Senate, Customs settle rift

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 yesterday gave the Comptroller General of NCS. Col. Hameed Ali, the leeway to wear “jeans and T-Shirt” to office if that would enable him to tackle and end massive smuggling of goods.

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

Saraki, who spoke at an investigative hearing on smuggling, vowed that the Senate would stamp out all forms of smuggling from Nigeria.

Speaking on 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 the 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 ruining the country’s economy.

Saraki noted that his and the Senate leader’s presence underscored the importance that the Senate places on smuggling.

He said: “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 small holder farmers is smuggling. Today farmers who have gone to take loans either from the Central Bank (CBN) or from commercial banks are being threatened by rice coming in from across the borders at subsidised 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. The banks that have given loans to these farmers will also have crisis in their hands. And for the Central Bank that has intervened with billions of Naira, again will not be able to recoup its 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.

He said individuals behind smuggling of goods into the country must be exposed.

The Senate president said officers who are aiding and abating smuggling must be sanctioned and those preventing smuggling must also be rewarded.

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 neighbouring countries”.

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