Customs releases 920,000 bags of rice, others worth N3.3b for Covid-19 aid

  • Says items certified fit for consumption by NAFDAC

In line with the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has released 920,000 bags of 50kg (46 metric tons) foreign parboiled rice and other edibles to the 36 states of the federation as aid over the nationwide lockdown to stem the Coronavirus (Covid-19) spread.

The items, with an approximate market value of N3.3 billion and a Duty Paid Value (DPV) of N2.03 billion, were seized from smugglers and will be handed over to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management for distribution to Nigerians.

Initially dedicated to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), the relief items also include 36,495 kegs of vegetable oil, 3,428 kegs of palm oil, 136,705 cartons of tomato paste, 2,951 cartons and 1,253 packets of spaghetti/noodles, as well as 828 bales Ankara fabric and 2,300 rolls of lace fabric.

The Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), in a statement on Tuesday by the NCS National Public Relations Officer, Joseph Attah, disclosed that some Nigerians had been calling on the agency to “share seized rice and other edible items to members of the public.”

According to him, “while some of these calls appear well intended, others had attempted to create the impression that customs officers have the liberty to use seized items as they deem fit. Some even mischievously implied that the items may have already been shared to cronies. Nothing can be further from the truth.”

Ali explained that seized items, in line with section 167(2) of CEMA CAP C45 LFN 2004, are kept in government warehouses pending the directive on its disposal, which is subject to their condemnation and forfeiture to government by a competent court.

Following Buhari’s directive, therefore, he “approved the release of the relief items to boost government’s continuous efforts to alleviate the sufferings associated with the ongoing painful but necessary lockdown in parts of the country.”

Meanwhile, to allay fears about the quality of the seized rice, Ali stressed that “only edible items certified fit for human consumption by NAFDAC will be released to the public.”

The clarification become necessary following concerns that they are “expired” items, as the CGC, in justifying their seizures in the past in preference for local rice, had described the foreign parboiled rice as unfit for consumption, having stayed too long in storage before arriving Nigeria.

He further restated the agency’s commitment to “strictly adhering to all extant laws governing seized and overtime cargoes,” adding: “Despite the prevailing risks, the service will continue to discharge its functions of securing the land borders and collection of revenue needed during and post-Covid-19 pandemic period.”

He urged all officers and men to remain focused on service delivery, reminding them and all Nigerians of the need to obey government and medical experts’ directives on ways to stop the spread of the deadly virus.

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