Stakeholders in the Nigerian economy believe that for government to achieve its crusade on Made-in-Nigeria products, there is need to checkmate the invasion of goods smuggled through the borders, while the Nigeria Customs Service is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that statutory tariffs due to the Federal Government are collected on every imported goods . OLAJIDE FABAMISE reports
It is true that Nigerian economy is import dependent, but in order to discourage the trend and allow local manufacturing industries to thrive, the Federal Government has decided to place some goods under the import prohibition list so as to discourage their importation.
Some of these goods include furniture, rice in bags, textiles, and a whole lot of other products.
One of the items that have recently generated so much heat and tension is the importation of rice. In order to encourage local farming and discourage importation, the government pegged the tariff on rice at 110%. Ever since the policy came into operation, stakeholders have cried out at different fora, pleading with the government to reverse the policy.
No doubt, the ban on importation of rice has taken a negative toll on the economy because the commodity still finds its way into the country by way of smuggling through unapproved routes at the land borders. Through this unwholesome channel, the revenue that is supposed to accrue to the Federal Government through the customs is lost.
Industry analysts particularly lament on the food beverage and tobacco sector of the economy as a major focus point for smugglers and illicit traders. The sector, like pharmaceuticals, is delicate because it affects the well-being of the consumers of the products. Of all the consumables, the tobacco industry is particularly affected due to the strict regulation and suppression. This creates a new source of demand which smuggled goods appears to fill.
Some analysts are of the opinion that the more government and regulation make it difficult for the sale of tobacco products some may find it easy to smuggle in products as opposed to getting them legally. Stiff regulation makes the price of legally available products higher than that of the smuggled goods and also makes them less accessible to the consumers therefore, when consumers find the smuggled goods more accessible, they may tend to purchase these.
Another factor that has shown the negative effect of the ban and the activities of the customs to discourage its importation is the fact that border community youths have now been rendered jobless.
Some Customs officers at the Seme Border area of Lagos State escaped death by the whiskers last week after angry youths from a border village attempted to lynch them because one of the officers allegedly shot and killed a man believe to be a rice smuggler that led to fracas between the custom and the youths.
It is clear that the smugglers around the land borders are becoming more desperate because the custom has been tightening the noose around their necks.
Alhaji Mikky Okunola, frontline freight forwarder and president of the Trans-border Traders Association, said that government needs to create alternative employment for the youths around the border communities.
He confirmed that since the ban on rice importation, many of the youths have been rendered jobless.
“If you look at what is happening within the West African border communities, if we have to be sincere to ourselves there is nothing concrete that they are doing, something to discourage them from smuggling activities is not there, government needs to do more for the border indigenes, we have to create something to engage them legitimately”
“The idea behind banning of rice importation through Nigerian borders is a bad law, majority of the youths that are now engaging in illegal activities used to engage themselves with minor jobs like loading rice into trucks and trading, now that it is banned let there be an alternative.”
Even though it acknowledged that the intensified efforts of the Nigerian Custom Service against smuggling activities shall give further impetus to the success of the transformation programme of government, the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (Nagaff) has however written a petition to President Goodluck Jonathan on the need to exercise caution.
In the petition, Nagaff expressed strong dissatisfaction at the loss of investment by the trading public in the hands of Customs and other regulatory agencies of the government stating that it is not healthy for a growing economy like Nigeria.
The association however advised the President that the Nigeria Customs Service and other regulatory agencies of the government should be directed to increase the concept of corrective measures instead of outright seizure of defaulting trade goods.
It pointed out that if traders continue to lose their investments in the manner it is currently being done by customs, the desire of local manufacturing in Nigeria will remain a mirage.
Though it also acknowledge the presence of quacks among the freight forwarding community, Nagaff called for an orientation agency of the government to step forward in order to educate and enlighten traders and freight forwarders.
It pointed out that Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, coordinating minister of the Economy and Finance minister, should also step forward to factor the informal sector group of the economy into the big picture.
“The economy of Nigeria is in the hands of the informal sector. We must know that they are in the greater numbers. We also suggest and advise the Customs and other regulatory agencies to increase the concept of corrective measures instead of outright seizure of defaulting trade goods”.
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