SaharaReporters has learned that the Nigerian Senate’s current war
against the leadership of the Nigerian Customs Service has its roots in
the fact that Customs officials seized a bulletproof Range Rover Sports
Utility Vehicle (SUV) owned by Senate President Bukola Saraki.
Investigators discovered that Nigerian Customs officers in Lagos had on
January 11, 2017, intercepted and impounded a Range Rover SUV which
carried documents that claimed its chassis number was
Customs sources sais that the value of the car was N298 million, which
meant that customs duty of N74 million should have been paid on the car.
At the interception of the car, its driver claimed that the vehicle
belonged to the Senate President and presented a letter from the
National Assembly liaison office in Lagos, indicating that the driver of
the luxury vehicle was authorized to drive the Senate President’s
official Range Rover bulletproof car.
Sources disclosed that when asked to show evidence of duty payment and
an end-user certificate from the office of the National Security
Adviser—a document required for bulletproof vehicles—the driver
presented documents that were found to be fake. The reportedly fake
documents provided by the driver indicated that a measly customs duty of
N8 million was paid on the car. Customs officials said that, apart from
the fact the customs duty was extremely low, they also determined that
the presented document itself was fake. They consequently seized the
Later the same day, January 17, 2017, the Senate sent a letter signed by
one Architect O.A. Ojo acting as the Secretary of Procurement, Estate,
and Works of the National Assembly, requesting the release of the
vehicle, which he claimed belonged to the convoy of the “Senate”. In its
response, the Nigerian Customs sent a letter signed by its Othman, A.S.
Comptroller, Import and Export, the letter dated January 24 2017, again
requested for the end user certificate as well as evidence of proper
clearance before the vehicle could be released. Neither Mr. Saraki nor
the National Assembly provided the required documents.
Investigations by SaharaReporters showed that the documents used by Mr.
Saraki and the National Assembly to clear the car impounded by the
Nigerian Customs might not belong to the vehicle or was outrightly
forged. In addition, Senator Saraki and the National Assembly apparently
undervalued the car by more than 50% to enable them to avoid paying
proper customs duty.
When our investigators checked on the website of Range Rover, they
discovered that the vehicle whose paperwork was being used to drive the
impounded car from Lagos to Abuja was manufactured in the UK in 2014.
The price tag on that car was $142,000, but the importer gave the value
as $64,516. The exchange rate at the time of car importation was N155 to
$1. Curiously, the Customs officials that cleared the car passed it off
as a “used” car, although the car was cleared in March 2103 customs
papers clearly stated it was a 2014 car, which clearly meant it was a
brand new car that should have attracted higher duty.
Shortly after the seizure of the car, the Nigerian Senate mounted a
vigorous attack on the Nigerian Customs Service, demanding that the
agency stops any further efforts to confiscate vehicles found to have
evaded payment of duties. The senators also summoned the
Comptroller-General of Customs, Hameed Ali, to appear before the Senate.
In the letter of invitation, the senators specified that Mr. Ali, a
retired Army Colonel, must wear the official Customs uniform when he
appeared before them. Mr. Ali has so far refused to heed the order to
wear the Customs uniform.
Customs sources told SaharaReporters that the shady practice of
importing vehicles meant for personal use with fake documents was
widespread among Nigerian public officials, especially senators. The
sources suggested that the attempt by Mr. Ali to check the practice had
provoked the ferocious attacks against the Customs Service and its
leadership. “Some highly placed Nigerians have for many years been
evading the payment of proper duties on their imported luxury cars. They
want to continue to get away with their habit which denies Nigerians a
lot of revenues,” a senior official of the Customs Service claimed.
The Senate has forced Mr. Ali and the Nigerian Customs to suspend the
policy of checking automobiles to ensure compliance with appropriate
levels of duty. The senators’ stance has been popular with Nigerians who
view the Customs as a pest on businessmen and women. However, our
investigative findings also expose the fact that the attacks on the
Customs have been inspired, and often led, by high profile Nigerians
implicated in the use of fake customs papers to import cars and other
luxury items into the country.