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Let’s Take the Next Fight To The Nigerian Customs Service

February 3, 2011

I’ve just read the pathetic and gut wrenching story of how Mr. Dayo Modupe suffered in the hands of Nigerian Customs officers.  Seeing that Sahara Reporters is always willing to stand by the little guy, I expected to see the story on SR; but Mr. Modupe probably didn’t send it here.

I’ve just read the pathetic and gut wrenching story of how Mr. Dayo Modupe suffered in the hands of Nigerian Customs officers.  Seeing that Sahara Reporters is always willing to stand by the little guy, I expected to see the story on SR; but Mr. Modupe probably didn’t send it here.

Thus, in this write up, I’ll generously copy from Mr. Modupe’s original piece.  But if you want to read the entire article titled ‘My Sad Experience with Nigeria Customs Service ’, you can do so at

First of all, we Nigerians must come to an understanding that we’ll not allow people in uniform or in authority to use their situational powers to dehumanize us.  But I’m getting ahead of myself; let’s allow Mr. Modupe to tell his story.

On 26 November 2010, the Customs officers seized the car Mr. Modupe had been driving for two years – at gun point.

“[A]t a point, between sagamu and Papalanto, called Iyana Abese, between 10am and 11am they had laid ambush. I was returning to Ibadan. No motorist can evade them at that crater point, where they laid siege on the long failed road.

“They stopped me and asked for my car papers. As I had never been stopped by customs men before, I had the temptation to say I was driving a registered car which was obvious because of the number plates. But there was really no reason to fret, as even for about two years that I had been driving the car, policemen had never faulted my car papers. As a law abiding citizen, I obliged. After checking through the documents, they alleged that I did not have custom papers. I explained to the leader of the team, one ASC1 Ojeh, that I had never had an encounter with customs officers before neither did I even ever envisage having one.

“So, I pleaded that henceforth I would ensure that the papers were kept in the car.  In all sincerity, since I completed the car registration I had never taken the custom papers with me in the car. I had kept away the custom papers in a file at home.  Sincere mistake really!   The team leader hence ordered his men to remove my car number plates, eject me and all my belongings in the car. The men obeyed to the letter and took possession of my car at gun point.”

Then they took his car to Lagos and demanded a bride from him.

“As soon as I got to shagamu I quickly contacted some friends on phone and relayed my troubles.  One of them swiftly got into action, by going to Federal Operations Unit (FOU), Nigeria Customs Service, in Ikeja to inquire if the people that seized my car at gun point and left me in danger were actually customs men or some bandits considering the mode of their operation.  I had intended   to go to Ibadan (where I kept the custom papers), from Sagamu,   to quickly pick it and head again for Lagos to present it hoping the men that violently took my car from me were customs men and had actually taken it to their office. But another of my friends, who is resident in Lagos strongly advised that I come to Lagos first and ensure that I locate my car. I heeded his advice.   During my transit, he had tried to make enquiries as regards my concern but he did not get a clue. One woman who he spoke to and who was pretending to be of assistance was actually in the waiting to take advantage of my situation. She told my friend, ‘when your friend gets here, if he can quickly come up with some money he will get his car’.  ”

Then they tossed him from one office to the other.

“I was impatient, so I left my friend with her and looked around for a possibly more civilized and reasonable staff among the officials.  A seemingly motherly staff caught my attention. She ensured that I locate my car in the unit’s mechanical workshop where seized cars are kept. She suggested that there was nothing I could achieve again that day and I should return on Monday with my car custom papers.  

“The following Monday I confidently produced the requested custom papers at the Unit’s Legal department with the hope that I would be able to take possession of my car. My trouble had just continued.

 “On the directive of the Legal officer-in charge, my papers were taken for verification on the NCS computer system. A 3-page document was generated from the system with information bordering on my car. A hand written and signed report, showing the car’s declaration at Lily Port Pond and the import duty paid on the car, was written on the back of the first page of the  generated document by the officer that did the verification. The document was thereafter passed to another officer for crosscheck. After 3 hours of waiting I was ushered in to his office. He opened the document and tried to call my attention to some data that I cannot comprehend and alleged that the chassis number of my car was not contained therein. Probing him to explain further, he asserted that the document was recycled. I did not still understand him so I replied that the paper was generated from the NCS system and asked him what the way forward was. He asserted that the document was fake and declared with finality that my car had been seized.

“I suspected some mischief and felt he was out to play a fast one on me in order to extort me. Quickly I demanded for the document which he reluctantly returned to me. Hence I began soliciting the interpretation of the entire document among some other custom personnel and some civilians around

“Everybody who checked the document agreed that something was fishy, basing their suspicion on the signed handwritten report, which was a confirmation that the information on the car clearance is contained in the NCS computer system indicating that the car was imported through the right channel and physically checked by Nigeria Customs as required, and not a smuggled car.

“The pursuit of the release of the car took me as far as Tin Can Island and Lily Port Pond, Apapa twice, where I got further useful information concerning the importation of the car. I also stumbled on the fact that an hour within which my car was driven into the NCS yard, it was placed under ‘’SEIZURE”, their terminology used for category of smuggled cars which are not recoverable by owners and eventually auctioned for pittance.

“At this point I was advised to get a legal aid. About a month after my car was snatched and of daily appearance at the unit office, my lawyer came into the scene.  They refused to acknowledge the receipt of the memo sent by my lawyer. However, the content of the letter spurred them into action as they did not only study it but kept it, and diplomatically suggested that I leave my lawyer out of the matter. They conceded that an error was made by their patrol men to have placed my car under ‘’SEIZURE’’ and assured me that I would have my car back. But that was not to be immediate as the ’SEIZURE’ status would have to be reversed by those who ‘made the error’. ”

To slash a sickening story short, on the 30th December 2010 the reversal was done by the patrol men but he didn’t get his car immediately.  Few days later, he was given a hand-written bill to pay N150, 000 which was later reduced to N71, 000.  Mr. Modupe eventually got his car back minus the number plates.  When he complained about the plates, the officers asked him to count his blessings for getting his car back and threaten to lock him up.

Now we’re assuming Mr. Modupe is telling the truth; and to clear any doubts readers may have, I urge him to send his documents to the SR editors ([email protected]) for publication.

However, the most important thing is, Mr. Modupe wants Nigerians to fight to stop this sort of cruelty from occurring to other Nigerians.  And even without seeing his papers, we know that this narrative is a daily occurrence in Nigeria.

So what can we do about it?

I suggest we should turn any comments we may leave online to letters to editors of Nigerian newspapers.  Let’s flood the newspapers and online forums with condemnation of this nonsense, demand compensation for Mr. Modupe and ask for his number plates to be returned to him.   Above all, we must tell Dikko Inde Abdullahi the controller general of Customs to stop his men from terrorizing Nigerians.

I also call on the UK-based Nigeria Liberty Forum (NLF) which led the fight against Sule Lamido on the Facebook insult to also take the fight to the Customs Service; with the believe that if we continue to fight these battles one after the other, we may begin to have responsive leadership and  enjoy better service delivery.

PS: Please write at least a 3-sentence letter and send it to at least three newspaper houses – editors are always aching to receive such letters.


Ibraheem Dooba can be reached at [email protected]

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