Customs and the sale of second-hand cars

Casmir Igbokwe

First published Sept. 6, 2009

There is a book, published by the London-based Catholic Truth Society, which contains prayers that couples are expected to say before sex. Part of the prayers urges God to place within couples, love that truly gives, self-offering that tells the truth and does not deceive, loving physical union that welcomes…

Though this is not about couples or sex, I wish to recommend the spirit behind the prayers to the Comptroller-General of Customs, Alhaji Abdullahi Dikko, and other officers and men of the Nigerian Customs Service.

Last week, I narrated my experience in the hands of fraudsters who advertised cars for sale in THISDAY Newspaper of August 24, 2009. After the publication, I got over 200 reactions from those who had suffered the same fate and some other Nigerians. Some of these reactions wondered why the authorities of Customs had not deemed it necessary to make a public statement about this issue. Some are actually of the opinion that some men of the paramilitary service cannot be totally exonerated from the scam. (See readers’ court page).

The silence of the Customs has made me think along this line. For one, this scam did not start today. According to the testimonies of some readers, it’s been on for over two years now. And even after my write-up last Sunday, the same advert appeared on page 10 of THISDAY of September 1, 2009.

The format is the same but with different phone numbers. In the August 24 edition of the advert, a Toyota Prado 2004 model went for N1.5m while a Toyota Highlander 2005 model went for N1.4m. In the one published last Tuesday, the advertisers further reduced the prices apparently to attract more preys. Prado was reduced to N1.3m while Highlander now goes for N1.3m. The price change also affected other cars.

I detailed a female colleague of mine to call the advertised numbers (07037096556, 08050707959) for purchase enquiries. At first, the man who received the call said the cars had been sold out. But when the lady showed much interest, he wanted to know who she was. She told him she was Jumoke, a banker. Apparently feeling that his trap has caught a mugu, he told her to apply for allocations to the same Customs Area Controller at Federal Secretariat building, Bodija Ibadan. When the lady wanted to know his name, he introduced himself as Samuel Enai, personal assistant to the Area Controller. His email address, he says, is samuelenai@yahoo.com.

Further enquiries with the Customs in Ibadan indicated that there was no such personal assistant named Samuel Enai. What worries me is why the Customs hierarchy has not bothered to alert the public about this scam.

Perhaps, the Customs boss, Dikko, is still preoccupied with the case involving him and one Olajide Ibrahim over certificate forgery. Olajide had sworn an affidavit at Ikeja High Court alleging that Dikko approached him sometime in 1995 and 1999 to help him forge some certificates, which he allegedly needed to get rapid promotion. Though Dikko, in an advertorial placed by his counsel, Chuks Nwanna & co. refuted the allegation, Nigerians are eagerly waiting for the outcome of this latest case.

Just as Dikko came out publicly to deny forging any certificate, his organisation also needs to let Nigerians know its involvement in this advertised sale of cars.

The Customs boss should also endeavour to bring sanity into his agency. Many banned goods have found their way into the country. Smugglers seem to be having a field day, though occasionally, Customs officers display some rotten frozen fish and textile materials seized from some unfortunate smugglers. The International Centre for Reconciliation in England recently estimated that there were about one million firearms in civilian hands throughout Nigeria. Lagos, the centre noted, was the major clearing point for these illegal arms. And this is with the connivance of Customs officers.

Even when some of these goods, especially second-hand cars, are successfully smuggled into the country, the same Customs officers erect checkpoints on major roads to either impound them or collect huge sums of money from the owners.

Dikko needs to find practical solutions to the problems of his men. Since Nigerians believe so much in prayers, he may take a cue from the prayer for couples and kneel down to pray for inspiration and courage to tackle the rot in the Customs.

Goodbye Gani

Like a thief, death came yesterday to snatch the fiery Lagos lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi from the shores of this planet. His death at 71 has left a vacuum in the struggle to salvage Nigeria from the clutches of oppression, bad governance and injustice.

He was one man who was willing to lay down his life for the good of the country. He was moved from one detention centre to another by successive military regimes in Nigeria. Ironically, Ibrahim Babangida who gave him much of the troubles was among the first to shed crocodile tears on his death.

Hear him, “It is disheartening and utterly discomforting to learn of the death of our own indefatigable, irrepressible and highly principled social crusader Chief Ganiyu Fawehinmi, who devoted better part of his life fighting for improved standards, good governance and rule of law. He was a man who lived his own peculiar life and fought battles without boundaries. Surely, there can never be another Gani Fawehinmi in Nigeria in the near future…”

True. But Gani could have lived longer if not for the dictators who were not comfortable with his crusades. It’s possible, as has been suggested by those close to Gani, that they sprayed some chemical on him while in detention, which now engendered the cancer that led to his death.

No doubt, many Nigerians will miss this dogged fighter of our time. As Nigerians grapple with the problems of existence, there is need for another Gani who will fight selflessly for the people of this country. Can we still get somebody like that?

Until such a person emerges, goodbye Gani.

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