It may not be the best of time for some Nigerians with stupendous wealth as no fewer than 91 private jets belonging to billionaires and large corporations in the country have been grounded over their alleged refusal to pay import duties totalling N30bn.
The directive was said to have cascaded from the Federal Government to the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), according to reports that emerged on Monday.
This is as at least 91 out of 147 identified owners and operators of private jets in the country failed the verification test conducted by the NCS.
The Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali, (retd.) was said to have written a letter to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) asking the agencies to ground the affected private jets with immediate effect.
The letter, with reference number NCS/T&T/ACG/042/s.100/VOL.II, which was dated November 2, 2021, was addressed to the Director-General, NCAA, Capt Musa Nuhu.
According to a report by the Punch, the letter was also addressed and sent to the Managing Director, FAAN, Capt Rabiu Yadudu; and the Managing Director, NAMA, Capt Fola Akinkuotu, directing the aviation agencies to ground the private jets by denying them administrative and operational flight clearances indefinitely.
The letters were said to have been received by the agencies on November 8, 2021.
The NCS letter, which was delivered to the NCAA was titled, ‘Recovery of Aviation Import Duty on Privately Owned Aircraft Operating in the Country,’
The letter read in part, “The Federal Government in its drive for enhanced revenues has mandated the Nigeria Customs Service to immediately recover from defaulting private aircraft owners the required statutory import duties on their imported aircraft.
“You may wish to recall the verification exercise conducted by the NCS, initially scheduled for a 14 day period, but magnanimously extended over a 60-day period from 7th June through 6 August 2021, following a World Press Conference held on 31st May 2021. The outcome of the aforementioned verification exercise is a compilation of all private aircraft imported into the country without payment of statutory import duty.
“The Nigeria Custom Service, in line with its statutory functions, is empowered by Part 111 Sections 27, 35, 37, 45,46, 47, 52, 56,63 & 64; Part XI Sections 144, 145, 155, 160, 161& 164 and Part XII Sections 167, 168, 169, 173 & 174 of the Customs and Excise Management Act.”
“In this regard therefore, your full cooperation is being solicited to ensure the success of this initiative and that all such private aircraft owners or representatives are denied administrative and operational flight clearances indefinitely, until an NCS issued Aircraft Clearance Certificate is procured and presented to your organisation as proof of compliance.
“For the avoidance of doubt, ALL aircraft operated in accordance with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority’s regulation for the issuance of Permit for Non-Commercial Flight and those issued with Flight Operations Clearance Certificate and Maintenance Clearance Certificate accordingly are affected by this directive.
“Please find attached the list of all verified aircraft and indeed others of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority’s register, which may not have come forward for your record and necessary action. Strict compliance with this directive is to be ensured. Please accept the assurances of my highest regards and esteem as always.”
Some of the 91 private jets directed to be grounded belong to the senior pastors of some popular Pentecostal churches in the country, some banking executives of Tier-1 banks, and CEO of some indigenous oil companies.
“The 91 private jets owe import duties in excess of N30bn and the Federal Government has directed that the Customs must recover this money. This is why we have sent demand notices to the private jet owners,” a Customs source familiar with the development was reportedly quoted.
Of the 91 defaulters released in October, a total of 62 allegedly refused to show up for the mandatory verification exercise, while 29 others were found liable for default in payment of Customs duty.
The NCS, therefore, issued a 14-day ultimatum for payment of duties and submission of verification papers, or risk sanctions that may include asset forfeiture.
Earlier, a myriad of abuses by owners and operators of private jets in the bid to shortchange the system and reduce the burden of operating cost in the face of pandemic challenges had been reported. Chief Operating Officer of the association of Private Jet Owners in Nigeria, Omotade Lepe, had said the sub-sector lost between $1 billion and $5 billion to the pandemic, which silenced the erstwhile booming luxury market.
Besides avoiding duties due to the Federal Government, more owners were boycotting local rules to retain foreign registration numbers. Most disturbing for the general sector is the illegal use of private jets for commercial operations – an encroachment into the turf of licensed air transport operators.
The apex regulator, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), acknowledged some of the gaps that are consistently explored by some operators, though assured that regulatory efforts were on to block loopholes and check illegalities.
Apparently to check the violation of duties, NCS, had in May 2021, commenced verification of import documents for privately owned aircraft in the country.
Citing statutory functions, as provided for in Part III Sections 27, 35, 37, 45, 46, 47, 52, 56, 63 & 64; Part XI Sections 144, 145, 155, 160, 161&164 and Part XII Sections 167, 168, 169 173&174 of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA), Customs directed all owners of private aircraft to come forward with their relevant importation clearance documents for verification.
On request for verification between June 7 to August 6, were the Aircraft Certificate of Registration, NCAA’s Flight Operations Compliance Certificate (FOCC), NCAA’s Maintenance Compliance Certificate (MCC), NCAA’s Permit for Non-Commercial Flights (PNCF) and Temporary Import Permit (TIP).
Public Relations Officer of Customs, Comptroller Joseph Attah, gave an update yesterday, stating that a total of 86 private jets/aircraft operators showed up for the exercise and presented the relevant documents for verification. Of this number, 57 were verified as commercial charter operators and were duly cleared for operations.
However, he said: “29 other private jets/aircraft were found liable for payment of Customs duty. Their values were assessed, and the appropriate demand notices were issued to their owners for the payment of outstanding duties.
“A total of 62 other private jet/aircraft, whose registration numbers were duly obtained from the appropriate authority were not verified because their owners or designated representatives made no presentations to Customs that could help determine their status.”
He said all 57 commercial charter jet/aircraft operators, who presented their documents for verification, are to come forward to collect their Aircraft Clearance Certificates.
“All 29 private jet/aircraft owners, or their representatives, who have been issued with demand notices have been given 14 days from October 11, 2021, to collect and make payments to the designated Federal Government accounts after which they will be issued with Aircraft Clearance Certificates.
“The owners of the 62 private aircraft, for which no presentations were made for their verification, and whose status remains uncertain, are requested to immediately furnish the Tariff and Trade department of the Service with the necessary documents for verification and clearance. The Nigeria Customs Service implores all concerned to avail themselves of this opportunity as it will not hesitate to activate enforcement procedures on identified defaulters,” Attah said.
Customs noted that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has been put on notice to ensure only privately owned aircraft duly verified, and cleared by Customs, are authorised to operate within the Nigerian airspace.
NCAA records had shown about 95 aircraft in the country, out of which 46 were active as of June. However, of the 95, a total of 72 are still registered abroad, in violation of the extant rules.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulation (NCARs) 2015, Part 184.108.40.206 allows foreign aircraft to operate locally for 2-12 months and an initial renewal of another six months to complete local registration. Operators have, however, found a way around that requirement, going in and out of the country to evade the local registry.