Customs’ complicity in illegal importations will kill local industries

When the Central Bank of Nigeria banned the provision of forex for the importation of 41 items, many local industries thought it would cripple their operations. This would later turn out in a way, to be a blessing in disguise as it precipitated backward and vertical integration. With this, local capacities had to be enhanced for local input supply to become available for industries which required them.

Apart from forex restriction, there are however some commodities which are either restricted or out rightly banned from being brought into the country. The 25-item prohibition list by the Nigerian Customs Service includes; Refined Vegetable Oils and Fats, Cocoa Butter, Powder and Cakes, Fruit Juice in Retail Packs, Soaps and Detergents, Corrugated Paper and Paper Boards, All types of Foot Wears, Bags and Suitcases, Used Motor Vehicles above fifteen (15) years from the year of manufacture, and Furniture to mention a few. It also includes poultry products, which are currently being smuggled into the country at an alarming rate. So much that Ayo Oduntan, who was president of the Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), has lamented that over N2 billion worth of frozen chicken is stuck in preservation with local producers who are unable to compete with the smuggled alternatives.

The problem however, is that, when certain items are banned from being brought into the country, they still find their way in through the numerous porous borders. These illegal imports, smuggling of course, are also not always done at entry points, where officers of the Customs service are absent.

READ ALSO: Nigeria Customs intercepts smuggled vehicles, rice with N10bn Duty Paid Value

In fact, several reports have indicated that Customs officials remain complicit in illegal imports and smuggling, despite having a responsibility to secure the borders. It is indeed an irony that even with the appointment of Hameed Ali, on the mantra of radical change and repositioning of the Customs service for professionalism, secure borders, and optimum service delivery, not much appears to have changed.

Many unscrupulous personnel in the service are still feeding fat on gratifications from allowing contrabands into the country, and even those confiscated but somehow finding their way back into the market place.

An investigation by BusinessDay had revealed how seamless it was, given the right racket, to smuggle rice into Nigeria from neighbouring Benin republic. The experience was one where it was observed that convoys of cars retrofitted to smuggle substantial volumes of rice, enter the country on a daily basis. Many of this happens under the cover of darkness, but a lot, early in the day as well. In all of this however, these convoys do not always have to drive into Nigeria in the theatrical “Fast and Furious” mode. No. Some officers of the Nigerian Customs Service facilitate their entry, needless to say after financial arrangements must have been made.

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It should be stressed that such acts are not only subjects of corruption, but more importantly, amount to economic sabotage. When for instance, rice is permitted to be smuggled in (rather recklessly), it threatens the sources of livelihoods of small holder farmers who toil hard to cultivate paddy, and in turn, the multi-billion naira investments of industries that were set up for rice milling.

The Nigerian Customs Service can no longer give manpower or other operational resources as part of excuses for underperformance. This is because, in as much as many of its officers remain complicit in smuggling activities, it rubs off on the credibility of the entire service. The Customs Service will until a holistic weeding is done, remain compromised and unable to deliver the quality service which was expected when Hameed Ali was appointed CG.

We want the relevant agencies of government, to ensure erring customs officers are made to bear the full wrath of the law, when caught conniving with economic saboteurs such as smugglers. Intelligent, objective, unbiased investigations should be conducted into allegations of customs personnel, who connive with people importing items which threaten the survival of local industries, and were legally restricted or banned on account of that.

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