Guests and staff members of Frasier Suites, Central Business District, Abuja were thrown into confusion on Wednesday night when men of the Nigeria Customs Service embarked on a raid of the hotel.
One of our correspondents who visited the scene observed three customs patrol vehicles marked Zone B, Federal Operation Unit and Strike Force Unit blocking the entrance to the hotel.
The armed operatives numbering over 12 impounded 11 vehicles which were mainly Toyota, Lexus and Mercedes Benz.
The vehicles were also said not to have customs duty documents.
Some of them include a black Toyota Prado SUV with number Rsh500R; a Benz SUV matkee Gwa665RZ; a Lexus SUV marked Eky650FA; a Benz E Class with number ABC 592 Tm and a Toyota Prado marked Abj 704CH.
Top management employees of the hotel could be seen pleading with customs officers to please move away from the gate.
The adamant customs officials were said to be acting under the instruction of the comptroller of the unit.
A customs officer who spoke to The PUNCH on the condition of anonymity said they received a tip off from an informant that hotels had become the new warehouse for vehicles without duty.
He said, “We learnt that when we turned up the heat on car marts, many of these smugglers started hiding their vehicles in hotels.
“We discovered 11 exotic vehicles with unpaid duties running into millions of naira were kept in the hotel.
“It was gathered that the service also stormed some car marts and a few state liaison offfices where they believed smuggled cars were being kept.
A top source at Fraiser Suite disclosed that four high end vehicles were seen at the hotel premises, adding that the owners were summoned to provide the original documents of the vehicles.
The source said, “The Customs gave the hotel management notice about the operation. They tracked down four luxury cars to the hotel premises and the owners were asked to provide the original papers showing that the necessary duties were paid on the cars.
“One of the vehicles belonged to a regular guest at the hotel while two others belonged to the accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche (formerly Akintola Williams Deloitte).”
Findings by our correspondent also indicate that the Customs operatives had also raided some car marts in the Federal Capital Territory, but the number of sealed showrooms could not be immediately ascertained.
The service had reportedly sealed car marts in Kaduna and Sokoto States on Monday, as part of the clampdown on smuggling through the land borders by the Federal Government.
The Comptroller-General’s Strike Force and officers attached to the Federal Operations Unit, Zone ‘A’ in Ikeja had similarly raided and sealed car dealers’ offices in Lagos.
An eyewitness who is currently on ground at the hotel, Imo Ugochinyere, has narrated the ordeals of the hotel’s guests in the hands of the armed officials of the NCS.
Ugochinyere, who is the national spokesman of the Coalition of United Political Parties, in a message sent to one of our correspondents said some diplomats and military men lodged in the hotel were blocked from leaving or entering the hotel because of the siege.
He wrote, “Customs men have invaded Fraser Suite Abuja and sealed it, blocking diplomats and guests from coming in or going out.
“The affected guests include some soldiers who are lodging in the place.
“They are harassing guests and ordering hotel workers to wake guests up from sleep to identify their cars.
“Such barbaric actions have never been seen even during Abacha days.
“I am on ground there now.”