There are strong indications that influential Nigerians, including a serving governor and a minister, are among owners of about 1,500 exotic vehicles parked in the Volkswagen Yard, on the Mile 2-Badagry Expressway in Lagos since 2015.
Another governor from the South-East (name withheld) has also been identified as the owner of 15 Sports Utility Vehicles intercepted and impounded by officers of the Nigeria Customs Service and parked in the agency’s office in Ikeja.
The Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff, led by its Chairman, Hope Uzodinma, had visited the VON premises last week on oversight assignment when it discovered that the place looked deserted with disused equipment in its assembly plant.
The officials of the company, who had earlier declined to open the store to the lawmakers for inspection, were forced to grant the visitors access into the warehouse when the lawmakers threatened to force the door open.
The senators, who were there in company with security operatives and officials of the NCS, saw no fewer than 1,500 pieces of various models of Volkswagen products and other brands of vehicles in the warehouse.
SUNDAY PUNCH learnt that the senators were curious when they found out that there were port tags on the vehicles, indicating that they were imported.
One of the lawmakers told one of our correspondents that his colleagues were not convinced by the explanation offered by officials of the company that the firm did not abuse the auto policy introduced by the Goodluck Jonathan-led administration with its action.
The senator added that the team discovered that about 15 Sports Utility Vehicles, on the premises of the NCS office in Ikeja, Lagos, which were impounded by the service when the dealer attempted to evade payment of duty, belonged to a serving governor in the South-East.
He said the vehicles carried Federal Government’s official number plates in an attempt to deceive officers of the customs service.
Uzodinma had alleged in an interview with journalists in Abuja that there were indications that the company was not assembling vehicles in Nigeria as it claimed.
He stated that his committee discovered different vehicle brands in the company’s warehouses which were already assembled before they were shipped to Nigeria.
The Managing Director of VON Automobiles, Mr. Tokunbo Aromolaran, however, refuted the Senate claim that the company was sabotaging the country’s economy.
Aromolaran said, “The Chairman of the Senate Committee, in company with about 30 people, comprising senators, officers of Nigeria Customs Service, journalists and police officers, descended on the VON premises on October 28, 2016, without prior notification.
“They were given free access to our plants and warehouses, and found nothing other than what you would expect to see in an auto assembly plant – an inventory of vehicles assembled, awaiting delivery.
“We also confirmed that applicable duties were paid at the ports when the components were imported into the country.
He said, “All applicable duties and levies on Volkswagen vehicles stored at VON have been paid to the NCS (SKD vehicle kits and fully built units). This can be verified by the service.
Uzodinma, however, told one of our correspondents on Saturday that the committee was convinced that VON was sabotaging the nation’s economy, adding that a public hearing would be organised soon to unravel the alleged sharp practices.
The Public Relations Officer, Nigeria Customs Service, Mr. Wale Adeniyi, said the affected vehicles had remained under NCS custody because duty was not paid on them.
Adeniyi stated, “There are no separate laws for top government officials or highly-placed Nigerians. The laws are the same for everybody and the laws specify that all imported vehicles attract duty. If duty was not paid, the vehicles cannot be released.”
He, however, added that if the owners paid the required duty, the SUVs would be released.
On the 1,500 vehicles found in the premises of Volkswagen, Adeniyi said, “I do not have details of that development.”