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End smuggling and you are free to wear jeans and t-shirt- Saraki to Customs boss



Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki has, promised the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali, that he would personally move a motion that Mr. Ali should wear jeans and T-Shirt if he so desires provided that Customs ends smuggling of goods, especially rice into the country.

The Senate President said this on Monday while declaring open a public hearing on tackling smuggling in the country organised by the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariffs at the National Assembly, Abuja.

Declaring the hearing open, yesterday, Senate President Bukola Saraki, warned that smuggling constituted the greatest threat to the realization of the economic policies of the present administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Recall that the senate had first invited Ali to appear before it on March 8 to brief it on the proposed policy for payment of Customs duty by vehicle owners, no matter the age of the vehicle. However, Ali did not honour the invitation on the grounds that he had a management meeting. Not satisfied, the senate again issued a warrant mandating Ali to appear before it on March 16.

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On the said date, Col. Ali appeared before the Senate but without his complete Customs uniform. Instead, he appeared before it, dressed in white caftan, white cap and black shoes to match.

Saraki said while declaring the public hearing open, “To the Comptroller General of Customs, let me say on a lighter note, that once you end smuggling, even if you want to wear jeans and T-Shirt, I will move the motion that you should wear jeans and T-Shirt,” Saraki said. “But on a serious note, this issue is very important.”

“Customs must do what it takes to stop smuggling. These are the largest economic saboteurs that are ruining our economy. We must be able to identify them. They must be made to realize that we are serious about this issue.

“We must be able to sanction officers who are responsible for this and we must be able to reward officers who prevent the issue of smuggling. We want this Committee to sit down for the length of days of public hearing and ask ourselves what is the way forward.

“I can assure you that our responsibility as a Senate is to ensure that whatever recommendations are made by this Committee, we have to send them back to the executive because as I said, this matter is the singular greatest threat to our economy and to this government”, he said.

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He said, “My personal presence here this morning along with the leader of the Senate is to make a point of the importance that this senate places on this subject matter,”

“For me personally, it is my view that the singular greatest threat to our economy is this issue of smuggling. What is militating against the success of our government is this issue of smuggling.

“The singular greatest threat to the delivery of the promises made by President Muhammadu Buhari on the diversification of the economy is this issue of smuggling.”

“The level of smuggling that we are seeing cannot continue because they will definitely rubbish all the policies of government if allowed to go on. I am saying that with all sincerity and all level of responsibility and I tell you why. Today, the greatest threat to small holder farmers is smuggling.”

“Today, rice farmers who have gone to take loans either from the CBN (Central Bank of Nigeria) or from commercial banks are being threatened by rice coming in from across the borders at highly subsidized rate.”

“The meaning of that is that the imported rice will always be cheaper than those produced by our local farmers. A time will come, if we do not do anything, that these farmers will not be able to pay their loans to the banks and this will result in serious crisis. The banks that have given loans to these farmers, will also have crisis in their hands. And for the Central Bank that has intervened with billions of Naira again will not be able to recoup their money.

“The processors who have invested in rice mills at the beginning of this administration will also be threatened if we do not address the issue of rice smuggling,” he said.

“As a country, we have invested over $7billion over the last 10 years in stimulating local production,” Saraki said. “If we do not address the area of smuggling, this investment will go to waste. This is the severity of the issue before us today.

“Any institution, whether it is the National Assembly or any other one, in order to support the success of our President, we must join to stop smuggling, without it, we should just forget the issue of diversification or increased agricultural production. We will only pay lip service to issue of agricultural production if we do not address the issue of smuggling and that is why I made it a point to come here personally to drive this message.

“I am confident that with the caliber of members of this Committee and the stakeholders here, that we will use this opportunity to come out with robust solutions on the way forward”, said the Senate President.

He insisted that smugglers must be prevented further crippling the economy.

“There is no government, any serious government, that will render itself helpless because we must know the individuals who are doing this smuggling. We must be able to know who they are. Is it that they are larger and bigger than government?

“Is it that we cannot stop them? Or is it that we don’t want to stop them? Or is it that we lack the competence to stop them? These are the questions that we put before us today. We must stop them. Let us all work towards ending this menace once and for all.”

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