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Wait until court rules on e-auction suit before you start, NAA warns Customs

Indications have emerged that the planned resumption of e-auction of seized and condemned goods from July 1, this year by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) may amount to contempt of court, contrary to Rule of Law and blatant abuse of court processes.

Whereas the matter is pending in a court of competent jurisdiction, the NCS went ahead to not only announce  effective date for auctioning, but went ahead to list terms and conditions for participation in the auction which is now electronic.

Business Hilights recalls that Nigerian Auctioneers Association (NAA) had dragged NCS and its Comptroller-General, Hameed Ali, before a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja over the plan by the NCS to conduct online auction sales of seized vehicles and other seized items.

In a suit brought by way of originating summons, the NAA prayed the court to hold that by virtue of its incorporation, registration and accreditation pursuant to the relevant laws of the federation, an auction sale cannot be conducted by a committee appointed by the NCS.

Lead counsel to the association, Wale Yusuf said since the matter is still in court, all the parties involved must not do anything that will threaten the decision of the court.

He noted that the Customs lawyer filed a motion of adjournment at the last court sitting and the matter had been adjourned to September which effectively neutralized the planned July date.

According to him, “Technically, the rule says every party in the dispute must hang up; nobody must do anything that will jeopardize the decision of the court; they will not force on the court a situation of helplessness by doing anything contrary to the determination of the suit. For now, the injunction is still hanging in the court till September; Ali cannot carry out that e-auction until the court decides”.

“He will not even try it or we will file for contempt. I think he has been trying to monitor the matter and thought the case will finish by June but I think he will also have to adjourn the commencement of the proposed exercise.

Corroborating Yusuf’s submissions, chief scribe of the NAA’s caretaker committee, Goke Adedokun, argued that “We are registered auctioneers and we have been paying our taxes; we have all the necessary documents, we are registered with the Customs. Recently, 120 members of the association renewed their licences as auctioneers. If the NCS have jobs like this, we are supposed to be called upon to do it because we don’t have any other job”.

“If Customs goes ahead with the e-auction, it will deny our members of jobs. We want to generate revenue for the country in a transparent manner. If we are allowed to do the job, it will be a physical exercise.

“The United States of America’s system of e-auction that the NCS is trying to copy allows open bidding and allows auctioneers to carry out the bid; the Procurement Act of 2007 gives us the right to carry out such exercises,” Adedokun noted.

But rather than waiting the court process to pass through the wheel of justice, Customs seems to be serious in going ahead as it has released the list of conditions for participation to include evidence of Tax Identification Number (TIN), and online registration of intent among others.

According to the Service, the decision to reopen the suspended auction scheme after about 18 months was taken following successful test running of the new electronic auction portal.

While NCS is working towards July, NAA said it’s waiting for the next adjourned date of the matter which is September.

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