Senate President Bukola Saraki, has identified smuggling of goods into the country as the greatest threat to the realization of the economic policies of the present administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari.
'Smuggling, greatest threat to Buhari’s economic policy'
Saraki says smugglers must be stopped to prevent them from further sabotaging the economy.
Saraki stated this at a public hearing on tackling smuggling in the country organized by the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariffs at the National Assembly, Abuja.
In a statement by his chief press secretary, Sanni Onogu, Saraki insisted that unless the ‘monster’ of smuggling is tamed, efforts being made to diversify the economy from oil would not yield expected results.
"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," Saraki said.
"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.
"The processors who have invested in rice mills at the beginning of this administration will also be threatened if we do not address the issue of rice smuggling," he said.
Saraki also stated that if smuggling is not stopped, the over $7billion invested by the government in the last 10 years to stimulate local production will go to waste.
"As a country we have invested over $7billion over the last 10 years in stimulating local production. If we do not address the area of smuggling, this investment will go to waste. This is the severity of the issue before us today.
"Any institution, whether it is the National Assembly or any other one, in order to support the success of our President, we must join to stop smuggling, without it, we should just forget the issue of diversification or increased agricultural production. We will only pay lip service to issue of agricultural production if we do not address the issue of smuggling and that is why I made it a point to come here personally to drive this message.
"I am confident that with the caliber of members of this Committee and the stakeholders here, that we will use this opportunity to come out with robust solutions on the way forward", the Senate President.
He insisted that smugglers must be stopped to prevent them from further sabotaging the economy.
"There is no government, any serious government, that will render itself helpless because we must know the individuals who are doing this smuggling. We must be able to know who they are. Is it that they are larger and bigger than government?"Is it that we cannot stop them? Or is it that we don't want to stop them? Or is that we lack the competence to stop them? These are the questions that we put before us today. We must stop them. Customs must do what it takes to stop smuggling. These are the largest economic saboteurs that are ruining our economy. We must be able to identify them. They must be made to realize that we are serious about this issue.
"We must be able to sanction officers who are responsible for this and we must be able to reward officers who prevent the issue of smuggling. We want this Committee to sit down for the length of days of public hearing and ask ourselves what is the way forward. I can assure you that our responsibility as a Senate is to ensure that whatever recommendations are made by this Committee we have to send them back to the executive because as I said this matter is the singular greatest threat to our economy and to this government."There are other issues, of course, that have to do with the ECOWAS treaties and agreements. Yes, we are part of ECOWAS. Yes, we want to develop ECOWAS, but no serious country will allow anything that will ruin its economy at the benefit of its neighboring countries."We must be able to do what is right. So on this note, all hands must be on deck to ensure that we address this problem squarely. I assure you of the greatest support of this Senate," he added.Saraki urged the Comptroller General of Customs, Colonel Hamid Ali to prove his mettle by stopping the incidence of smuggling across the nation's borders.
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