LAST week, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) threatened to impound 29 private jets on which the owners had not paid statutory duties to the Federal Government. Speaking at a news conference in Abuja, the NCS Public Relations Officer (PRO), Joseph Attah, disclosed that the agency had, in June, commenced the verification of all privately owned aircraft due to rising insecurity in the country. According to him, the 29 private jets in question would be impounded if the owners did not show up at the expiration of its 140-day ultimatum. Attah explained that within the stipulated period of verification, 86 private jets or airplane operators showed up for the exercise and presented relevant documents for verification and that 57 of them were verified as commercial charter operators and were duly cleared for operations.
The NCS spokesman added that the 29 private jets/airplane owners or their representatives were given demand notices on October 11 and were given 14 days in which to make payment to designated Federal Government accounts, following which they would be issued aircraft clearance certificates. His words: “Owners of private aircraft for which no presentations were made for verification and whose status remains uncertain are requested to immediately furnish Customs Service with documents for verification. To this effect, all 57 commercial charter jets or aircraft operators who presented their documents for verification are requested to come to the Nigeria Customs Service Headquarters, Abuja, to collect their clearance certificates.” Attah noted that the Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) had been put on notice to ensure that only privately-owned airplanes cleared by the NCS were allowed to operate within the country’s airspace.
To say the least, the statement by the NCS is patently absurd. It suggests either that the agency does not know its job or is merely toying with the emotions of Nigerians. Pray, how did the owners of the private jets in question evade duties in the first place? How can the NCS be boldly informing Nigerians that it allowed some unscrupulous persons to violate the country’s laws with impunity? The statement is akin to running after thieves and begging them to comply with the laws of the land. To be sure, what the said defaulters have allegedly done is nothing but tax evasion, and no country that means to be taken seriously in the comity of nations toys with tax evaders. Knowing how seriously the crime is treated in the civilised climes, Nigerians must be forgiven for thinking that the NCS’ ultimatum sounds like some bad joke. If anything, the defaulters should by now have been cooling their heels in jail. It is distressing that a group of Nigerians have been living a life of luxury at the expense of the country’s laws, flaunting wealth enabled by impunity.
The foregoing of course points to one of the most severe defects of the Nigerian way of life: the circumvention of due process. In every aspect of the national life, Nigerians have come to accept as a way of life, the abrogation of the due order by the criminally wealthy, ostentatious and powerful elite who make the country’s laws look like a document lacking any application to those outside the poverty matrix. From the political class to the business and the academic class, among others, the elite get away with the most infamous crimes, even as the country virtually rots away under their stranglehold. Business moguls, enabled by their connections to the corridors of power, hold the country’s economy by the jugular, making any thought of anti-trust laws patently ridiculous.
Ordinarily, it sounds mind-boggling that aircraft were registered or given the freedom to operate without their owners having paid the statutory duties, but then this is Nigeria where life thrives on the irrational. Surely, the private jets in question could not have been smuggled into the country like vehicles. And it is apposite to ask what the role of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) is in this saga. Even if the country is not battling widespread insecurity, it would have amounted to a felony for the defaulters in question to have evaded the payment of duties. Thus, to put it mildly, we are unimpressed by the ultimatum given by the NCS. Criminals do not need ultimatums: what they require is a day in court to answer for their crimes. What the Customs is doing ought to have been done initially. It is confounding that it did not.
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