Indications have emerged from the National Assembly (NASS) that any moment from now, the lawmakers may be compelled by barrage of complains to halts the ongoing e-auctioning of seized goods and mainly vehicles by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS).
A credible source at the NASS confided in Business Hilights that both chambers, especially the Senate have been receiving series of complains from across the federation on the poor access to the e-auction portal since the resumption in Monday, July 3, last week.
The complains according to the source, include inability to access the portal from other 23 banks. It would be recalled that since the inception, only Islamic Jaiz Bank has been working, thus raising apprehension on what was actually going on, considering the fact that the bank, a non-profit bank has no national spread with just 21 branches nationwide.
Whereas many observers allege that the Customs authorities, lead by Alhaji Hameed Ali may have been working on the target of using the strategy to boost the profit level of the bank considering the volume of commission it will rake in every concluded bidding, the Service insisted that what was holding other banks is traced to their inability to comply with certain conditions already met by the Islamic bank.
Another factor that may be considered by the lawmakers to cancel the process may stem from the recent revelation by the President, National Auctioneers Association (NAA), Alhaji Aliyu Kiliya, who averred that the Federal Government has lost at least N100 billion in the ongoing e-auction sales due to the non-inclusion of professionals auctioneers in the programme.
Though the Customs Comptroller-General, Hameed Ali was quick to brush away the claims, he did not only describe the AAN claim as total falsehood, but argued that all he has done on the e-auction was hinged on transparency and fairness to all interested Nigerians.
He said: “We are not against the disposal of items online. The auctioneers are very willing, ready and able to actively participate in the disposal of items online. But the Customs CG has taken a unilateral decision hiding under a particular clause in the law which gives him the empowerment to act.
“We are also picking from the same law which says that the Comptroller General, after doing the enumeration and classification, these items should disposed via an agent that would work with the general public and government agency, which in this case, it is Customs. But in this case now, he has taken a unilateral decision to go on with the exercise online by himself without any agent as provided by the extant law”, Kiliya said.
Besides, current realities may not support Ali’s position as not up to 40 per cent of Nigerians has access to Jaiz bank for the transaction due to its poor branch network nationwide.
Business Hilights had reported on Monday that the continued access to the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) e-auction portal only from the not well known and poor branch networked Jaiz Bank since inception has been viewed by many Nigerians as a deliberate strategy by the leadership of the Service to eliminate certain Nigerians from across the nation from being part of the deal.
Investigations show that Jaiz Bank has its head office in Abuja with only 21 branches across the nation. Apart from the northern part where it has many of the branches because of its affiliation to Islamic religion, it has one branch each in Ibadan, Ilorin, Port Harcourt and about three in Lagos. It has no branch in the entire South East and only Port Harcourt for the entire South South.
On the day of the flag off, the Comptroller General of Customs told Nigerian that all the 23 commercial banks have been networked to be part of the e-auction, but more than one week after, 22 other duty collecting banks are yet to be activated.
The main challenge for many Nigerians who are far from any Jaiz Bank is observed in making payments after proper electronic bidding.
Many prospective bidders who spoke to our correspondents in South East and South South and even parts of Lagos said searching for a Jaiz Bank is a frustrating venture and the rule is that failure to make payments after five day amounts to forfeiture of won bid.
Though the NCS had claimed on Monday that other 22 out of the 23 duty collecting banks who applied for the operations of the new e-auction bidding and transactions process in the clearance of goods and vehicles at the ports and other customs outlets are yet to comply with requirements for approval to operate, Nigerians who are willing to bid especially in Lagos and the entire South East have started suspecting a clear tactics to sideline a good number of prospective bidders.
A statement by the Customs image maker, Deputy Comptroller of Customs, Mr. Joseph Attah on Monday claimed that allegations that the Service was favourably disposed to the operations of only one of the 23 banks that applied, ‘Jaiz bank’, hence the approval for the bank to operate e-auction transaction was misplaced.
He was further of the view that once the 22 other banks pass through to user acceptability test with all the banks including the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which was agreed to, they will become partners in the implementation of the e-auction transaction.
He was silent on what actually amounts to the user acceptability test which both old and new generations’ banks cannot pass, but Jaiz Bank that has the most limited number of branches in the first instance.
Some of the aggrieved Lagosians who wished to bid argued that for the limited number of branch network and poor spread, Jaiz Bank is not supposed to be part of the process in the first instance.
The Customs statement said in parts: “There have been public complaints, questions and commentaries on the Nigeria Customs Service e-auction platform which was officially launched on the 3rd of July 2017 by the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (Rtd)”.
“The Service wishes to make some clarifications especially as the inability of other commercial banks to hook up to the platform is creating inconveniences that could lead to wrong perception that pinged on the integrity of the process.
Consequently, the Nigeria Customs Service wishes to state as follows; “that all the 23 Customs duty collecting banks were carried along, properly trained in the process”.
“When the platform was developed, it was subjected to user acceptability test with all the banks including the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)”
“Throughout this period, no bank indicated any problem with the platform.”
“However, upon launch of the platform https.app.trade.gov.ng/eauction only Jaiz Bank was discovered to be ready and active on the platform.
“In the light of the above, the Service immediately wrote a letter to all the designated banks requesting them to “integrate with the e-auction application for the recharging of e-wallet” same day 3rd July 2017,” Customs said.