Stakeholders in the maritime industry have doubted the transparency and effectiveness of the electronic auction of seized items that is being undertaken by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS). This is even as they resolved that the system is flawed with favoritism and a complete scam.
Recall that during a press conference which was held at the Customs headquarters in Abuja on the 3rd of July, 2017, the Customs Comptroller General, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), unveiled the electronic auction facility, also known as e-auction and called on interested Nigerians to take advantage of it.
Ali said the e-auction initiative is part of efforts by the Service to eliminate the sharp practices that had characterized the manual auction system, as well as grow its revenue generation capacity.
He, However, added that officers of the NCS are excluded from participating in the electronic auction and that owners of the seized item are also excluded from bidding for them.
Our correspondent gathered that the auction which is supposed to be a regular exercise, was last carried out in 2020.
In August 2020, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) said it auctioned 314 vehicles through its E-Auction platform, adding that the total reserved bid amount was N87.9 million while the total bid amount paid was about N151 million.
However, stakeholders who spoke to Shipping Position Daily last week lamented that the e-auction system has not been transparent, alleging that it is just a platform used by the Customs to share seized items among their cronies.
In a chat with our correspondent, the Secretary General of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Agents (NCMDLCA), Mr Festus Ukwu noted that he has once been given access to the portal, and that he paid N10, 000 to Customs in a designated bank, before he gained access.
He stated that it was very difficult to monitor the auction sales from the portal as the portal is not easily accessible.
Ukwu said the auction is real, but alleged that auctioned items would not be easily sold to bidders without them paying their way through.
Sharing his experience, he told our correspondent that: “I have personally benefited from e-auction. To be able to gain access to the portal, I was asked by Customs to pay the sum of N10, 000 to a designated bank (Jaiz Bank). Sometimes they don’t open the portal easily for you to pay that money. They will open it whenever they want you to get inside and close it back after you have paid. It is not easy to get into the portal to monitor the auction sale. I got into the portal and was monitoring it. Before I could get to that stage, we spent some money to condemn the container, gazette it, before we could get into that auction.”
“In most cases, they just don’t bring out containers for auction anyhow again, because you won’t even know. They are doing the e-auction, but they are doing it among themselves; unless you pay money to get into it. They will ask you to pay before you would even get the auction paper. It is going on, but they share it amongst themselves,” Ukwu alleged.
Also speaking, the National Secretary of Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Mr. Babatunde Mukaila, said there are certified professional auctioneers, who are duly-licensed to perform the functions of auctioning, noting that the Custom management cannot be the judge and the jury in its case.
“I am in agreement that allegedly; it seems it is a scam. Moreover, Customs management cannot be the judge and the jury in the context. There are certified professional Auctioneers duly-licensed to perform this function. It is advisable that the management of Customs stops approbating and reprobating as far as auctioning is concerned,” Mukaila said.
On his part, another freight forwarder; Mr Frank Obiekezie, stressed that instead of impounding items such as rice and distribute to Internally Displaced Persons or exotic cars to Customs cronies, there are better ways of punishing importers who run afoul of the law.
He also lamented that the electronic auction process by the Customs is not transparent enough
“Those who are criticizing it (e-auction) might be right. I have never participated in it before. It did not start today; Customs use it to favour their cronies. I don’t see much sense in auctioning people’s goods which are sometimes not contraband, but were seized due to infractions. There are other ways of punishing people. If they are contraband such as goods against human health or have security implications, they can do whatever they like with them.
“But the idea of impounding rice and taking them to camps of Internally Displaced persons or impounding exotic cars and pretending to be auctioning them, but they are actually giving them to cronies or members of the same service is not right. No matter the system they use, they will still do what they want to do. They can draft people and give them paper but in the real sense of it, the paper belongs to their candidates. This is part of the corruption we are having in this country,” Obiekezie said.
Ton his part, the Acting General Secretary of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Mr Francis Omotosho, said the Customs e-auction process is shady and lacks transparency. He advised that the system needs to be seriously looked into to ensure that it has human-face.
The Public Relations Officer of the Tin Can Chapter of the African Association of Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics of Nigeria (APFFLON), Mr Clinton Okoro, said the electronic auction system is a welcome development but Customs should make sure the items are not sold to the same persons it was seized from or to Customs officers.