AN official of an automobile marketing firm yesterday said that the controversial Range Rover SUV whose ownership was ascribed to the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, was actually imported by his company on behalf of an oil major company and subsequently sold to the National Assembly.
Also yesterday, Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and Senator Dino Melaye, who are at the centre of a vehicle racketeering and fake certificate scandal, yesterday, defended themselves vowing not to give in to what Saraki described as ‘organised blackmail against the legislature.’
The Vanguard reported that Saraki specifically debunked any role in the importation of the N298 million Range Rover which the Customs intercepted as having allegedly underpaid import duties. He was backed in his claim by the importers who linked the vehicle to Oando Plc.
Saraki’s testimony, nevertheless, set the stage for another showdown between the Senate and the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (retd) who was summoned to appear today to give the Customs version of the events. Ali had, last week, gone to court to seek protection from appearing before the Senate in mufti.
The hearing was upon two pleas by former Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume for an investigation of the role played by Saraki in the importation of the vehicle. He had during the Senate plenary, last Tuesday, expressed concern that the Senate face-off with Customs boss, Col. Ali may have flowed from the confiscation of the SUV, which some news reports had claimed was imported by Senator Saraki.
At the end of yesterday’s hearing, Senator Ndume expressed satisfaction, but said he had no regrets bringing up the issue to the attention of the Senate.
Saraki was led into the venue of the hearing in Room 120, Senate New Building, by three PDP senators and Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West).
“Most of the questions come to a basic issue. 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 a personal vehicle. It is a vehicle which 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, you only know when it is delivered to you. None of this did I import or get any agent.
“We all know that all treated vehicles have end-user certificates and there it states clearly who the importer is and these documents are available and there is no document anywhere that shows my name,” Saraki opined.
Noting that the Senate resolution against the confiscation of already registered vehicles by the Customs was an altruistic move to protect the citizenry, he said:
“We all raised the issue of the policy that it is anti-people. This policy really had no value at all and that was why this motion came up and 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.
“I am not an importer and I know the documents you have will show clearly that it has nothing to do with me.”
The importer of the car, Tokunbo Akindele, said it was imported on behalf of Oando Plc in 2015.
He denied allegations that Saraki had any link with the car
According to him, the car was imported by the company for the various operations it had around the country.
He also explained that “at no point did we submit any fake document for the clearing of the car.
“We followed all due processes in terms of payment to the company which handled the entire process for us.
“In 2015, on behalf of the firm that I work for, Oando PLC, we imported a Range Rover Bullet Proof SUV vehicle.
“We imported it as the company that needed to use it for the various operations that we have around the country.
“The car took longer than was expected and by the time it reached Nigeria in September 2015, we decided that we will no longer be using the car, so we effectively parked it.
“We mandated a company offshore to buy the car, armour the car, ship the car, clear the car with Customs and just deliver the car to us as a full-fledged service.
“We received the car in September 2015 assuming that all of these things were done.
“All payments were made for the acquisition, the armouring, the shipping as well as the clearing of which we have necessary evidence.’
“The vehicle was not to be used by Sen. Bukola Saraki, it was not imported or acquired for his use at the time the vehicle came into the country.
“The National Assembly took receipt of the car through a consignment from us, through Lanre Shittu Motors in December 2015.
He said the car was in the country for two months and with no use, adding that it was at that point that Oando released it to Lanre Shittu on consignment who sold it to the National Assembly.
Meanwhile, the Committee has summoned the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS to appear before it today to explain its side of the story.