‘Customs’ raids Legal, yielding Results’
• FIRS/EFCC Joint Taskforce rakes in N28. 51b, $77. 83m from Tax Defaulters
by Ibrahim Apekhade Yusuf, Lagos and Nduka Chiejina, Abuja
Contrary to claims in some quarters, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) may not have run afoul of the law in carrying out the recent raids at several car marts, automobile companies and hotel premises across major cities of the country, The Nation can authoritatively report.
Independent checks by The Nation on Customs’ website shows that the Nigeria Customs Service Act, 2013, empowers officers, “For the purpose of carrying out or enforcing the provisions of the Customs and excise laws, all officers shall have the same powers, authorities and privileges as are given by law to police officers.”
The Act further states that “The Customs service may, without previous notice and at any time enter any place, premises, or means of conveyance and make such examination and inquiry as deemed necessary where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a Customs and excise offence has occurred.
“For a Customs officer to execute his duties under this section, he shall obtain from the Comptroller-General or his designee written authorisation to enter any place or premises or means of conveyance and shall, on demand by any person concerned, produce a copy of the written authorisation.”
It would be recalled that the Customs had begun a nationwide raid on car dealer shops to seize vehicles suspected to have evaded import duty on them.
Customs men raid had last week escalated its crackdown on car dealers who allegedly defaulted in payment of duties, as it took its operations nationwide to the Federal Capital Territory and other states in the North, including Kaduna, Kano, Ilorin, Sokoto and Kebbi, where it sealed about 110 car shops. Operatives of the Federal Operations Unit, Zone ‘B’ in Kaduna led the operation.
The development came barely a week after some car marts were sealed in Lagos, Ibadan and other Southwest states, with the owners asked to pay up over N2 billion owed the federal government in Customs duties.
Justifying the raid, a statement by the Customs’ Public Relations Officer (PRO), Deputy Comptroller Joseph Attah, clarified what it described as misinformation about the operation.
It said: “Our operatives, relying on intelligence that owners of some exotic cars (including bullet proof) without duty payment quickly removed their vehicles from a car mart and took same to Fraser Hotel, Abuja.
“On arrival at the hotel, our operatives interacted with the manager and eventually left with four vehicles leaving six behind, while expecting the manager to provide the keys to the cars left behind. However, the manager this morning gave a written undertaking to produce a Customs vehicle duty payment documents to support his claim that the vehicles were not smuggled,” it noted.
NCS said the Service assured the manager of prompt release of the seized vehicles as soon as evidences of appropriate duty payments are presented. Attah in the statement further clarified that the operation had nothing to do with guests at the hotel and did not wake the guests up to identify the vehicles.
In a related development, the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) Joint Tax Force (JTF) introduced in 2018 to enhance the fight against tax related economic fraud, has recorded some modest successes.
Available information obtained by our correspondent as at December 2018 a total of N6. 94 billion and $278,430 had been recovered by the JTF.
The Nation learnt that from the Bank Accounts Substitution Exercise, the FIRS used banking information to bring non-compliant taxpayers with N1 billion and above turnover to comply, the FIRS is targeting N750 billion.
So far the actions of the tax authority have so far resulted in the recovery of N23.35 billion. The exercise has been extended to cover those with turnover of N100 million and above.
According to the Executive Chairman of the FIRS Mr. Babatunde Fowler, “to date, about 500 of them have come forward and they have paid and we have collected in the region of about N24 billion. We believe we should be able to go through the 55,000 before the middle of this year which will be the 30th of June. In terms of estimates, which we should be able to generate from this exercise alone, that will be about N750 billion.”
The FIRS Chairman also revealed that through enforcement activities in respect of defaulting taxpayers from various tax offices, tax audit and investigation assessments, FIRS has generated the sums of N28. 51 billion and $77. 83 million respectively.
“This project which initially targeted property owners in Abuja and Lagos has so far yielded N4.3 billion, and is being extended to other locations. In this regard, Oyo and Kaduna states have commenced.”
Speaking on the renewed revenue drive by the FIRS and Customs, Kenneth Erikume, a Partner and head of tax reporting and strategy at PwC Nigeria and West Market Area, in a position paper titled, “Nigerian tax predictions for 2019,” observed that the factors that impacted on tax collection in 2018 remain relevant in 2019. These include the grant of tax incentives, weak revenue administration capacity to deal with evasion and lack of data especially around the informal sector.
“This would result in a lot of aggression on the larger corporate taxpayers who declare the taxes of their staff under PAYE which accounts for up to 80% of the revenue of many states until they embrace technology for tax administration and revisit their strategy to tax High Networth Individuals and the informal sector.”