The recent discovery of rice duty evasion has landed seven importing companies in trouble. The defaulting companies are Olam, Stallion/Popular Foods, Bua, Millan Nigeria Limited, Ebony Agro, Atafi Rice Industries Limited and Arewa Rice Mill with liable duties of N3.565bn, N15.481bn, N846.5m, N1.089bn, N328.201m, N1.297m and N664, 876, respectively.
The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has said it will prosecute these seven rice importers for bringing excess quotas of the product into the country at concessionary rates.
The Public Relations Officer, NCS, Wale Adeniyi said legal proceedings had commenced against the defaulting companies. “Our legal unit has been briefed to put all the papers together; the directive has been given to them that they should commence litigation process against those companies; while that is going on, we have blocked them from our system; they can no longer transact any business with us for now,” he said.
The Customs spokesperson added: “Not one of the seven paid; one brought a waiver from the Minister of Agriculture, which we rejected. The ministry has no powers to waive duty. As of today, all the seven companies are blocked, which means they cannot clear anything from the Customs system. If within a week there is no response, we will prosecute them.”
Adeniyi stated that in spite of all entreaties, notifications and public notices, the importers were still defaulting in the payment of Customs duty and other accruable charges on the excess imports.
“Other millers who are not importers imported the same thing at the rate of 70 per cent but they imported for 30 per cent; so, we do not recognise any further waiver. We were expressly communicated by the Federal Government and we have their backing through the ministries of Agriculture and Finance to recover the duties fully and that is what we are going to do,” he said
The action is coming on the heels of a notice by the Customs Service in a national daily on April 15, urging the importers to pay the excess rate of about N21.314billion on or before April 17, 2015. According to the notice, signed by the Comptroller-General of Customs, Dikko Abdullahi, the traders had imported in excess of their total annual allocations as of April 12. The Federal Government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, had approved the waiver for the importers.
But these seven companies defaulted in the waiver issued to them. The NCS noted that Olam’s total annual quota was 133, 963 metric tonnes but that the company imported 244,025.30 metric tonnes, with an excess quantity of 110,062.30 metric tonnes.
Stallion, Bua, Millan, Ebony, Atafi and Arewa also exceeded their quotas by 475,017.33; 24,092.90; 33,641.19; 10,070; 39.80 and 20.40 metric tonnes, respectively.
Efforts by theeconomyng.com to reach the affected importers were unsuccessful, while the President, Rice Millers and Importers of Nigeria, Tunji Owoeye, said the association could not comment on the issue. “The issue has nothing to do with the association and besides, it has to do with data that we are not familiar with. The allocation that we are talking about is not a public document; so, we are mindful not to get into any legal issue,” he said.
By Pita Ochai