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Why Uzodinma’s Joint Committee needs stakeholders’ support on N30tn trail

When the vociferous National Assembly Joint Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff and Marine Transport, lead by Senator Hope Uzodinma fired the first shot on the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), over 282 vessels got missing from Nigerian seaports, many tongues wagged and accused the probe as vendetta driven.

But today, indications are becoming clear that what the Committee saw has strong traces of truism.

This was advanced by the owning up of 11 firms after an arrest warrant was threatened on their chief executives by the committee.

First, about 29 firms were invited and 11 showed up to agree. Secondly and only yesterday, August 21, another set of mega firms were invited by the Committee; failing which will be arrested and compliance is growing.

Business Hilights investigation and toe-to-toe follow up of the probe showed that the entire structure that lead to the bleeding of the nation’s economy by some of the indicted companies may not have been done without the undercover of some yet to be unveiled federal parastatals.

But one thing kept resurfacing; that majority of the infractions was not unconnected with the ports and port operations, commercial banks angle, terminal operators, shipping firms and even the Customs and allied clearance issues within the period under review.

It would be recalled that in his opening remarks following the owning up of some firms, Committee chairman, Senator Uzodinma noted that “It is common knowledge that infractions abound in daily transactions at the nation’s ports, with commercial banks, shipping companies, terminal owners and operators. They connive at ease with officials to defraud the nation of trillions of naira. Preliminary evidence before us suggests that this is the case in all sea ports”.

While lamenting that “the annual turnover in the hands of smugglers is more than our annual federal budget,” the lawmaker representing Orlu senatorial zone of Imo State thundered that “all those indicted in this crime will be made to face the full wrath of the law”.

“The nature and methodologies of these infractions include abuse of Form M and violation of foreign exchange manual issued by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN);  incorrect classification, under-valuation and incorrect declaration. Others are incorrect origin, error in calculation, temporary importation, exemptions and waivers; foreign exchange manipulations, unit cost analysis on excise, smuggling and illegal removal of cargo from terminals and lack of exit certificate by vessels.

While maintaining that some federal agencies may not be unconnected in the entire mafia structured fleecing of income, he gave his word that funds will be recovered and some will go to jail.

In his further submission, Uzodinma averred that “Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), shipping companies, operators of bonded terminals and importers and exporters have questions to answer”.

The Senate Committee intelligence was recently boosted by the observations of the convener, Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders, Dr Osita Chukwu who totally agreed with Uzodinma on the area of prosecution saying that some agencies are responsible for the infractions.

In his lead argument, he said “Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA)  and Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) know what happened. How can a ship berth without record? Who berthed the ship?. NPA is the key stakeholder in that regard. Any berthing of ship is NPA. Anything about shipping is NIMASA. Both NPA and NIMASA are deeply involved. They should be queried. Shippers Council is only a commercial regulator”.

Continuing, Dr. Chukwu agreed that “Let the law take its course. There is a conventional law. There is a law for monetary abuse. There is an act setting them up. There is imprisonment; there are other punishments. The law should take its course. If the law finds them culpable they should go in for it. All the people involved should be taken care of”.

Several industry stakeholders who spoke to our correspondent said the Joint Committee is right on course and should be supported, noting that should Nigeria get it wrong in the probe, the situation will be worse in future.