Auction Sales: Ali Walks Tight Rope
BY EGUONO ODJEGBA
The last may not have been heard about the allegation of auction racketeering of posh vehicles to cronies and family members of the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd).
Just as Nigerians have probably started to forget about the damning allegation that suggested that the customs helmsman may have been enmeshed in some dirty deals over seized vehicles by the customs service only few months ago, the matter has again flared as his accuser; the Nigerian Association of Licensed Auctioneers (NALA) has insisted that Ali is guilty and should be probed.
NALA’s President, Musa Kura Abubakar, this week again stirred the hornet’s nest when he reaffirmed his allegations during a radio programme on Ray Power, claiming his association has evidences of the corrupt transactions; and challenged Ali to a public debate.
However, the NCS have has urged Nigerians to discountenance the auctioneers claims noting they are fabricated, and advised Abubakar and his group to make public the evidences of their allegations at their disposal, or else shut up.
According to NALA, the beneficiaries of the auction racketeering the Customs CG family members, friends and cronies, said to have picked the vehicles at a ridiculous N10, 000 per car.
Abubakar explained that NALA has already petitioned the customs boss before the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, the Federal Ministry of Finance, and relevant committees of the Senate and House of Representatives.
He further disclosed that the group has documents showing that the CG auctioned about 338 exotic vehicles at a total of N3.7million and another 53 vehicles at about N330, 000, which comes to less than N10, 000 per unit of vehicle, a development he argued was a fraud against the nation.
He urged the relevant departments of government to probe the alleged deal, even as he challenged the customs helmsman to a public debate, if he denies the allegation.
Abubakar said: “There is so much acts of impunity by the CG of Customs. Nigeria has laws and processes guiding the auctioning of such vehicles and not for one man to allocate them almost free to his friends and cronies.
“There is also a regulatory agency for auctioning in Nigeria, which is the Bureau of Public Procurement BPP and we are sure that this agency does not know anything about the sale of such vehicles at such ridiculously low prices.
“We are once again challenging Col. Ali to a debate on this and we will not stop until justice is done concerning this matter and that anyone that has a hand in this economic crime must not be allowed to go unpunished because this racketeering in the sale of seized vehicles has gone on for a very long time and we will not allow it to continue.”
It is believed that the Senate Committee on Public Procurement, one of the state organs petitioned by NALA has fixed November 23, 2022 for a public hearing on the matter.
It would be recalled that Col. Ali scrapped the auction system he inherited on the ground that it was corruptly administered and set up an e-auction system that runs on online platform where vehicles to be auctioned are displayed for public bid.
Winners of the bids are provided account details to pay for the vehicles within stipulated time frame. Thereafter, the successful bidders are issued with clearance papers to take delivery of allocations from designated customs locations, again within given time frame or else lose the bid.
The aggrieved auctioneers argue that Customs should conduct the auction of the vehicles based on open competitive bidding as enshrined in the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) Act, 2007.
Section 55 (3) (5) of the BPP Act stipulates that open competitive bidding shall be the primary source of receiving offers for the purchase of any public property offered for sale.
“For the purposes of this Act, public property is defined as resources in the form of tangible and non-tangible assets (ranging from serviceable to the unserviceable).
Musa Abubakar had earlier identified some of the beneficiaries of the alleged selective direct auction, alleging lack of transparency and accountability in the process; while showing official letters presented by the customs service for some of the transactions.
One of such letters, supposedly from the NCS to a company, AMEX West Africa Limited and dated March 25, 2022, with reference number: NCS/ADM/MGT/012/S.2/C, signed by the Chairman, Direct Disposal of Scraps Committee, Comptroller A.D Sanusi, titled, ‘Direct auction allocation of scrap vehicles and other items, allegedly indicated that 338 vehicles were sold for N3,380,000.
The letter reads: ‘’I am directed to inform you that the Comptroller-General of Customs, acting on the provisions of Customs and Exercise Management (Disposal of goods) Act, CAP C46, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, hereby allocates the under-listed 338 lots of various scrap vehicles domiciled at Katsina State Area Command to your company as auction sales for the purpose of disposal, smelting and fabrication into raw materials for production valued at N3,380,000 only.”
NALA’s allegations have also thrown up speculations that the new e-auction regime believed to have unavoidable somersaults was jettisoned, allegedly for another clandestine system, dubbed autocratic in which the Customs CG is allegedly the sole administrator.
Recall also that when the matter came up earlier in the year, the customs service explained that only unserviceable vehicles were been auctioned through direct sales to achieve two main purpose. One to keep customs premises neat and safe; and two, to eliminate economic wastages as the auctioned items have economic values which if left unattended to will amount to wastages.
According to the Customs National Public Relations Officer (NPRO), Deputy Comptroller Timi Bomodi, the vehicles in question are no more than scraps, which he argued can only be recreated into raw materials for other economic value through smelting.
“The vehicles we auctioned through direct sales were all scraps. They are vehicles used by smugglers which are purposely built for their nefarious activities. These vehicles are damaged beyond repairs and the service could not upload such vehicles on its auction portal to the general public.
“That was why we sold them directly at very ridiculously low prices to iron smelting companies who will melt them into iron. These vehicles littered all our commands in the country and are constituting environmental nuisance.
“So we needed to evacuate them from those places for the safety of our officers who are constantly being faced with the danger of attacks from snakes and other dangerous reptiles which hide under the cover of these scrap vehicles”, Bomodi declared.
Bomodi faulted the NALA narrative as false and challenged its executives to make public the touted evidence at its disposal; or to keep quiet.
However, Bomodi stated that the auctioneers were only being mischievous and clever by half in their claims as the vehicles auctioned through the direct disposal method were actually scraps and not branded as such.
He disclosed that Customs still conducts open bidding auction exercises on its auction portal.
“The last time we conducted the auction of serviceable vehicles on our portal was early this year and another round of the exercise will soon be conducted” he disclosed.
Findings by our reporter indicate that the CEMA also gives express powers to the customs to engage in direct auction sales as indeed by any other form of procedure at the discretion of customs leadership.
It is however not immediately clear if Ali’s action is in tandem with the overall rules or not; and or if the evidences available to the aggrieved auctioneers contradicts the claims of the customs that what it auctioned were damaged and unserviceable vehicles.