The closure of Nigerian borders has elicited divergent views from stakeholders, but the seizure of contraband has been a common point of agreement.
Ironically, the seizure by the Nigerian Customs Services (NCS), took a different dimension and triggered controversy when the Comptroller-General of Customs, Hameed Ali, claimed that 33 containers laden with spoilt rice and other items were seized at TinCan Island Port Lagos.
In this instance, both the Customs and the product importer hold firm to their respective arguments.
The importer, Master Energy Commodities Trading Limited, claimed that the rice had been seized since 2016, at variance with Ali’s claim that it was “one of the gains of border closure”.
Legal Counsel to Masters Energy, Monday Ubani, said: “There is no single truth in what Ali was trying to make the whole world to believe in the said press conference. If you goggle, you will find out that sometime in 2016, it was widely reported in the news that about 30 containers of rice belonging and imported by Masters Energy Commodity Trading Limited, through Nigerian Port, Tincan Island, Apapa, was impounded for failure to pay the correct tariff when clearing them by the Customs Licensed Agent.
“It was even reported that Masters Energy then petitioned The House Committee on Customs, Excise, and Tariff, that its agent Messrs Destiny Impex Limited, a clearing company registered and licensed by the Customs made a false declaration in order to cut tariffs for the 30 containers of rice.
“The company indicated a willingness to pay the correct tariff as the agent was paid full money, but decided to cut down the tariffs in order to avoid paying the full value of the tariffs. This request was turned down and the company was later informed through anonymous sources that the same rice had been shared to the internally displaced peoples’ homes in Northern Nigeria,”
He explained further: “It is important we point out here that this parboiled rice was purchased from Thailand, from a company known as Asia Inter Trade Rice Export Co. Limited, with a disclosed address, and there is a bill of lading to that effect. The quantity imported was 60 containers in all. 30 containers were seized due to the under-declaration by the Agent while the remaining 30 containers arrived later at the port by which time the Federal Government has put rice as one of the famous 41 Items that will not enjoy Forex of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Due to this policy as aforementioned, the remaining 30 containers remained un-cleared and abandoned.
“We have a letter from the Customs authorities asking Masters Energy to seek the approval of Central Bank of Nigeria before they can clear the remaining rice. All these events took place in the year 2016.
“The issues begging for questions really with this emergency press briefing by the Retired Colonel are as follows: Why was it convenient for the Comptroller-General to withhold the date of the said interception. These containers belonging to Masters Energy was impounded since 2016.
“What point does Ali want to achieve by this emergency press briefing in 2019, over a seizure that was done since 2016, and already in the news? Is it to prove to the gullible Nigerians that Nigerian Customs Service that is under “heavy fire” for its excesses is really working and saving Nigeria’s economy?