Following the dust raised by the Oyo State Government’s allegation that the 1,800 bags of rice donated to it by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) as Covid-19 palliatives were infested by weevil, the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) has come out to absolve the NCS of any wrongdoing.
The founder of NAGAFF, Dr. Boniface Aniebonam who made this submission in a statement in Lagos recently pointed out that with regard to the rice donated by customs as Covid-19 palliatives, NAGAFF disagreed that the NCS gave any rice to anybody including states adding that it simply perceived the Nigeria Customs Service whom the said contaminated rice was under her custody as a distribution channel who distributed the rice on behalf of the Minister of Finance and Presidency in particular.
Aniebonam added that in the opinion of the association, the officers and men of the NCS were not trained as Quality Assurance personnel.
He observed that it was the opinion of NAGAFF that the role of customs in this matter was clear and unambiguous which was simply to distribute rice as directed by the Presidency.
According to him, “It is important that we emphasize that the outcry over the rice palliatives from the media and the public could be traced to some statements made by the Comptroller General of Customs as at the time of seizure of some of the rice. We are aware that the CGC actually said that some of the rice seized in the past were expired and in some cases contaminated. 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 palliatives. It is also the duty of the presidency to direct NAFDAC through Ministry of Health to undergo quality assurance test of the said rice before its distribution.
“The Nigeria Customs Service does not have any business with all of the issues arising from the rice palliatives other than to carry out orders of the presidency as received. It is to NAGAFF that there is a gross negligence of duty on the part of Ministry of Health and its subsidiary (NAFDAC) in carrying out their oversight functions on those rice palliatives under questioning even before this time of need. This matter indeed has nothing to do with the Comptroller General of Customs as a person nor the Nigeria Customs Service because they are not saddled with quality control duty nor designed as a quality control agency of the Government.”
He urged all the concerned parties to look in the direction of presidency, Ministry of Health and NAFDAC to know what actually happened really saying “we must emphasize that it is equally important to note that the particular batch of rice said to have expired and/or contaminated at the time of seizure may not be among the rice palliatives under questioning.”
Aniebonam who is also the National Chairman of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) however, hoped that the Nigeria Customs Service Board should learn a lot of lessons from this experience even as he pointed out that it was very clear under section 31 of customs laws which spelt out dwell time of cargo in the customs ports and sale of auction as an ancillary function.
“One is tempted to ask why we seize the rice and left it out of time at the government warehouses. Why have we not sold them auction and/or give it out to the needy because it is a common knowledge that rice cannot withstand humid conditions for a longer time. We also know that there are so many ladden containers and vehicles seized by the customs which may be out of time for auction sales and/or as the board of NCS may deem it proper to deal with those goods lying at the ports and government approved warehouses.
“Under Covid-19 pandemic palliatives, it shall be the advice of NAGAFF to Mr. President that the owners of such seized trade goods be granted amnesty to come forward and pay appropriate customs duty and penalty thereto and take delivery of their imports. It is our belief that the federal government shall realize billions of naira as customs duty rather than selling it auction over a paltry sum.
“In all of this, the Nigeria Customs Service does not have any role to play other than to carry out instructions and/or orders given to them by the presidency. The NCS is statutorily charged with the responsibility among others to collect import, export and excise duty. Other ancillary functions shall include anti-smuggling functions, trade facilitation, post audit functions, provision of trade statistics for budgetary matters and collaboration with regional and international bodies on trade related matters.
“On behalf of all our importers, excise traders and public interest, we are graciously appealing to the Nigeria customs to draw the attention of Mr. President over several containers of trade goods lying at the ports which were seized by the customs and/or as an overtime cargo. Mr. President should invite the owners to pay appropriate customs duty and penalty thereto as a punishment for the contravention of customs laws. This shall be the high point of palliatives under COVID 19 pandemic.
“It is a common knowledge that the federal government needed locally generated revenue to meet up with expenses in dealing with coronavirus fatality. Government just has to take every reasonable steps to generate internal revenue at this point in time because the post effect of Covid-19 pandemic may not be friendly to Nigeria economy. It is our hope that the concerned agency incharge of food and drug administration in Nigeria should take responsibility to do due diligent works on the alleged contaminated rice.
“The concept of mudslinging, buck-passing blames, playing politics, denials, television show and avoidable anger should be set aside. Let us face the main issue zeroed on stemming the fatality of coronavirus in our country. Let love of God and patriotism take the centre stage in this critical moment of our nationhood”, he admonished.
Photo: The Founder of NAGAFF, Dr. Boniface Aniebonam.
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