The top hierarchy of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, have come under intense pressure from the Presidency and the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to denounce reports in the media alleging serial abuses in the N1.4trillion import tariff waivers granted by government between 2011 and 2013.
PREMIUM TIMES had on Tuesday published a detailed report, based on a document sourced from the Customs, how more than 65 percent of incentives granted as waivers and concessions for exports were for questionable goods imported by privileged cronies of those in power.
Online news website, Saharareporters and Daily Trust also reported extensively on the report.
The report contradicted the claims by the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and chronicled how a whooping N1.4 trillion was given out as incentives to various individuals and companies for importing goods with no direct significance to government’s purported commitment to promoting the growth of the country’s economy.
Some of the unapproved goods for which several billions of Naira were waived include rice, fish, kolanuts and household items.
The minister, who reportedly felt unsettled by the report, was said to have called the Comptroller General of Customs, Abdullahi Dikko Inde, to express the concern of the Presidency about how the highly classified information on the waiver regime was leaked to the press.
Sources close to the presidency, the finance ministry and the customs said the presidency and the ministry, claiming the report thoroughly embarrassed the government, are asking Mr. Inde to take steps to profusely deny the document originated from the customs service and describe the report as a forgery.
“The Customs Comptroller General is under tremendous pressure as we speak,” one of our sources said. “They are threatening to sack him if he does not disown the report. He loves his job and we do not know at this time if he would budge.
“He has also been asked to do discreet investigation to identify the staff who leaked the document to the media.”
The pressure on the Customs hierarchy over the report appears normal for a government which recently compelled the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Lamido Sanusi, to recant a claim in a memo to President Goodluck Jonathan that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation had diverted more than $49.8billion (N8trilion) of the country’s oil revenue.
Mr. Sanusi had accused the NNPC of systematically diverting more than 76 per cent of revenues realized from crude oil sales between January 2012 and July 2013, paying only 24 per cent of the proceeds from all crude oil sales within the period into the federation account.
Angered by the memo, the Presidency reportedly called the CBN governor and threatened to sack him if he did not deny the report, which was considered embarrassing and in bad taste.
The governor was to later address the press in company with Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala and her counterpart in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, to announce that a part of the missing funds had been reconciled. The Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala claimed only $10.8billion was outstanding while Mr. Sanusi said at least $12billion had not been accounted for
Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, had in her response to the 50 questions posed to her by the House of Representatives Committee on Finance on the state of the country’s economy, said only about N171billion was lost to waivers and concession for the three years.
PREMIUM TIMES findings, however, fundamentally contradicted the Minister, with the true figure found to have been higher by about 741 per cent.
Still, the minister insisted on Monday, at the presentation of the 2014 budget in Abuja, that the figure was not a “loss” to the nation, as granting of import waivers and concessions was a policy adopted by advanced countries to grow their economy and create jobs.
“These policies, which come in significant figures in several billions of Naira, are what enable the manufacturing industries to be competitive and be able to expand, despite the constraints of competition, and production, to be able to create jobs,” she said.
“There is no question of loss to the country when it is government policy,” the Minister’s spokesperson, Paul Nwabuikwu said in a statement. “The policy choice is between customs revenue and incentive revenues for industries. The government chose the latter because we believe the country stands to gain more from the incentives.”