Car dealer says Saraki not involved in seized SUV deal

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Tokunboh Akindele, a car dealer whom the senate contracted to supply the seized Range Rover sport utility vehicle (SUV) , says Senate President Bukola Saraki was not involved in the transaction. He also said he did not know the customs document issued to him were forged. Akindele said this in an affidavit he swore to at the Lagos high court registry on January 25.

There has been a controversy over the seized vehicle purportedly purchased by Senate President Bukola Saraki. The controversy rippled when the upper legislative chamber summoned Hameed Ali, comptroller-general of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), to appear before it in uniform.

The customs had planned to enforce a retroactive collection of duty on vehicles, but the senate intervened, summoning Ali. Although, Ali appeared before the senate Last Thursday, he did so in civilian attire. He was ordered out of the chamber and was asked to re-appear in customs uniform on Wednesday. This subsequently led to a face-off.

However, the face-off spawned an allegation that the senate was exacting vengeance on Ali because the customs had seized Saraki’s SUV. The senate is now investigating the allegation. However, documents seen by TheCable did not indicate the involvement of the senate president in the transaction.

According to Akindele, the car dealer, the vehicle was purchased from Hizmark Inc – a car-dealing company based in the US. He said the vehicle was delivered to him in Lagos in September 2015, but that it was impounded in January 2017 while it was being conveyed to Abuja.

“Sometime in 2014, I engaged the services of Hizmark Inc, a company registered in the United States of America to purchase two armoured Range Rover sport utility vehicle (the ‘cars’) and deliver them to me in Lagos,” he said in his affidavit. I received an invoice from Hizmark Inc with details of all the expenses to be incurred for purchasing and delivering the cars to me in Lagos and subsequently made payments towards the purchase of the cars and expenses to be incurred.

“Hizmark Inc informed me that the cars had been shipped and introduced me to one Mr Latif Olajide, a licensed and registered clearing agent in Nigeria in August 2015, whom it said would be responsible for paying all the applicable duties, clearing the cars at Tin Can Island Port, Lagos and delivering them to me.

“Mr Olajide cleared the cars and delivered them to me sometime in September 2015. Subsequently, I sold one of the cars to the Nigeria national assembly in January 2016. On 13 January 2017, I received a phone call from a representative of the Nigeria national assembly who informed me that the Nigeria Customs Service had impounded the car I sold to them on the grounds that the documents used in the clearing the cars were forged.

“I had no knowledge that the documents used in clearing the cars were forged before I sold the car to the national assembly, and I did not authorise any person including Mr Olajide to forge the documents required to clear the cars.”

Akindele also wrote a petition – dated 23 January – against Olajide, the clearing agent, to the inspector-general of police, urging him to investigate the matter. On 15 February, the senate wrote to the car dealer, informing him that the vehicle, which was meant for the senate, was no longer needed.

“Kindly recall your recent complaints about your inability to retrieve the above vehicle (Range Rover black long wheel base, 2014 model) from the Nigeria Customs Service which is meant to be one of the official vehicles of the senate,” the letter signed by Ojo OA, secretary, procurement, estate and works (for the clerk of the national assembly), read.

“Despite our efforts to assist in retrieving same which failed to yield desired result, we are therefore, constrained to inform you that due to your inability to deliver within the time frame, the vehicle is no longer required.”

The senate president has already denied involvement in the importation of the vehicle. Yusuph Olaniyonu, his special adviser, issued a statement on Tuesday, saying Saraki had no hand in the transaction.