imported from Cotonou Port in Republic of Benin into Nigeria through Republic of Niger daily.
It was revealed that car dealers were using the illegal routes after paying all legal dues in Cotonou Port before driving to Niger Republic to settle that country’s taxes and levies then move them to Nigeria.
Also, it was gathered that the dealers move their vehicles in convoy, tactically through Maradi and Maimujiya towns in Niger Republic to Nigeria before routing them to their final destinations.
It would be recalled that in November 2017, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Sokoto Command, comprising Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara states, seized 39 vehicles illegally routed through the two neighbouring countries.
Just two weeks ago, NCS operatives impounded no fewer than 150 Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) hidden in a premises in Sokoto State.
Also, the service raided a warehouse in Sokoto and impounded 48 vehicles last week.
The vehicles were unlawfully imported into the country through Niger Republic from Cotonou Port.
The vehicles, made up of old model Lexus (2007 model) and Toyota Avensis (2005 model), were seized from a member of Sokoto branch of Car Dealers Association of Nigeria (CDAN), Mukhtar Muhammed, a.k.a Mafia.
According to Customs’ records in Sokoto and Abuja, the vehicles were imported into the country in batches between December 2017 and March 2018, without paying the necessary charges to Customs.
Area Comptroller of Sokoto Command, Alhaji Nasir Ahmed, said that the service was calculating the duties the smuggler would pay to government with necessary penalties.
Already, the leadership of the car dealers association has been making frantic efforts to raise the fines.
A vehicle dealer, who spoke to our reporter on condition of anonymity at Idiroko border, said that the trade was no longer lucrative at all the border communities from Ogun to Kwara states because of the obstacles put in place by the NCS to frustrate them.
He noted that vehicle importation from Cotonou Port through Idiroko and other approved routes has reduced when compared to the past.
The dealer noted: “When you bring your vehicles to the country in the night, you just discover that Customs officials enter your premises and tow the vehicle away. Informants are everywhere and you can’t know them. This is the only trade we know how to do here and this is why some people have decided to route all their imports through Niger before coming to Nigeria.
“It is now difficult to register any vehicle imported through the land border in Ogun and Lagos states licensing offices. You can’t even pay duty on any car brought through the border. Customs has dropped two or three lines in some licensing offices where they will confirm whether the vehicle passed through the port or border. Once it is not from the port, they will go after you and impound it.”
The dealer also confirmed that people smuggle vehicles into the country daily through Niger Republic to bring vehicles to the country.
According to him, “once your vehicles arrive, you register them in one of the northern states before moving it down. This is the only option some people are exploiting and in some cases some of the vehicles have been intercepted because of poor documentation.”
Also, a clearing agent, identified simply as Evangelist, explained that vehicle importers had been facing had times in Ogun State borders since commencement of the ban in 2017.
This is the reason people prefer to use the northern part of the country as alternative route for smuggling.
He noted that the only moving trade they are identified with is vehicle importation, adding that it would be difficult to leave the business.
Evangelist confirmed that Customs had blocked all the avenues they were using in the past to perfect their imports.
Because of the challenges, he explained that some vehicle importers and clearing agents had started relocating from the Ogun border communities to other states.
The customs agent stressed that N1,000 now being exchanges for 617 Cfa (Communaute Financere Africaine), thereby making business difficult at the border.
“Presently, Benin businessmen and their government are feeling the pain too,” he said.
According to him, the Federal Road Safety Corps lackes the capacity to identify whether a car was shipped through the seaport or land borders.
He added: “The rate of trans-border crime around the communities is on the increase because people are no longer doing anything. The only trade we know is car dealing business and the business is not there again. Some of my colleagues cannot cope with clearing jobs at the seaport because they have not been doing it. This is the major problem.”
Reacting, spokesman of Customs’ anti- smuggling unit, Mr. Jerry Attah, explained that Customs no longer collecting duties on vehicle imported from land border.
He noted that any vehicle imported through the land border would be seized by the service.
Government should review the auto policy, which is currently creating jobs and revenue for other countries