Saraki not owner of imported N298m SUV, says importer
• Customs seizes 13 vehicles from senator
An importer, Tokunbo Akindele, yesterday declared that the controversial N298 million sports utility vehicle seized by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) for being found with fake documents was not for Senate President Bukola Saraki.
Akindele spoke with the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Code of Conduct as it began a public hearing on the alleged irregularities over the vehicle. His position may end the controversy that has surrounded the alleged importation of the expensive vehicle by Saraki as an indication of his lack of sensitivity to the plight of the citizens who are faced with recession.
Mohammed Ali Ndume had last week, in a motion via Order 14 and 15 of Senate Standing Rule, urged the upper chamber to thoroughly investigate the alleged involvement of Saraki in the purchase of the vehicle. Ndume, a former Senate leader, also asked his colleagues to investigate the alleged certificate scandal involving Senator Dino Melaye.
But yesterday, Ndume told the Samuel Anyanwu-led Ethics Committee that he never had any evidence against Saraki on the allegation, but he expected the panel to do a very thorough check on it. He said the need to protect the integrity and image of the Senate was the overriding interest in bringing out the matter.
When the committee met with Akindele, he said the vehicle was imported for Oando Plc. He told the lawmakers that by the time it arrived in September of that year, it was no longer useful for the purpose for which Oando needed it.
“When the vehicle was dispatched to Wale Tinubu, the Oando Group Executive Director, it got to him late, they were not able to use it for the purpose for which they ordered it. And because we have been doing business with them for more than two decades, he approached me on how we could help in selling the vehicle. I told him we did not have any buyer then, but if he could give us on consignment, we could look for how to sell it off. It was not quite long there was a publication on vehicle acquisition by the National Assembly to which we are a contractor. So, we put in this vehicle. We were awarded the job to supply the vehicle on consignment from them. We facilitated the supply of the vehicle to the National Assembly. There was never a time we sold a vehicle to Bukola Saraki as a person or delivered a vehicle to him,” Akindele said.
The importer, who admitted that the NCS intercepted the vehicle earlier in 2017 for not possessing proper customs papers, said the required documents had since been retrieved from Oando and sent to the customs.
“It was when the issue of customs’ interception of the vehicle, sometime in January 2017, came up that they called the attention of my office in Lagos. And we got in touch with Oando and they sent us the documents in question. These same documents were what they sent to customs, which they said were fake. There was never a time we had any paper from National Assembly to clear any vehicle,” he explained.
Saraki, who said that the allegations were made by those who wanted to fight back, insisted that he had no link with the vehicle.“I am not an importer and at no point did I import an SUV Range Rover. As you know, this is a vehicle that is not personal. It was processed through the National Assembly. I don’t know anything about the importation, I did not appoint any clearing agent or anything like that.
“Most of the vehicles that are here (National Assembly) you only know when they are delivered to you. None of these did I import or get any agent to import. I am not going to the port,” he explained.
“ Customs knows it is not true, because we all know that all treated vehicles have end-user certificates and there it is stated clearly who the importer is. These documents are available and there is no document anywhere that shows my name. So I want to state categorically that this is not true and it is important that I come here and clear my name and put this matter to rest.
“We all raised the issue of the policy that is anti-people in the interest of Nigerians. This policy that really had no value at all and that was why this motion came up. We debated it in the interest of Nigerians, but unfortunately those who want to fight back went and thought there was something to blackmail us with,” the Senate president said.
Saraki commended the committee for carrying out the investigation. The committee has invited the NCS authorities to appear before it today to state their own side of the story.On the allegation that Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West) did not graduate from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, the Vice Chancellor of the institution, Ibrahim Garba, categorically told the committee that Melaye graduated from Geography Department in 2000 with a third class grade.
Garba said: “From the records of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Distinguished Senator Melaye who was at that time named Daniel Jonah Melaye graduated with a third class degree of the Bachelors of Arts in Geography in 2000. And by this, he is a graduate of the university.”
But shortly after the vice chancellor left, Ndume urged the committee to check what he called an abnormality in Melaye’s record which claimed that Melaye graduated in 2000 but did his youth service in 1999.
Unknown to the former Senate leader, Melaye had fully submitted his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) records to the panel to the effect that he served in Police College in Kaduna between July 9, 2000 and July 8, 2001.
In a related development, the Customs Compliance Task Force, said it had impounded 223 vehicles, 13 of which belonged to a senator in Kano State.The task force also said it seized other items, including foodstuffs worth N269.5million in Kano and Jigawa states within eight months.
The Task Force Zonal Commander, Mr. Bala Dole, made this known in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria in Kano yesterday. He said the vehicles belonging to the said senator were 12 new Toyota Hilux and one Land Cruiser Jeep.Dole, who declined to name the said senator, said the 13 vehicles were trailed from Maigatari in Jigawa, following an intelligence report.