Barely 96 hours into the New Year, it’s definitely no longer business as usual for vehicle importers in the country as the ban on importation of vehicles through the land borders comes into force.
Already, the clearing agents are irked by the immediate implications of the policy on their businesses, while the terminal operators were agitating for a reduced tariff to encourage importers utilise the seaports as points of entry.
Some stakeholders that spoke with The Guardian believed that all things being equal, the policy would only increase the spate of smuggling and put the lives of Customs officers at a higher risk.
The Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Seme Chapter, had urged the Federal Government to grant a three-month grace period before enforcing the ban on importation of vehicles through the land borders.
The Chairman of the Association, Alhaji Bisiriyu Danu, said the grace period would enable ships carrying vehicles to berth for clearance before the implementation of the ban.
According to him, if not properly synergised, the ban would create unemployment, increase revenue leakages and could result in massive smuggling.He said that vehicle importation through the land borders had provided employment to over 500,000 graduates, who would have ordinarily been roaming the streets due to unemployment.
“We should not forget that such a policy was employed in the past and it led to serious revenue leakages and massive smuggling along the border areas, which led to concomitant wastage of material resources.
“There are thousands of unapproved access routes through which these consignments can enter the country but at the moment, there has been a measure of compliance so the right channel is being followed.
“All these would change with the effect of the ban. The Federal Government generates enough revenue on vehicle importation as the Seme Customs Area Command alone generates N600 million monthly on vehicle duties.
“However, all that will change with the ban placed on the border importation of automobiles.“The government should consider all these factors including the fact that the country is going through recession and this policy is going to worsen the hardship of Nigerians,” he said.
He argued that the advanced countries were not totally self-sufficient, adding that most Nigerians could not afford to purchase brand new vehicles.The Managing Director, Eyis Resources, Lucky Amiwero, said the seaport is not friendly enough to accept the vehicles that are coming into the country.
He said the same policy was reversed in 2001, by the past government when there was pressure from the borders and the nation was losing billions of naira that could have been earned as revenue.
“The same policy was unbanned by the previous government because we were losing revenue. All the old vehicles were in Cotonou and that policy alone enriches that country. Now we are bringing the policy again when we have failed to address the issues at the ports. If you bring in vehicles to the ports with high costs, how do you sell the vehicles? And the kind of valuation that Customs are giving vehicles at the point of entry, these are the issues we must address,” he said.
Amiwero, lamented that procedures in the port in terms of valuation of vehicles are worrisome, alleging that the Customs are not complying with the valuation principle.
“Government should address the issues of valuation of vehicles; cost of bringing in the consignment into the country; and the entire procedure. That is when you can then start to talk about banning it. Besides, government must understand that it is not every vessel that can come into Nigeria due to shallow draft. Most of the vessels can decide to go to Togo than coming here because of our draft level. Go to Togo, Benin Republic and Cameroon and see how many ships are berthing,” he said.
He said the new mechanism introduced by government cannot work, because “the truth is that we have not looked into what is happening to the local manufacturing sector, and examine the policies before moving forward,”
Another issue raised by Amiwero is the capacity of Customs in handling smuggling activities.“How many drivers do you have in Customs. Even in Seme Boarder alone. Can you spread Customs from the beginning to the end of Seme boarder? Look, our borders are porous, so you should work out mechanisms so that you don’t endanger officers’ lives unnecessarily. People demand these cars and we don’t have mass transit. There is no rail. No ferry transit. These are critical issues.
They should set up a committee involving experts to look into the issue and examine why do we have much cars going to Cotonou,” he stressed.Meanwhile, The Customs Public Relations Officer, Seme Area Command, Selechang Taupyen, said that his command has deployed more officers on patrol to ensure total enforcement of the order.
“We have two approved checkpoints where our men have tightened security. Besides, we have put more men on patrol to make sure the order is fully enforced from January 1, 2017,” he said.