Alleged spoilt rice:
NAGAFF exonerates Customs
*Says Customs operatives not quality assurance officials
“The batch of rice said to have expired at time of seizure not among PALLIATIVES – Dr Aniebonam insists
By Udeme Clement :
The Founder, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, NAGAFF, Dr Boniface Aniebonam, has exonerated Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, on allegation of giving out spoilt rice as COVID-19 palliative,
stressed that Customs officers are not trained as quality assurance personnel.
His words, “Customs does not have any business with issues arising from rice PALLIATIVE, other than to carry out orders of the Presidency, as received. This MATTER indeed has nothing to do with the CGC as a person, nor Customs Service, because they are not saddled with quality control duty, or designed as a quality control agency of GOVERNMENT.
“It is equally important to note that the particular batch of rice said to have expired or conterminated at the time of seizure may not be among the rice PALLIATIVE in question”.
His explanation : “Let us start by reminding concerned persons and states that NIGERIA is a constitutional country with some other subsidiary legislations governing Customs operations. At the moment, NIGERIA Customs Service is under the regulation and control of an act of National Assembly” .
He pointed out, “The act referred to as Customs and Excise Management Act – CAP 45 of 2004 AS AMENDED . Under the Act, Chairman of the Board is the Hon Minister of Finance. It is also a fact that Customs is one of the parasatals of the Ministry of Finance. We are equally aware that Finance is a Ministry under the Presidency.
It is important we draw attention of all concerned to section 4 , 5 and 6 of the Act detailing powers of the Board of Customs to make regulations for proper administration of Customs laws. Therefore, the inherent powers of the Act is that of Finance Minister, not the Comptroller General of Customs, CGC”.
He explained further,
“However, the Finance Minister under section 5 of the Act is expected to consult the CGC in any MATTER, with a view to making an informed decision in proper management and administration of Customs laws and other functions”.
On allegation of spoilt rice, he said, “With regard to the gift of COVID-19 PALLIATIVE, we do disagree that the NIGERIA customs service gave any rice to any body including states as it were. NAGAFF simply perceived that Customs whom they said contaminated rice is under its custody, as a distribution channel and on behalf of Finance Minister and Presidency in particular. In our opinion, Customs Officers are not trained as quality assurance personnel. Even on this MATTER, it is our opinion that their role is clear, unambiguous and shall be simply to distribute rice, as directed by the PRESIDENCY.”
Dr Aniebonam informed, “It is important to emphasize that the outcry over rice PALLIATIVE from the media and public could be traced to some statements made by the CGC, as at the time of seizure of some bags of rice. We are aware that the CGC actually said that some bags of the rice seized in the past were expired and in some cases conterminated. We are constrained to point out that it shall be the duty of the Presidency to ask questions at the time of giving approval to distribute the alleged expired rice kept in the custody of customs as palliative.
“It is also the duty of Presidency to direct NAFDAC through Ministry of Health to undergo quality assurance test of the said rice before distribution.
“Customs does not have any business with issues arising from rice PALLIATIVE, other than to carry out orders of the Presidency as received.
Dr Aniebonam went on, “NAGAFF as a critical stakeholder in Maritime transportation and Customs facilitation, is strategically positioned to make inputs on the public outcry of alleged conterminated rice delivered to states from government approved warehouses under Customs control. It is the duty of Health Ministry and its subsidiary NAFDAC to carry out their oversight functions on the rice PALLIATIVE in question, even before this time of need.”
He stressed, “This MATTER indeed has nothing to do with the CGC as a person, nor the Customs Service, because they are not saddled with quality control duty, or designed as a quality control agency of GOVERNMENT.
“We urge concerned parties to look in the direction of Presidency, Ministry of health and NAFDAC, to know what actually happened.
We must emphasise again that the particular batch of rice said to have expired or contaminated at the time of seizure may not be among the rice PALLIATIVE in question. It is our hope that Customs Service Board shall learn a lot of lessons from this experience.
“It is very clear under section 31 of Customs laws, which spelt out dwell time of cargo in Customs ports and sales of auction as an ancillary function. One is tempted to ask, why do we seize the rice and left it out of time at the GOVERNMENT warehouses? Why have we not sold them auction or give out to the needy? Because it is common knowledge that rice can not withstand humid condition for a longer time. We also know that there are so many ladden containers and vehicles seized by Customs, which may be out of time for auction sales.”
He continued, “It shall be the advice of NAGAFF to Mr PRESIDENT, that the owners of seized trade goods be granted amnesty to come forward and pay appropriate Customs duty, to take delivery of their imports. It is our belief that the Federal GOVERNMENT shall realise billions of naira as Customs duty, rather than selling them auction over a paltry sum .
“In all of these, Customs does not have any role to play, other than to carry out instructions, or orders from the Presidency.
” The NCS is statutorily charged with the responsibilities to collect import, export and excise duty. Other ancillary functions shall include anti- smuggling, trade facilitation, post audit functions, provision of trade statistics for budgetary matters and collaboration with regional and international bodies on trade related matters”.
He appealed, “On behalf of all our importers, excise traders and public interest, we are appealing to Customs, to draw attention of Mr PRESIDENT over several containers of trade goods in the ports, which were seized by Customs or as overtime cargo . They should invite the owners to pay appropriate duty and penalty as punishment for contravention of Customs laws. This shall be the high point of PALLIATIVES under COVID-19 pandemic. It is common knowledge that GOVERNMENT needs internal revenue to meet up with expenses in tackling CORONAVIRUS FATALITY. GOVERNMENT has to take every reasonable step to generate internal revenue at this point, because the post effect of COVID-19 pandemic may not be friendly to our economy. It is our hope that concerned agency in charge of food and drug administration in NIGERIA will take responsibility to do thorough work on alleged conterminated rice.
“The concept of mudslinging, passing blames , playing politics , denials,television show and avoidable anger should be set aside. Let us face the main issue of eliminating the FATALITY of CORONAVIRUS in our country. Let love of God and PATRIOTISM take the centre stage in this critical moment of our nationhood”.