An engineer, Dele Falaju, has accused some officials of the Nigeria Customs Service of subjecting him to hardship while attempting to retrieve his impounded Lexus sport utility vehicle from the agency’s warehouse in Aduwawa, Benin City, Edo State, since 2015.
Falaju, while narrating his ordeal to PUNCH Metro, said he was driving on the Benin-Lagos Expressway en route to Warri, Delta State, when he was accosted by customs officials, who demanded his vehicle documents around the Ekiadolor area of Edo State.
The 46-year-old, who said the SUV had barely spent a month in his possession, explained that after presenting the documents, the officials said they were forged.
He added that the men detained him and impounded the vehicle.
After securing his bail the following day, Falaju said he was advised to bring the seller if he wanted the SUV back.
“I told a lawyer at the customs office that I was an innocent buyer because the person I bought the SUV from processed the documents.
“I came back to Lagos and reported the case at the Ipakodo Police Station and the seller, Wasiu, was arrested; we took him to Benin.
“When we got there, Wasiu was detained and the customs officials charged him with document forgery at the Federal High Court, Benin,” he added.
The engineer, however, lamented that no one showed up in court to represent the NCS till the case was struck out over what the Justice P.I. Ajoku-led court described as “non diligent prosecution.”
A certified true copy of proceedings obtained by PUNCH Metro showed that the ruling was delivered on Friday, December 8, 2017.
Despite the case being struck out, Falaju said efforts to retrieve his vehicle had been futile.
“So, in July 2019, I employed the service of another lawyer, who wrote an appeal letter to the Nigeria Customs Service in Abuja. I was then asked to visit the investigation unit.
“When I got there with my lawyer, the officials asked for the certified true copy to confirm that the case was struck out and I gave it to them. Since then, they have not done anything about the case.
“I was told in Abuja that they had sent a signal to the area commander, requesting a report on the matter, but he had yet to send the report.
“People who saw the way I had suffered while travelling around to recover my SUV, told me that because the NCS charged the case to court and failed to appear till it was struck out, the area commander would not want to write such a negative report.
“The customs are not ready to do the needful. I used a loan to purchase the SUV to ease my movement whenever I travel for work. After it was impounded, I have spent close to N1m to retrieve it, but it was not successful.
“I believe that if something like forgery happens, a suspect should be prosecuted. I provided the suspect, but they refused to send representatives to court from 2015 to 2017 till the case was struck out.
“The officials said my vehicle was the evidence and after the case, it would be released. Yet, they refused to release my SUV, and the suspect, Wasiu, that I went the extra mile to provide, has returned to Lagos.”
He appealed to the authorities, including the Comptroller-General of NCS, Hameed Ali, to intervene in the matter.
The engineer said he believed that the officials were frustrating his efforts so he could forfeit the vehicle.
The National Public Relations Officer, Nigeria Customs Service, Joseph Attah, asked Falaju to be patient.
He said, “He made an appeal to pay duty so he could take his vehicle; the investigating officer has contacted the command and appropriate recommendations have been made for approval.
“But in recent times, customs have said that those whose cars are in custody can be allowed to pay duty with a 25 per cent penalty. So, his appeal is coming at such a time and it is just for him to exercise some level of patience.”