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House panel on rice duties directs Customs to ignore politicians’ orders




THE ad-hoc committee set up by the House of Representatives to look into the alleged fraud and evasion of rice import duties and levies by importers yesterday directed the authorities of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to henceforth ignore any instruction from political office holders regarding the waivers of import duties for certain products brought into the country.

The panel’s directive came following information which came to fore at the continuation of an investigative hearing which held at the National Assembly in Abuja on Tuesday.

Members of the committee, led by Leo Ogor (PDP, Delta) and other stakeholders at the beginning of the hearing on Monday accused the minister of agriculture as well as his counterpart Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Muhammed Bello Adoke of allegedly giving certain considerations to some importers who allegedly exceeded their quotas and did not pay the required indemnity.

Yesterday, Ogor advised the NCS officials to be circumspect about instructions emanating from politicians, which he said are detrimental to national interest especially upon learning that the alleged minister’s directives were verbal. He told the officials of the service to always endeavour to act professionally and within the ambit of the law.

“If I were to invite the minister here he would deny giving you such instruction because he knows the import of owing up to such issue,” Ogor advised.

He called on the NCS to be guided by the extant legislation of the Act setting up the organisation, which states inter alia that no goods, for which duty is prescribed, shall be cleared for entry into the country unless such duty is paid.

But, making his submission when he appeared before the panel yesterday, the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, denied the allegation of collusion, cover-up or shady deals among others regarding the sourcing of import duties on rice, which outstanding amount is put at N36 billion.

He explained that after series of consultations with relevant stakeholders in the sector, the ministry decided that it was appropriate to harness collection of duties on imported rice in order to discourage the trend, with a view to encouraging local production, which quality and dietary benefit, he said is much more than that of imported rice.

Corroborating, former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Michael Kaase Aondoakaa, now a large scale local rice farmer expressed the need for all importers to pay the government what is due to it instead of blaming officials for what is ab initio their lawful obligation.

“I don’t have any problem with the policy. The problem started when the minister (Adesina) alleged that some companies were not paying the 70 percent duty for the excess they imported, and the Customs went ahead to publish the names of the companies. Instead of them becoming responsible and pay what they were owing, they started attacking the person of the minister.

“The 2014 quota was very transparent because we all participated, so if you exceed your quota, it then means you are ready to pay the 70 percent for the excess you have imported, and not 30 percent (which is what is applicable when still within the quota allocation). But they choose to behave like they own the country.”

Aondoakaa said rice importation companies should fulfil their civic responsibilities and leave the choice of purchasing to the consumers, who may go for their products, “which has been in storage, some where for seven years” or buy the local product.




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