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Statutory, logistics issues that may hinder Customs planned e-auction of seized goods

Indications are beginning to emerge on why the planned and publicized auctioning of seized imported goods by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) may not happen so soon as thought by even the Service and prospective buyers.

It would be recalled that the agency has in the last couple of years failed to auction any goods due to ban placed by the Comptroller General based on abuses of the process by officials of the agency.

Only few weeks ago, NCS announced that it has perfected new digital model where buyers are to register their willingness to buy any goods online after showing proof of Tax Identification Number (TIN). The new idea according to observers is markedly different from the way and manner Customs used to conduct auction.

Customs usually list items for auction and ask prospective buyers to bid even without seeing the goods so as to know their state before placing bid.

Bid winners are only given access to the goods after they had made complete payments, but the system was abused when some criminal elements in the Service were found to be given privileged information to their clicks on the true state of the goods, thus abusing the system.

But a leading maritime stakeholder and founder of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Boniface Aniebonam has revealed one of the main reasons currently frustrating the planned auction, saying it may not take place after all.

In an interview he said before Customs will go on with the proposed e- auction policy, it should seek to amend the Auctioneers Act, before implementing the new e -auction policy to avoid conflict of interests and litigation.

Apart from the issue of amending the Auctioneers Act, there is confusion brewing between the

National Association of Auctioneers (NAA) and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) over what constitutes the right processes and procedures to adopt in the disposal of seized goods that have been legally forfeited to the government.

Investigations by Business Hilights show that whereas the auctioneers insist the Customs ought to involve them in the auctioning of seized goods and overtime cargoes, the Customs on its part say it is following the rules enshrined in the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) to conduct any auction.

Just like Dr. Aniebonam had argued, the National Secretary of NAA, Isibor Benjamin Abhulimen said the group was worried that Customs was planning to embark on a massive auction via electronic means that does not have any legal backing and yet insulating his association along in the entire process.

NAA boss countered Customs idea, saying the e-auction arrangement remains an opaque model because as it is, only Customs has access and controls the portal and can manipulate it as well.

But reacting to Abhulimen’s position, Spokesman of Customs, Joseph Attah said Customs had never involved the auctioneers in their disposal of forfeited goods because there was no need to.

He said “Our own auction is not the type NAA is talking about. We follow the rules of CEMA on auction. Let the NAA come to us so that we properly brief them. They should not be going to media houses”.

He argued further that Customs model of auctioning does s not give room for competitive bidding and transparency as “NAA’s role is like a referee in a football match. We moderate proceedings. We are professionals and we have our electronic portals. We have written several letters to the CG but no response. We took our plea to the National Assembly. We had a stakeholders meeting. We gave our own position where called for the repeal of the Customs Act.

“It is obvious and very clear that the CG Customs is acting without following due process and the Law, because there is no existing legal frame work that enables the NCS to sell seized and contrabands goods by e-auction”, Abhulimen noted.

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