*Declares 282 vessels missing at different Nigerian ports
The Senate on Monday revealed another level of monumental corruption within the Nigeria’s revenue generating corridors, as it hinted that goods worth N7 trillion are being smuggled into the country.
According to the Senate, the implication is that smugglers in Nigeria are in control of a huge revenue turnover, which should have been in the pocket of the Federal Government.
Again, the Senate drew attention to the case of missing vessels, indicating that not less than 282 vessels were missing at various ports across the country between 2010 and 2016.
Against this background, it summoned the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) officials to appear before it on Thursday to explain how they got missing and other issues, especially persistent smuggling through the nation’s ports.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariffs, Senator Hope Uzodinma (PDP Imo West), dropped the hint during a one-day public hearing on smuggling in the country held in Abuja.
He said the figure for goods smuggled through the seaports are more mind burgling.
According to him, well over $15 billion amounting to N4.35 trillion worth of goods are smuggled into the country each year through the seaports while the story is same in Nigeria’s international airports.
“More shocking is an aspect of the World Bank report that states that over 25 percent of the total annual revenue collected by Custom service is lost to smugglers each year. If you go by the projected revenue of the service for this year, which is approximately N600 billion, it means that the service will lose about N200 billion in revenue this year alone.
“You must then agree with me that smuggling is a serious menace to the economy and that all hands must be on deck to flush it out. As you know when goods are illegally brought into the country through smuggling, it is not just revenue that is lost, local industries are affected adversely and jobs are lost.
“When our markets are flooded with all manner of smuggled goods from our borders, many local industries that manufacture such goods are forced to close down”, he further lamented.
The Chairman, however, said the investigation was designed by the 8th Senate in its determination to put an end to the smuggling malady.
He added: “For the avoidance of doubt, smuggling is a major threat to the economy. Those who may imagine that this is an exaggeration should do well to refer to a recent report of the World Bank on smuggling in Nigeria.
“The report was unequivocal in stating that an astonishing US $5 billion or N1.45 trillion worth of different goods are smuggled into Nigeria annually through Benin Republic alone. Yet this is only 15 percent of the total volume of smuggled goods through the Seme border”.
He said no serious legislative arm of government will fold arms while smugglers are allowed to ravage the economy and deny the government huge sums goods are bound to be adversely affected.
According to him, smuggling racket is fast becoming the biggest industry in Nigeria, stressing, “Primary information at our disposal will suggest that in spite of the Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme (CISS), leakages still abound in the import export chain.”
The Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, while declaring the Public Hearing open, identified smuggling of goods into the country as the greatest threat to the realisation of the economic policies of the present administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari.
He said the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), could continue to wear jeans and T-shirts once he is able to end smuggling in the country.
His words: “To the Comptroller General of Customs, let me say on a lighter note, that once you end smuggling, even if you want to wear jeans and T-Shirt, I will move the motion that you should wear jeans and T-Shirt.
“But on a serious note, this issue is very important. Let us all work towards ending this menace once and for all.”
Saraki, however, warned that, “This loss in revenue is what we can no longer afford at this crucial time when the government is doing all it can to meet up with its budgetary expenditures.
“Our local producers have continued to face daunting obstacles posed by the activities of smugglers, despite government’s restrictions on importations. Therefore, we must exploit all avenues and investigate corrupt practices in various Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government. This occasion presents us with the opportunity to unravel the facts before the public with a view to finding a permanent solution,” he added.
In his contribution, a member of the committee, Senator Nelson Effiong (PDP Akwa Ibom South), stressed the need for government to review the Customs and Excise Duties Act in order to reduce or stop smuggling in the country.
Senator Dino Melaye, (APC Kogi West), alleged collaboration between officers and men of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and the smugglers, and vowed that it is not going to be business as usual with the determination of the 8th Senate to tackle the menace.
He lamented that smuggling has done serious damage to the nation’s economy and charged the NCS, Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and other relevant stakeholders to unite in fighting the menace to a stop.
But the Comptroller General of NCS, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), who spoke through his deputy in-charge of operations, Nuhu Abba Ibrahim, accused some highly placed individuals and institutions of intervening in the operations of the Service, citing example of the raid on a warehouse in Idiroko, Ogun State which was stopped recently.
He, however, vowed that the Customs would not relent in discharging its responsibilities despite the challenges being faced from time to time.