Customs, Nigerian minister’s firm clash over seized containers of rice

The Nigerian Customs Service and Masters Energy Commodities Trading Limited are embroiled in a clash over the containers of ‘expired’ rice seized by the former at the Tin Can Island port in Apapa, Lagos, and presented to the media on October 29.

The 54 seized containers included 33 containers of rice, 11 containers of unregistered pharmaceutical products, two used tyres, one container of used clothing, and four refined vegetable oil in retail packs.

Hameed Ali, the Comptroller General of Customs, said the 33 containers bearing ‘expired’ rice were imported from Thailand and China, and added that the seizures were as a result of the partial border closure.

“One significant finding about this seizure is that all the rice are expired or about to expire,” Mr Ali, a retired army colonel, told journalists in Lagos.

He added that the impounded containers had a duty paid value of N2.7 billion.

However, reacting to the comptroller’s claim Masters Energy Commodities Trading Limited came out to refute the rice containers belonged to it and were seized in 2016, and not in 2019 as the customs boss claimed.

Masters Energy Commodities Trading Limited is a subsidiary of Masters Energy Group owned by Uche Ogah, the minister of state for mines and steel development.

Monday Ubani, a lawyer to the company, said in a statement that “there is no single truth” in Mr Ali’s claims.

According to Mr Ubani, the rice containers were impounded in 2016 due to the inability of the company’s clearing agent to pay the correct tariff on the commodity.

“It was even reported that Masters Energy then petitioned The House Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff that its agent Messrs Destiny Impex Limited, a clearing company registered and licensed by the Customs made a false declaration in order to cut tariffs for the 30 containers of rice,” said Mr Ubani, a former vice president of the Nigerian Bar Association.

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