By Henry Umoru and Emman Ovuakporie
ABUJA – Officials of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA have been summoned to appear before the Senate on Thursday to explain how 282 ships disappeared from Nigerian ports between 2010 and 2016.
The summons to the NPA officials who are to also explain the persistence of smuggling and other infractions at the ports came as Speaker Yakubu Dogara at another functioned disclosed that an estimated N7 trillion is lost annually through insecurity and revenue leakages in the waterways. Besides, it was also revealed, yesterday, that the Nigerian Navy recovered over N420 billion or $1.17 billion of Nigerian crude stolen oil in 2016 alone.
That was aside stolen oil worth N6.7 billion or $18.8 million destroyed in various illegal refineries between January and June 2017.
Besides, the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariffs, which conducted a one-day hearing on smuggling in the country, also heard that goods worth N7 trillion are smuggled into Nigeria every year, just as it lamented that “the annual turnover in the hands of smugglers is more than our annual federal budget.”
Chairman of the committee, Senator Hope Uzodinma also quoted a report that specifically said that over $15 billion or N4.35 trillion worth of goods were smuggled into the country each year through the sea ports and international airports.
Senator Uzodinma speaking at the hearing, yesterday, said: “More shocking is an aspect of the World Bank report that states that over 25 per cent of the total annual revenue collected by custom service is lost to smugglers each year. If you go by the projected revenue of the service for this year, which is approximately N600 billion, it means that the service will lose about N200 billion in revenue this year alone.
“The report was unequivocal in stating that an astonishing US $5 billion or N1.45 trillion worth of different goods are smuggled into Nigeria annually through Benin Republic alone. This is only 15 per cent of the total volume of smuggled goods through the Seme border.”
Senator Uzodinma listed mis-invoicing, which is a form of trade based money laundering by international traders, abuse of free trade zone polices and temporary imports permit as major areas of concern.
He also said evidence suggests that unutilized FORM M is used by operators for capital flight and money laundering, all of which facilitate smuggling.
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.
While urging the Comptroller General of Customs to swiftly tackle the menace, he said he would not mind moving a motion to allow him, Ali to wear anything he liked in office whether jeans or anything.
“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.
“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 Banks that has intervened with billions of Naira again will not be able to recoup their money.”
But the Comptroller General of NCS, Col Hameed Ali (rtd), who spoke through his deputy in-charge of operations, Nuhu Abba Ibrahim, accused some highly placed individuals and institutions of intervening in the operations of the Service, citing as an example, the raid on a warehouse in Idiroko, Ogun State which was stopped.
N7trn lost annually
Meanwhile, Speaker Dogara while also declaring open a public hearing on a bill to amend the Maritime Operations Coordinating Board Act, yesterday, disclosed that Nigeria loses about N7 trillion naira annually to insecurity and revenue leakages in her waterways.
Dogara also posited that security in Nigeria’s territorial waters must be strengthened, with the Nigerian Navy and other relevant agencies collaborating to stem the tide of piracy and other attacks, while the parliament seeks ways to secure its territorial waters.
He said: “It is even more worrisome to note that Nigeria is said to be losing about N7 trillion annually in the Maritime sector due to, among other reasons, leakages in revenue generation and insecurity in the water ways.
“Between January and March 2016, several attacks were reported off Nigeria’s coast. This was said to involve pirates stealing cargoes of crude oil and petroleum products. Reports had it that, no fewer than 44 ship crew members were abducted. In the first half of this year, over 20 commercial vessels were attacked in Nigerian waters. The increasing level of attacks and violence in the Gulf of Guinea have given Nigeria and other countries in the sub-region very damaging and negative image in addition to an estimated monthly loss of $1.5 billion to the country.
“As I said recently, prevalence of insecurity in our waters resulted in the loss of $1.3 billion annually to illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in West Africa alone yearly. We must tighten the legal and regulatory framework to stop these losses. The only way to promote intra- African trade in our water ways is to ensure safety and security of navigation in our waters.
“What is disturbing is that pirate attacks in West Africa are said to be occurring in our territorial waters, terminals, and harbors and not in the high seas which effectively stopped intervention by international naval forces.
“Thus, the onus is on the Nigerian Navy to stem the tide and secure our territorial waters, in cooperation with other agencies of government. However, in the absence of enabling laws that stipulate stiff penalties and adequate funding, the Navy may not be able to perform this responsibility effectively and efficiently,” he stated.
Speaking on the importance of the maritime sector to achieving the Federal government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan that was launched in March this year to effectively take Nigeria from recession to recovery, as well as the 8th House of Representatives’ Legislative Agenda on National Economic and Development to put in place, legislative measures to promote rapid economic growth and development, Dogara stressed that the importance of making Nigeria’s maritime sector safe and secure cannot be over emphasised given that the bulk of our trade and commerce come through our waters and ports.
“This will greatly boost government revenue, increase our foreign reserve and ultimately provide jobs to millions of our youths.
Our water ways and even the Gulf of Guinea have been witnessing increasing level of piracy and kidnapping of expatriates and Nigerians alike. This Bill addresses these challenges by among other things, stipulating stiff penalties for offences of piracy and other criminal activities in our territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone.”
This is aside stolen oil worth N6,757,551,140.20 or $18,770,975.39 destroyed in various illegal refineries between January and June 2017.
The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ibas in his submission said that in 2009 that Nigeria lost as much as 25% of its daily production quota of 1.8 million bbl/d in 2009 to piracy, sea robbery, and other attacks.
“Pro-rated against the total volume of that year and basing at the prevalent average cost of $90.48 per barrel at that time, a heavy loss of over $19 billion could have been incurred by just one sector in just one year,” he noted.
He, however, observed that the intervention of the Nigerian Navy has led to steady increase in national crude oil production from less than a million barrel per day in early 2016 through 1.684mbpd in December 2016 to over 2.0mbpd by April 2017, with a corresponding increase in revenue earnings.
To achieve its statutory functions, he stressed the need for timely and total release of annual budgetary allocations, considering the contribution of $67.18 billion yearly by the maritime sector to the Nigerian
Earlier in his remarks, Chairman Committee on Navy, Rep Abdussamad Dasuki noted that “while the incidences of sea piracy are reduced in other territorial waters due to effective coordination, it is increasing in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea.
“To compound the problem, the United Nations Security Council reported that Nigeria was losing about 1.5billion US dollars monthly due to piracy and other activities.”