Customs officials and smugglers work hand in hand – Eburajolo
Victor Eburajolo is Deputy Managing Director, Kelwaram Chanrai Group, franchise dealer of Isuzu, Mitsubishi, Foton Daimler and other automotive brands in Nigeria. In this interview with KINGSLEY JEREMIAH, he discussed the implications of the recent ban of vehicle importation through land borders.
What is your take on the recent announcement by the Federal Government to ban importation of vehicles through land border?
It is easier to get in vehicles through the land borders. But most of them that are coming are smuggled. If you go to Ota, Ogun State, there are several roots smugglers use to bring vehicles into the country. Most of them evade tax and some of the vehicles are stolen vehicles. There are cases where vehicles stolen in the US are tracked to Nigeria. The vehicles are being brought in despite the fact that their papers are not correct. But I think when the Vehicle Identification Scheme commences, we will be able to track vehicles appropriately. It will also help to boost our revenue. Cars come through the borders without payment of duties and people are still able to register them without necessary payment. It is when some of the people are stopped before Nigerians realised that they are carrying fake documents. The process is a serious revenue leakage to government.
One of the basic problem with trade on the continent is the fact that intra Africa trade is not encouraged, don’t you thing the ban is one of such discouragement, looking at the ECOWAS region and the Common External Tariff (CET)?
We need to support the government in doing what is right. Something could be wrong but everything that is wrong benefits somebody but the majority suffers. Let us do what is right. That is my stand. Let us collect our taxes and make goods come in the way they ought to come in. I have always being against CET. What do we produce in West Africa countries? The tariff should only cover things that are manufactured within your borders. You won’t bring things from overseas and they come through your borders and we say they should be bound by common tariff. It is for those things manufactured within the region. Nigeria is one of the only countries that have a good manufacturing in the region. Who then does the CET benefits?
But, when you look at it from the aspect of initiatives that will benefit the people, considering the disparity between naira and dollar and the fact that the consumer bears the total cost after all, don’t you think importing from neighboring countries is ideal?
The land borders are more of smuggling. That is the truth. Instead of the vehicles coming into our country, they take them to Benin and smuggle it into the country. I am not questioning when they bring them in and pay the necessary duties. But trying to separate between those ones who pay duties and those, who don’t pay. I can assure you that more 90 per cent of vehicles coming through the land borders are smuggled.
Should we now say the people are being made to suffer because the customs authorities and immigration agency are unable to carry out their statutory duties?
Let us call a spade a spade. There is connivance between the customs officers and the smugglers. They work hand in hand. But if you have cancer, what do you do? You better cut it off before it kills you. I think Nigeria is being polite by not saying we should close the borders. We have no shame as a country anymore. The main reason why I support the ban is because they don’t pay duties. Customs is at the borders, but these goods still come in. You see some sedan vehicles that look like tractor; they are specially made for smuggling rice. These vehicles come and in a space of two minutes they leave the borders. We are all suffering because of the corruption in federal government agencies. They are all busy generating revenue for themselves. Even motorcycles are being reconstructed to smuggle rice. And yet you see all the agencies at the borders. It is only the one that escapes them that they pursue to Badagry roundabout. These things will still keep coming in. Should we now say the ban is a way of paying Peter to rub Paul? It will reduce the volume of smuggling.
Do you think the new car market and the tokumbo market are in competition?
No. But people prefer tokumbo because of the cost. A young man bought a Toyota Corolla two years ago for about N800 thousand, few weeks ago he sold the same car for N1.3 million.
Considering that the economic situation may continue for a while and the fact people’s purchasing power favour tokunbo vehicles, as well as the fact that Nigeria lacks sustainable public transportation system, what sustainable plan would you advise government to put in place since people need mobility to fuel the economy?
If we have a good public transport system in place, the issue of tokumbo cars won’t be there. In Lagos, those who stay in the Ikorodu axis ride in good air-conditioned buses. Most of the people, who live there don’t really use their cars because it affordable and faster for them. With the buses you are able to move from Ikorodu to CMS in less than an hour, but if you put your car on the road you may spend three hours. This makes it very clear that public transportation system is what we require. The automotive council is also working on vehicle finance scheme. If Nigerians must be able to buy cars there must be facilities from the banks at a low interest rate. But I think the economy will pick up early in the year because the price of oil is beginning to go up. I expect that from the end of the first quarters, the naira will appreciate.
The industry shrank to the lowest this year in terms of sales, assemblage and employment, what do you think is responsible?
People are not buying vehicles. In a situation like ours, you only go for the basic things just to survive. You have not been able to pay your rent, so buying vehicle is not a priority. Secondly, since the serious depreciation in the naira, there is a surge in the prices of vehicles. Who is going to buy? When there is low market you cannot produce because you produce to meet demand. Whether you are assembly them here or import, there is a little difference because you are bringing them in in dollar.