The Senate Committee on Customs has described the decision of the Nigeria Customs Service to distribute spoilt rice to states in the South-West geopolitical zone as COVID-19 palliative as callous.
The panel said the NCS should have shared the newly seized rice warehoused in its facilities at Lagos and Osun to the affected states instead of ordering the distribution of dregs at its warehouse in Osun from where over 60,000 bags of fresh rice had been transported to Borno State, shortly before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The committee’s vice chairman, who is also a retired Deputy Comptroller General of the NCS, Senator Francis Fadahunsi, gave the explanation in an interview with our correspondent in Abuja on Thursday.
He accused the authorities of the NCS of flouting the agency’s code and rules in the distribution of edible items in its custody.
He said the Senate would probe the issue of dregs shared to the South-West by the Customs as well as the management of the Customs’ warehouses across the country.
He said, “By the time the COVID – 19 pandemic issue came, I don’t think Customs had seized nothing less than two million bags of rice. I’m telling you the truth because what comes out of Oyo and Osun, particularly Iseyin, was huge.
“At times, you see Customs seizing between 10 and 20 trailers. A month before the presidential order on palliative, I could recollect that about 60,000 bags of rice were given to the IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in Borno State, which was acknowledged by the state government.
“By the time the presidential order came, what remains in the Customs warehouses in the South-West has become dregs. That was why the South – West governors started complaining.
“They wondered why the rice seized in Lagos, which has the biggest warehouses that could accommodate over 100,000 bags of rice, were not distributed as palliative to the South-West.
“Lagos State was given 6,000. The state government did not complain because it is rich. Osun State, which has the second biggest warehouse, got dregs whereas more than 50 trailers of edible rice were lifted from Osun to the North.”
He added, “It is a very callous idea that the pot that prepares the soup eats the worst. The (Senate) committee will still look into it and the issue of the warehouse generally.
“I will personally call for a proper forensic auditing of the warehousing system in the Nigeria Customs Service nationwide so that the Federal Government will know how much it has lost to hoodlums due to corrupt practices.
“The fact is that Customs warehouses have not been audited since the Comptroller General, Colonel Hameed Ali (retd), came on board. Since the end of the tenure of the last CG, nobody has audited Customs warehouses.
“That is the problem. When we talk of Customs warehouses, there should be one in all the ports. When we started seizing goods during my time, we established the Ikorodu port, which was mainly for warehousing containers, overtime cargoes and others.
“There were overtime cargoes, there were condemned goods, seizures and so on.”
South-West state governments had complained in April that many of the bags of rice given to them by the NCS were spoilt.
However, only the Oyo State Government, being controlled by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, offered to return the spoilt rice.
Other states like Lagos, Ogun, Ekiti, Ondo and Osun states, being ruled by the All Progressives Congress, admitted that the majority of the bags of rice were bad but didn’t manke any moves to return them.