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The Red chambers  on Tuesday ordered the Nigeria Customs Service
(NCS) to halt its recent order directing all vehicle owners to visit the
nearest NCS zonal offices to verify the payment of their vehicles’ customs
duties within one month or face dire consequences.

The upper legislative chamber
therefore ordered the agency to suspend the directive until it has duly
appeared before the Senate to brief it on the rationale behind the move.

Raising under Order 42 of the
Senate Standing Rules, Deputy Majority Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah, who described
the NCS circular as ridiculous, said the agency failed to present a clear-cut
guidelines on which category of vehicles would be affected by the directive.

According to Na’Allah, the
implementation of such ambiguous circular will create a huge discomfort for
innocent Nigerians, bearing in mind that it has already caused significant anxiety
among citizens.

Against this background, the Senate
ordered the NCS to suspend all moves towards implementing the directive and
also resolved to engage the Service with a view to ensuring that it comes up
with acceptable policies to Nigerians in a typical democratic setting.

“Mr. president, the basis for being
here as parliamentarians is to define the rule of engagement between us and
those who elected us into this very, very coveted office, to the effect that we
would all swear to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution of the Federal
Republic of Nigeria and the law. We already have an existing law called the
Nigerian Customs Service,” he said.

While describing the directive as
ridiculous, Na’Allah challenged his colleagues to uphold the oath they swore to
by resisting any obnoxious policy meant to further complicate life for the
already troubled Nigerians.

According to him, it was the
responsibility of the NCS to ensure the verification of customs duty at the
right time, insisting that any attempt to shift the task of such verification
to Nigerians must be absolutely rejected.

“Mr. President, by that law, we are
all aware that the area of operation specifically designated for this service
is principally our borders and we are aware of the fact that this is the
situation and unable to find the specific provision of the law that the
comptroller of customs relied upon to issue this circular.

“I think we have a compelling need
to protect the Nigerian public against this arbitrariness. I ask if I buy a car
eight years back for example, duly registered and I live in Sokoto, and then,
you require me to come to Kaduna to know whether my customs duty is authentic
or not. What you are requiring from me is even outside the provision of the
law.

“It is the responsibility of the
Nigerian customs to verify this document and if they now shift it back to the
citizens to determine whether what they have is authentic or not, I think it’s
sufficiently ridiculous to call the attention of this Senate to say no to this
kind of arbitrariness,” Na’Allah stated.

The circular issued by one Joseph
Auta last week on behalf of the NCS had stated that the Comptroller-General of
Customs, Hameed Ali, advised all persons in possession of vehicles to seize the
opportunity of available grace period of March 13 to April 12, 2017, to pay up
their appropriate duties to avoid being victims of aggressive anti-smuggling
operations.

The anti-smuggling operations, the
circular added, would witness the prosecution of owners of perceived smuggled
vehicles after the expiration of deadline on April 12.

Na’Allah recalled how the circular
further stated that “for the avoidance of doubts, all private car owners who
are not sure of their authenticity of their vehicles’ customs documents can
approach the zonal office to verify with a view to complying with the
provisions of the law”.

Supporting the motion, Deputy
Senate President Ike Ekweremadu highlighted the excesses and outrageous
policies of NCS as he recalled how the Senate last week adopted a motion
decrying the harassment of traders in Sango-Otta, Ogun State, by men of the
Customs who violently took away purchased items from the market under the guise
of non-payment of appropriate customs duties.

He said it was unfortunate that the
Senate was yet considering another outrageous move of the agency which he said
was attempting to foist illegality on the citizenry in its drive to generate
more revenues.

He also said the NCS lacked the
power to impose punishment on Nigerians over deeds committed in the past,
arguing that even though the constitution vests the National Assembly with the
power to make laws for the federation, the legislative institution does not
possess the power to impose penalty on anyone over perceived wrongs of the past
and much less a mere agency like the NCS.

“Today, we have been inundated
again with another development where owners of cars bought many years ago are
being asked to come back and show customs papers or pay appropriate customs
duties. Let me also say that we share the concerns of the customs boss on raising
revenue to run our country but unfortunately it cannot be at the expense of
common sense and illegality.

“Government is run on the
principles of checks and balances. It is our responsibility to call the
executive to order where recklessness is introduced in governance of any
country and I believe that our constitution is clear on who does what at any
time. If you look at Section 4 (1) of our constitution, it states that the
executive power of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be vested in the National
Assembly of the federation which shall consist of the Senate and House of
Representatives.

“It does not include the Customs.
Not even the National Assembly itself can impose punishment on crime that was
committed years ago. It cannot happen. If we cannot do that, the Customs cannot
do that either. What they are doing is totally unacceptable and we must say no
to it,” Na’Allah insisted.

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