The Senate on Monday alleged that over 282 vessels in the custody of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) have disappeared between 2010 and 2016.
The Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff made this known at a public hearing it organised on smuggling of goods into the country.
The Chairman of the committee, Senator Hope Uzodinma, in his opening remarks, alleged that the NPA failed to properly account for the vessels and their contents over the period.
“We want the Nigerian Ports Authority to come and explain what happened to 282 vessels that disappeared from terminals. We have names of the releasing officers. This shows that there is no security at the terminals,” he said.
Uzodinma criticised the NPA for not attending the hearing even though the exercise was focused on the activities of the organisation.
He added, “Permit me in this respect to drop the hint that primary information at our disposal will suggest that in spite of the CISS, leakages still abound in the import-export chain. A major area of concern here has to do with improper invoicing by international traders, abuse of free trade zone policies and temporary import permit.
“Improper invoicing is a form of trade-based money laundering that includes the overstatement and understatement of import and export values on official forms and records. A few examples will suffice for illustration.
“Specifically, such practice will include taking advantage of unutilised Form M to perpetrate fraud in collaboration with operating banks. We have evidence to suggest that unutilised Form M is used by operators for capital flight and money laundering, all of which facilitate smuggling.”
He added, “There are also questions to be answered on the criteria used in the determination, abandonment and cancellation of PAARS and SGDS unutilised PAARS. The SGD is crucial in the import export chain, as it is the document that indicates payments to be made of shipment. As it stands, it does appear that the documentation process has been compromised and the authorised dealer banks may be culpable.
“Indeed, there are accusing fingers in many directions, including unpaid and cancelled SGDS, cancelled PAARS, bills of lading with multiple PAAR, etc. All these appear to be channels through which official instruments of international trade have been abused to aid smuggling. Even in the area of remittances, the operating banks might not have come out very clean of legitimate revenue.”
The lawmaker recalled that the Senate mandated the Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff to carry out a holistic investigation into the operations of the Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme, with a view to identifying the factors behind the escalating rate of smuggling of imported goods into the country and those behind it.
Uzodinma stated that the panel was also mandated to proffer solutions to curb the smuggling menace and to recommend appropriate penalties to be visited on the perpetrators.
The senator stated that smuggling was a major threat to the economy.
The event, however, took a dramatic turn when the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, was declaring the hearing open. After delivering his speech, he told the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (retd.), who attended the event in his usual mufti, to end smuggling in Nigeria and be allowed to continue to operate without being in the official uniform.
The Senate has had a running battle with Ali over his refusal to function as the CG of the NCS in uniform.
Saraki stated, “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.
“But on a serious note, this issue is very important. Let us all work towards ending this menace once and for all.”