The Comptroller-General, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hameed Ali (retd), on Monday said smuggling was stifling indigenous factories but was not seen a crime by Nigerians.
Ali said this in Abuja at an investigative hearing organised by the House of Representatives on the alleged killing, diversion of seized goods and other atrocities by officials of the Nigerian Customs Service across the country.
Ali, who was represented by Assistant Comptroller-General of Customs, Haruna Mahmud, said that frequent attacks on Customs officials by smugglers was hampering the fight against smuggling.
According to him, the agency was not given arms to kill innocent people but to protect attacks on our personnel by the smugglers.
Ali expressed worry that some border communities attacked officials of NCS for intercepting smugglers, “Nigerians don’t see smuggling as an economic crime, rather the border communities see it as a right.
“It is a collective responsibility to fight this scourge because smuggling has succeeded in killing our factories and this has led to unemployment in the country.’’
On alleged diversion, he said that the Service did not divert seized goods, adding that the agency “don’t also raid markets, but we follow smuggled items to their locations’’.
On his part, Mr Lucky Aminwero, National President of the National Council of Licensed Custom Agents, said that 70 per cent of indigenous industries were no longer functioning because of the activities of smugglers.
According to him, deaths recorded in the past would have been avoided if Customs officials were allowed to do their jobs.
Aminwero said that there was need for the public to be sensitized to understand the consequences of smuggling on the economy.
On his part, the representative of Nigerian Association of Nigerian Traders, Mr Nwiabu Nuka, said that Customs should not hide under section 147 of the Custom Laws to perpetrate crime in the society.
“Customs seize goods and we still find the goods in the market,’’ Nuka said.
He called for a review the laws to check corrupt practices in the agency.
“Corruption is the major cause of the problem between the smugglers and the officials of the Custom Service,’’ he added.
A House of Representatives member, Rep. Johnbull Shekarau, called for due diligence in prosecuting smugglers arrested by officials of the Nigerian Customs Service.
It would be recalled that traders in Sango Ota Market in Ogun protested against alleged invasion of the market by Customs officials from the Federal Operation Unit (FOU), Ikeja.
The traders accused the officers of breaking into shops in the raid carried out at about 12 a.m, alleging that the officials destroyed the safes they had in their shops and removed money.