By Bayo Bernard
The President Muhammadu Buhari government has ensured that some unscrupulous politicians do not have their way with the government, particularly when it comes to payment of duties on imported vehicles. This is more so when the politicians are planning to use such vehicles for the 2019 elections. To this end therefore, the federal government has unleashed the Federal Operations Unit, FOU Zone A, Lagos to rein in duty evaders no matter how close they are to the corridors of power.
Compared with immediate past, the FOU, sometimes described as the Police arm of the NCS has been more vibrant with Col. Hameed Ali( rtd) as Controller General.
Thus barely one year after the Nigerian Customs Service intercepted and seized a bulletproof Range Rover Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) reportedly belonging to the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, eagle eyed men of the FOU have again impounded over 50 vehicles brought into the country without the owners paying the necessary duty. Four of the vehicles are bullet proof and are worth over one billion naira.
The N298 million allegedly belonging to the nation’s number three citizen is currently rotting away at the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) yard, nine months after it was impounded. Reliable customs sources informed the magazine that the vehicle which was seized in January this year, is at the facility of the Federal Operations Unit (FOU) Zone A of the Customs in Ikeja.
The NCS has also seized other vehicles from car marts across Lagos and Abuja which are now under the custody of the Service.
Even though the ownership of the vehicles remains a secret, it was learnt that some powerful politicians in the country may have acquired the exotic cars in preparation for the 2019 general election.
According to various security experts who spoke with the magazine the election year is a period when politician normally do everything possible to ensure their safety due to the violence of that period. Therefore, it’s not out of place for politicians to acquire necessary gadget and equipment to enable them have a leverage over their opponents, experts say.
Bullet proof vehicles also known as anti-ballistic vehicles, said Tunde Alebiosu, are necessary acquisition for politicians during the election year. He said such vehicles are needed for campaigns, period when politicians return to their constituencies to seek re-election from voters. During this period, however, he further said most politicians are exposed to violence and risks from their opponents.
Bullet proof cars can serve as immediate protection from gun and physical attacks, he stated.
But the seized vehicles may not serve the purpose of their owners, considering that they are likely to remain in the custody of the Customs for a long time except the owners came forward to pay duty on them. While briefing journalists on the seized vehicles in Lagos, the Area Controller FOU Zone A, Muhammed Uba said the vehicles will not be released until the owners have paid what is due to the federal government.
Uba disclosed that the vehicles were recovered from various car parks in Lagos as a result of intelligence by his men.
Revealing the operations that led to the seizure Garba said “our operatives trailed and evacuated 59 assorted vehicles from car marts in Ikoyi among of which over 40 are 2017 models ranging from Toyota Prado Jeeps, Lexus Jeeps, Toyota Hilux, Toyota Camry, Coaster Bus, Toyota Hiace Bus among others currently under detention awaiting relevant customs document from the dealers within a grace of one month.
“Some are even bullet-proof which require End User Certificates from the Office of the National Security Adviser, NSA.
“We removed these (Bullet Proof) vehicles from a hidden house in Ikoyi while others were gotten from a car park in FESTAC.
The owners will not go unpunished he said because “Investigation will reveal further those behind the clearance of these vehicles and (they) must face the full wrath of the law.”