*urges Customs DG to stop scourge, and earn right to wear mufti
Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
The President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki has cautioned that unless smuggling is tamed by relevant authorities, it would make a waste of the over $7 billion invested by the government to stimulate local production of rice in the last 10 years.
He also noted that smuggling would impede efforts to diversify the economy from oil, and remain a threat to all economic policies intended to boost national development.
Saraki said these while delivering the opening address on Monday, at the public hearing to tackle smuggling by the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariffs, where he urged stakeholders to come up with recommendations that could save the nation from impending crises posed by the scourge.
He noted that some of the treaties and agreements signed with ECOWAS, jeopardise Nigeriaâ€™s economic policies.
â€œThe level of smuggling that we are seeing cannot continue because they will definitely rubbish all the policies of government if allowed to go on. Today, the greatest threat to small holder farmers is smuggling. Rice farmers who have gone to take loans either from the CBN (Central Bank of Nigeria) or from commercial banks are being threatened by rice coming in from across the borders at highly subsidised rate,â€ he said.
The implication, Saraki added, is that imported rice would be cheaper than locally produced rice.
â€œA time will come, if we do not do anything, that these farmers will not be able to pay their loans to the banks and this will result in serious crisis. The banks that have given loans to these farmers, will also have crisis in their hands. And for the Central Banks that has intervened with billions of Naira again will not be able to recoup their money,â€ Saraki said.
â€œThe processors who have invested in rice mills at the beginning of this administration will also be threatened if we do not address the issue of rice smuggling,â€ he said.
The Senate President said the country could as well forget about agricultural production and diversification, if smuggling is not stopped.
He however, expressed the commitment of the National Assembly to support efforts toward the success of President Muhammad Buhari.
â€œThere is no government, any serious government, that will render itself helpless because we must know the individuals who are doing this smuggling. We must be able to know who they are. Is it that they are larger and bigger than government? Is it that we cannot stop them? Or is it that we donâ€™t want to stop them? Or is that we lack the competence to stop them? These are the questions that we put before us today. We must stop them. Customs must do what it takes to stop smuggling,â€ he said.
â€œWe must be able to sanction officers who are responsible for this and we must be able to reward officers who prevent the issue of smuggling. We want this Committee to sit down for the length of days of public hearing and ask ourselves what is the way forward. I can assure you that our responsibility as a Senate is to ensure that whatever recommendations are made by this Committee we have to send them back to the executive because as I said this matter is the singular greatest threat to our economy and to this governmentâ€, he said.
On a lighter note, Saraki implored the Comptroller General of Customs, Colonel Hamid Ali to prove his mettle by stopping smuggling and earn the right to wear mufti.
â€œTo 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,â€ Saraki said. â€œBut on a serious note, this issue is very important. Let us all work towards ending this menace once and for all,â€ he said.
Speaking earlier, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariffs, Senator Hope Uzodinma, said the public hearing was part of the committeeâ€™s holistic investigation into the operations of the Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme (CISS) with a view to identifying the factors responsible for increasing rate of smuggling of goods into the country.