The Senate has raised the alarm over the disappearance of over 282 vessels from the custody of the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) within the last six years.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff, Senator Hope Uzodinma, raised the alarm at an investigative public hearing on smuggling in the country. He said the 282 vessels were missing from various terminals of the NPA.
He noted that documents in the possession of the Senate showed that the vessels disappeared between 2010 and 2016 without traces. He said: “We want the NPA to come and explain what happened to the 282 vessels that disappeared from the terminals. We have names of the releasing officers.”
Uzodinma who described NPA as critical in the investigation, lamented that the agency failed to send any representative to the public hearing. He said reports had detailed the colossal harm done to the country’s economy by the activities of smugglers. He said: “Those that may imagine that this is an exaggeration should do well to refer to a recent report of the World Bank on smuggling in Nigeria.
“The report was unequivocal in stating that an astonishing $5billion or N1.45 trillion worth of different goods are smuggled into Nigeria annually through Benin Republic alone. “Yet this is only 15 per cent of the total volume of smuggled goods through the Seme border. “The figure of goods smuggled through the sea ports is even more mind boggling.
“The report has it that over $15billion or N4.35 trillion worth of goods are smuggled into the country each year through the sea ports. The story is the same for our international airports.
“Put together, it means that goods worth over N7trilion are smuggled into the country each year.” He said it was more frightening to note that the annual turnover in the hands of smugglers was more than the country’s annual budget. He said the World Bank report further showed that over 25 per cent of the total annual revenue collected by Customs was 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 the service will lose about N200 billion in revenue this year alone.’’ Illegal importation of goods into the country, he said, had equally affected local industries, leading to loss of jobs and closure of industries.
He lamented that smuggling is fast proving to be the biggest industry in Nigeria and must be fought to a standstill. Uzodinma lamented that there were other areas of leakages, arising from miss-invoicing by international traders, abuse of free trade zone policies and temporary import permit. He urged the stakeholders make useful submissions that would aid the committee in its investigation.
He said: “I expect that those of you who have expert knowledge or privileged information on why this cankerworm has continued to pervade our economy should equally come forward with them. “No serious legislative arm of government will sit supine while smugglers ravage the economy and deny the government huge sums of legitimate revenue.
“This Senate is determined to put an end to this smuggling malady and this investigation is designed to facilitate that,’’ he said.