N30trn Customs Probe: Senate uncovers more leakages
The Senate on Thursday expanded its panel currently investigating alleged N30 trillion revenue leakage in the Nigeria Customs Service following revelation of more leakages.
This followed a “Point of Order’’ raised by the Chairman, Committee on Customs Excise and Tariff, Sen. Hope Uzodinma, at plenary.
The chamber also mandated the Committee on Marine Transport to collaborate with the committee on Customs, in the probe in view of more revelations emanating from the exercise.
Uzodinma, who was made chairman of the joint committee, cited Order 42 and Order 52, and said that the committee discovered more startling discoveries beyond the N30 trillion currently being investigated.
According to him, the committee requires more hands in the investigation as it discovered that beyond foreign exchange fraud, more trillions of Naira was lost to shady deals by some Asian companies.
“The recent one which is mind-blowing is that shipping companies will load full cargoes worth billions of Naira, come into the country and go to bonded terminals, offload and Nigeria Government will not collect one kobo.
“All they do is informal negotiation with the terminal operators, the regulators and then they will offload. This is an international crime.
“We have identified over 228 vessels with their registration numbers, the terminals where they offloaded and we are going through Customs database tracking every shipment and vessel that came and offloaded.
“There is another fraud we discovered, which is, all the Asian companies moving all their goods to Cotonou in Benin Republic and these goods are meant for Nigerian market.
“From our investigation, the companies change their documents by mid night as if the shipment is either done from Cote d’ivoire or Cotonou and they move into Nigeria,’’ he said.
While lamenting the level of decay in the system, Uzodinma added that the fraudulent activities were carried out through various infractions, including incorrect classification, undervaluation, under-declaration and incorrect origin.
He stressed that the money being lost through the infractions was more than what the country was getting from crude oil, lamenting that nothing serious was being done about it.
The lawmaker, who said the investigation panel would explore all available data on the matter, added that it would bring it to a logical conclusion to save the country from losing money that should have been used for development.
“On Tuesday Nov. 15, 2016, we debated the motion on the need to examine the operations of the Nigeria Customs Service revenue drive.
“We resolved to mandate the committee on customs to carry out a holistic investigation into the activities of the service.
“This was with a view to identifying the leakages and irregularities in the import and export circle as well as causes of the reducing revenue profile of the service, and come up with recommendations.
“We have gone into this assignment and honestly speaking, we have identified between 2006 and 2017, over N30 trillion worth of foreign exchange in form of approved Form M and there is no evidence that the goods came into the country.
“The commercial banks apply for this foreign exchange and the Central Bank of Nigeria allocates it to them and these monies are transferred to foreign banks and there is no evidence to show that the goods came into the country.
“So they have been round-tripping with the limited foreign exchange we have in Nigeria,’’ he said.
In his remarks, the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided at the plenary, said the senate ought to be commended for blowing whistle into the fraud in the Customs Service.
He expressed concern that while Nigeria was seeking loans from foreign organisations, it was losing trillions of Naira that would have been used for developmental purposes.
“The Committee on Marine Transport will join the committee on customs to have a holistic investigation into this matter.
“I think this is one area the law enforcement agencies must move in quickly to ensure that these monies are recovered.
“We cannot be going to China and all over the world trying to borrow money when we can recover easily all the monies that were lost through some corrupt practices.
“This is one area the senate must be praised for blowing a whistle. This is the real whistle,’’ Ekweremadu said.
He commended the committee for a job well-done and urged it to expedite action on the investigation, adding that recovering such money would enable the country to implement the 2017 budget effectively.