This was disclosed yesterday on the floor of the Senate when a motion on ‘Indiscriminate Use and Abuse of Waivers for Rice Importation’ was debated by senators and a resolution was passed, urging the government to stop it forthwith.
Senate, upon the motion sponsored by Senator Rafiu Adebayo Ibrahim (APC Kwara South), also mandated the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Godwin Emefiele, and the Comptroller General of Nigerian Customs Service, Abdullahi Dikko, to ensure that all import duties due to government are forthwith recovered.
The red chamber also set up an ad-hoc committee chaired by Senator Adamu Aliero (APC Kebbi Central) to look into this policy regime and simultaneously carry out its holistic review with a view to determining government revenues lost to waiver policy.
The committee was also mandated to look into all issues relating to waivers, concessions and grants with a view to determining full government revenues in respect of the policy.
Senator Ibrahim, in his lead debate, said the flagrant abuse of waiver scheme has severely eroded Federal Government’s rice production policy by allowing importation of huge quantities of the commodity in excess of their approved quota.
According to him, a recent Senate interaction with CBN revealed how importers have overshot their quota and, consequently, owing the Federal Government import duties running into billions of naira. He argued that instead of importers paying as huge as 70 per cent duties and levies to the Federal Government, they were granted waivers and thereby denying Nigerians legitimate revenues.
He also said instead of punishing defaulting importers, the past Federal administration rewarded them with fresh waivers to import more in its twilight. Ibrahim also disclosed that government loses as much as N71 billion on duty waivers to importers of rice, palm oil, energy equipment, steel and vegetable oil annually, recalling how the government gave import duty waivers to 10 rice and palm oil importers, amounting to N150 billion in 2011.
He regretted that the Nigerian Customs, which ought to enforce compliance of the duty policy at the borders, has failed to live up to its responsibility. While supporting the motion, Senator Ibrahim Gobir (APC Sokoto North), said findings on waivers had shown that N585 billion worth of waivers were granted by the Federal Government between 2011 and 2014. Gobir argued that if this sum was shared among the 36 states of the federation, each of the three senatorial districts in a state will have N5.3 billion which, he said, was enough to provide 5,000 jobs in various states.
He, therefore, called for a complete stop of waivers. Also speaking, Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West) said recent findings showed that over N400 billion had been granted as waivers in recent times. He compared the issue of waivers to plea bargain, which he said was a good idea when conceived, but has now been abused as he alleged that the Nigerian Customs has been conniving with importers who evade import duties. While also advocating removal of waivers, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia South) said waivers on rice, cement, palm oil, among others, should be completely removed, adding that local production should be enhanced, while the Nigerian economy is protected like that of Malaysia.