By Maxwell Adeyemi Adeleye
The Volkswagen automobile group of Nigeria (VON) has refuted claims by the chairman, Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff, Hope Uzodinma, to the effect that the company was sabotaging the country’s economy.
A press statement by the Managing Director of the VON Automobiles, Mr. Mr. Tokunbo Aromolaran on Tuesday, 1 November, 2016said that the company strongly refutes allegations of any economic sabotage or any other form of non-compliance or wrong doing in its business operations.
According to the statement, the Chairman of the Senate Committee, in company of about thirty people comprising senators, officers of Nigerian Customs Service, pressmen and police officers descended on the VON premises on Friday 28 October 2016 without prior notification.
“They were given free access to our plants and warehouses and found nothing other than what you would expect to see in an auto assembly plant – an inventory of vehicles assembled awaiting delivery. We also confirmed that applicable duties were paid at the ports when the components were imported into the country.”
The statement stated further that “VON is a company that has collaborated with several multinational automotive giants in bringing foreign investments and technology into Nigeria, thereby setting the foundation for the country to become the region’s leader in automotive industry.
“Having invested in the largest capacity for assembly of vehicles in Nigeria, VON prides itself as a responsible and committed organisation, sincerely dedicated to the country’s economic development.
“Governed by a strict compliance framework and business ethics, VON has not and never will engage in any activity that would sabotage the economy in any manner whatsoever.
“The Volkswagen assembly plant is a duly licensed facility, approved by the Federal Government of Nigeria through the National Automotive Council, Ministry of Trade and Industry and other relevant authorities. The plant has been inspected several times by Federal Government officials, National Automotive Council, SON Nigeria and others from time to time.
“The plant marked the historic return of the global auto major Volkswagen to Nigeria after several years. VON has been a pioneer in supporting the Federal Government’s objectives in establishing Nigeria as the regional hub for the automotive industry.
“The assembly plant operations were duly audited and approved by the Volkswagen team from Germany, prior to the commencement of assembly.
“The company’s personnel employed in the facility are fully trained (at Volkswagen Germany and Lagos) technically to assemble vehicles in Nigeria, in accordance with established international standards applicable to Volkswagen worldwide.
The statement faulted the claim that the reference made in media reports to a large number of vehicles in the assembly plant is a standard practice in any automobile plant everywhere in the world.
“As an auto assembly operation, this is what one would expect to find. In line with the auto policy, we imported semi-knocked-down parts and have engaged hundreds of Nigerians who are engaged in assembling same to fully built units. All applicable duties and levies on Volkswagen vehicles stored at VON have been paid to the Nigeria Customs (SKD vehicle kits and fully built units). This is can be verified by the Nigerian Customs Service.
“The assembly plant has not violated or contravened any regulations and has duly complied with all stipulated procedures for the importation and assembly of Volkswagen or any products.
“Like other automotive plants in the country, the assembly plant is currently not running to full capacity, given the general economic condition in the country, poor market demand and the non availability of adequate foreign exchange. A visit to other automotive plants in the country will convince the Senate committee that our experience is no different from other auto plants in the country.”
The statement reiterates the commitment of the Volkswagen to the new Automotive Policy, which it promises to operationalize in its plants.
The company contends that its operations have always been subjected to intense scrutiny since the advent of the auto policy, saying: “this same senate committee (under a different chairman, but with the current chairman in attendance) visited our company in 2014 and made no such observation. “Nothing illegal came to light on this visit to warrant the allegation of sabotage. We have fully cooperated with all authorities with supervisory responsibilities on the auto industry. Details and evidence of compliant operations have been provided to the relevant authorities as requested.
“We are a private company established with foreign investment legally imported into the country and in compliance with the laws of the land. We have corroborated with foreign multinationals to bring advanced technology and know-how into our Nigerian operations in the belief that we are allowed to operate once in compliance with the laws guiding such businesses in Nigeria. We have the highest regard for the committees of the National Assembly and the Nigerian Customs Service and shall continue to provide any further information /clarification on the matters that relate to our operations.”