By Uche Ezeh
Nearly a year ago, one of my brothers who owns a Toyota dealership in Lagos – with branches in Abuja and Port Harcourt, had an urgent business need to move 3 brand-new 2019 Lexus Lx 570 from the Lagos office to Port Harcourt by road. The vehicles were traveling in a convoy of 5, including 2 loaded police escort trucks. It was a routine trip for the team and the roads were mostly kind until they got to a section of the Benin-Ore Expressway.
Suddenly, they were confronted by an unusually large team of heavily armed custom officers and some soldiers who had stacked that particular portion of the highway with several deadly barriers. The mobile policemen traveling with the SUVs were all seasoned officers who had received extra de-escalation training, especially applicable when dealing with fellow law enforcement types. They would only discharge their service weapons when the occasion truly called for it. So, they stood down and allowed the custom officers to scrutinize the vehicle papers for any unpaid duty.
The 3 SUVs had identical custom papers. They were all part of an original batch of 6 vehicles with a single bill of lading and cleared at the Apapa ports on the same day. Duty on the entire batch was calculated and paid in bulk. So, when the custom boys on that highway started complaining about some unexplained discrepancy in the papers of one of the 3 vehicles and immediately pretended as if they were calling the Apapa customs office to clear up the confusion, the traveling team began to smell a rat. If there was indeed a problem with the duty paid, then it would rightly affect all 3 vehicles since they were cleared together on a single form.
Like joke like joke, these stone-eyed custom men held on to one of the SUVs for nearly 4 hours, citing ‘poor network quality’ on their phones and their inability to reach Apapa and authenticate the documents. My brother’s offices in Lagos and Port Harcourt were quickly contacted from the same spot that supposedly lacked good network. The boys at the Lagos office were particularly confident in the paperwork for all the cars and thought they had nothing to worry about. Their own records showed that required duty on all the vehicles had been fully paid without exception. They even teased the traveling team for not wanting to roger the custom officers. But things only got worse about 30 minutes later when the ‘Oga’ of the custom boys on that road informed the traveling team that he had received orders from headquarters in Abuja to impound the car. HA!
By late afternoon that same day, the custom officers had driven the Lexus to their Benin Area Command on Ekenwan Road. Their Oga later promised that the vehicle will be released as soon as he’d gotten confirmation from Apapa showing that the duty and all other levies had been duly paid, including a rather obscure Terminal Operator’s Tariff, which is exclusively under the jurisdiction of the 9 terminal operators and the Ports Authority. The driver of that third Lexus and 2 mopol were left behind and had to find a place to sleep in Benin City that night.
The next morning, upon arriving at the Area Command to resolve all outstanding matters and pick up the vehicle, the driver and the 2 mopol were told that the Lexus was already on its way to Abuja. In Lagos, panic had slowly set in amongst my brother’s people. They know from experience what happens to any vehicle that ever gets to Abuja. That same day, one manager from the Lagos office promptly bought tickets and flew to Abuja with all relevant documentation and payment records for the vehicle. A second manager from the Abuja office was already waiting at the customs headquarters.
In their desperation to justify the actions of their field colleagues in Benin, the custom guys at that headquarters in Abuja started to recalculate all the payable duty on the Lexus by willfully using the newest rates, which hadn’t even gone into effect at the time, as against the rates that previously obtained when the vehicles originally landed at the ports. Still, they only came to a paltry N50,000 difference. The two managers in attendance immediately offered to pay that N50,000 on the spot, but it soon became clear to them that paying that supposed difference was not really the issue. No amount of N50,000s was going to save that Lexus from some greedy folks who hold sway in positions of authority in this country.
The two managers later heard from one ‘sympathetic’ junior officer in the building that one ‘Big Oga’ had already ordered that the Lexus be driven straight to Kaduna and delivered as ‘In-law’s gift’ to the father of his newest bride. Apparently, that ‘Big Oga’ in Abuja was working hand in hand with the smaller field Oga on that Benin-Ore Expressway. According to that junior officer, the field Oga had been given a target to deliver at least 3 cars every week. My brother’s Lexus was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Today, the official account from customs was that the Lexus was impounded and ‘auctioned’ off for non-payment of duty. And even though my brother is still in court battling to recover ‘his sweat’, he has since realized that he is fighting a losing battle. The vehicle is long gone.
It has long been established that no ‘Big Oga’ who knows his chops in Abuja ever buys a vehicle or a house with his/her own money. It never happens. Their mansions and fleets of premium cars are often acquired through that dubious ‘auction’ exercise. They have a special group in all the law enforcement arms which specializes in confiscating people’s cars and houses, sometimes for no reason whatsoever. Yes, acquiring things through an auction is lawful. But it is only legal after the ‘questionable’ status of the property about to be so auctioned has been fully contested in court. But this is Nigeria. Who cares about laws and propriety?
Amadioha is not mocked. What goes around, as the popular Latin saying goes, almost always comes around. Quod circumiret, circumveniat. It’s a universal law of nature that you reap what you sow more often than not. On this score, I disagree slightly with the great William Shakespeare. I still believe that the evil men do, lives with them in the present as well as after. Or how else do you explain this sudden ‘drama of the absurd’ playing out in Abuja over the past few weeks? How did it happen that some previously ‘untouchable’ politicians and other powerful office holders have suddenly turned the bazooka on one another, blasting themselves to pieces, throwing stones at each other’s glass mansions and dancing naked in the marketplace for all to see?
The great Amadioha may have truly calmed his thunder a little bit. But make no mistake, he is still very much alive and active. Any evil doer who thinks he can get away with anything is certainly in for a rude awakening.
The current allegations against Magu and the systematic ‘auctioning’ of people’s houses and cars to friends and benefactors, mostly without due process, reminds me of my brother’s Lexus SUV and the sheer nightmare that the poor guy has had to endure for nearly a year. For me, the matter is very personal. I have read many articles and interviews on Magu’s travails that sounded quite patronizing. “Cut him some slack”, some argue. “Oh, it’s corruption fighting back”, others contend. But the elephant in the room is still not in dispute. People’s houses and cars are gone even when a lot of the cases are still in court.
Nigerians have only started to see a glimpse of how deeply rotten our institutions of government are. If you can’t stand the horrible stench oozing out of the NDDC and the EFCC, just wait until that proverbial breeze blows and opens the bum-bum of the NNPC, NCDC, PHCN, NPA, FIRS, PPRA, Nigeria Customs, Immigration, Prisons, Police, Army, FAAN, Water Corporation, etc. The breeze will surely blow sooner or later. And when it does, I should have a ringside seat and my popcorn right on cue.