Senate, on December 20, 2017, commenced investigation on the alleged economic sabotage perpetrated by the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS.
NCS was accused of causing goods worth over ₦20 billion to rot away in various Customs’ warehouses across the country thus making the nation to lose money.
The Senate criticised NCS’ habit of hoarding seized perishable goods of high economic value that should otherwise be auctioned to the public or given to the poor citizens or to the internally displaced persons (IDPs).
The goods, which are warehoused in Kano, Katsina, Sokoto, Maiduguri, Western Marine, Lagos, Eastern Marine, Port Harcourt and Zone C Federal Operations, Owerri and Port Harcourt, are rotting away at great cost to the economy and the stench oozing out of the stack poses a health hazard to residents in those areas.
A visit to some of these warehouses across the country will leave you with an impression that the nation is a wasteful country. Some of these items are already breeding maggots and oozing out dangerous odour detrimental to the wellbeing of residents in the neighbourhood.
Some of these items are either restricted or contraband. They include, rice, fabrics, tinned foods (restricted); marijuana, cocaine and other contraband.
While the rice, fabrics or tinned foods could be auctioned or sent to the IDPs, the drug materials could be given to drug manufacturing companies to manufacture drugs. But these items are left to rot away.
It is against this backdrop that Senator Mohammed Hassan (Yobe PDP) called on all well-meaning Nigerians to condemn this attitude of keeping perishable items without considering the option of auctioning or using them to feed the already famished citizens of the nation.
“The Senate notes with dismay that these items, which ought to have been kept for a short interval are now being kept for so long in Customs’ warehouses, amounting to large economic waste. The Senate notes that prior to now, these goods, when seized, were auctioned off by the customs to the general public.
“However, these auctions are rarely done in recent times and reports show that the customs warehouses are brimming with spoiled or almost spoiled goods while people are dying of hunger,” he said.
Hassan who added that such a development was not in the interest of the economy, called on NCS to decongest its warehouses and turn “these wastes to useful gain for the country,” he said.
Since he was appointed on August 27, 2015, the Controller General of Customs, Colonel Hameed Ibrahim Ali (retd), has given the impression that he was appointed to sanitise, clean up and curb corruption in the service. So, he saw smuggling as his greatest challenge and vowed to deal with it headlong.
Also, as part of Federal Government’s policy to encourage local production of rice, he restricted the importation of rice to the sea ports. Since 2015, a large amount of seized items have been piling in the various warehouses of customs contrary to the usual practice where seized items were auctioned or importers meant to buy them back.
It is against this backdrop that the Senate raised the alarm over the wanton waste and mindless behaviours of the leadership of the service.
Beside perishable materials, there are other non-perishable materials that are equally rotting away at the expense of the nation. Some of these items have undergone court judgement, yet they are still in the warehouses.
The service auction of these items has been shrouded in secrecy and the style of auctioning had been widely condemned by the people. The result is that people have lost confidence in the system and are no longer bidding.
Consequently, many of these items have been left to rot and gather dust in various locations across the country.
However, some of the high profile seizures have been frittered away from where they were kept. For instance, the bulletproof SUV allegedly belonging to the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, has disappeared from where it was kept in Lagos and nobody has won it through the auction process instituted by the service.
There are other vehicles which have depreciated to the level of scrap because of long stay in the garage.
In FOU Zone A, the garage can no longer contain the seized items. So the customs training school nearby was converted to a warehouse.
According to the comptroller of FOU Zone A, Ikeja, Uba Garba, very soon, the command will rent some private establishments to warehouse some of the items.
Agreed that these items are seized, those of them that have undergone court condemnation should quickly be dispensed with to avoid storage problem and spoilage.
The auction process should be made more transparent to encourage more participation and evacuation of bidded items. Also, the decomposed food materials should also be evacuated to prevent health hazard and death.
Speaking to newsmen during the end-of-year breakfast meeting in Lagos, Deputy Comptroller of Customs, Joseph Attah explained that the service has always donated the items to the IDPs in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and Edo states.
“On what we do with seized items, it should be remembered that in January 2016, NCS received a presidential directive to donate all the seized perishable items to Nigerians affected by the activities of the insurgents in the North-Eastern part of the country.
“In February 2016, the Comptroller General of Customs inaugurated a National Logistics Committee with members drawn from the Customs, Army, Air force, Police, Federal Road Safety Corps, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, NAFDAC, Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Red Cross.
“The National Logistics Committee was mandated to transfer all seized rice and their relief materials to IDP camps in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and Edo states
Attah said the service is meticulous with seizures as they are properly documented and kept in government warehouse or constructively warehoused (in the case of inflammable items) following which thorough investigations and compilations of case files are done.