Senate, Customs settle rift

  • Smuggling our greatest undoing, says Saraki

The lingering crisis of confidence between the Senate and the leadership of Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) may have been laid to rest.

Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, Monday gave the Comptroller General of NCS. Col. Hameed Ali, the leeway to “jeans and T-Shirt” to office if that would enable him to tackle and end massive smuggling of goods into the country.

The Senate had insisted on Ali wearing of Customs’ uniform before he could be accepted in any of its committees.

Saraki who spoke at an investigative hearing on smuggling in the country, vowed that the Senate would stop at nothing to stamp out all forms of smuggling from Nigeria.

Talking about the role of the NCS in the battle against smugglers Saraki said, “For 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 who said that NCS must do whatever it takes to stop smuggling insisted that smugglers must be checked at all cost.

He described smugglers as the largest economic saboteurs that are ruining the country’s economy who must be identified.

Underscoring the necessity for the investigative public hearing, Saraki noted that his personal presence along with Senate leader is to underscore the importance that the Senate places on the issue of smuggling.

He said, “For me personally, it is my view that the singular greatest threat to our economy is this issue of smuggling. The singular greatest threat to the success of our government is this issue of smuggling. The singular greatest threat to the deliverance of the promises made by President Muhammadu Buhari on the diversification of the economy is this issue of smuggling.

“The level of smuggling that we are seeing cannot continue because they will definitely rubbish all the policies of government if allowed to go on. I am saying that with all sincerity and all level of responsibility and I tell you why.

“Today, the greatest threat to smallholder farmers is smuggling. Today farmers who have gone to take loans either from the CBN or from commercial banks are being threatened by rice coming in from across the borders which at subsidized rate. The meaning of that is that the imported rice will always be cheaper than those produced by our local farmers.

“A time will come, if we do not do anything that these farmers will not be able to pay their loans to the banks and these will result in serious crisis. For the banks that have given loans to these farmers, will also have crisis in their hands. And for the Central that has intervened with billions of Naira, again will not be able to recoup their money. The 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. As a country we have invested over $7billion over the last 10 years in stimulating local production.

“If we do not address the area of smuggling, this investment will go to waste. This is the severity of the issue before us today. There is no institution, whether it is the National Assembly any other institution, in order to support the success of our President we must join to stop smuggling, without it, we should just forget the issue of diversification or agricultural production. We will only pay lip service to issue of agricultural production if we do not address the issue of smuggling and that is why I made it a point to come here personally to drive this message.”

Saraki also said that individuals behind smuggling of goods into the country must be exposed.

He said, “There 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 don’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.”

He said that the country should sanction officers who are aiding and abating smuggling and as well as reward officers who prevent smuggling.

On the connection of the Economic Community of West African State (ECOWAS) Saraki noted that although Nigeria is part of the regional body, “no serious country will allow anything that will ruin its economy at the benefit of its neighboring countries.”

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