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Customs Threatens to Shutdown Intercontinental Hotel over Unpaid Duties on Importers Rice

Crusoe Osagie.
The ongoing dispute between the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and large rice investors in the country has taken a new turn, as the NCS has threatened to close down one of Nigeria’s foremost hotels, Intercontinental Hotel Lagos.
Regarded by industry observers as a sledge hammer approach, the NCS has threatened that it may shut down the Intercontinental Hotel, following the non-payment of retrospective duties by the hotel’s parent company, Milan Group.
This was disclosed thursday by Wale Adeniyi, Public Relations Officer of NCS.
NCS shut down the Lagos warehouses of a number of rice importers this week over non-payment of duties on rice imports that had exceeded their quotas.
Some of the major importers affected by the clampdown include Olam, Milan Group and Stallion Group – all owned by Asian nationals with vast investments in Nigeria.
Investors in the rice sub-sector said the rice industry was still coming to terms with the action of the NCS, acting against the rule of law that has demanded determination to be made by the judicial system for the dispute on unpaid duties by importers of rice.
Some of the investors have lodged cases in courts, claiming that the action of NCS was subjudice, illegal and unauthorised.
NCS is demanding retrospective duties from the rice investors for imports in 2014, while the investors have claimed that the quota allocations did not comply with stipulated regulations issued late only by December and were also biased against bonafide investors.
Following the confusion that trailed the 2014 quotas, quotas for 2015 were also issued, cancelled and later reissued again. The implementation of the policy received a lot of criticism from the rice industry, as the presidential directives were not complied with in the process.
The affected rice investors have invested billions of naira in the rice value chain and have been catalysts in Nigeria’s recent initiatives to be self-sufficient in rice production.
The immediate past Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, had said in August 2014 that, “our rice today in terms of total value added to our local economy in terms of gross value across all the states is N750 billion since we started in 2012”.
NCS’s action, according to the rice investors, would slow down the momentum that was building in the area of food security at a time when the economy is struggling from the impact of lower oil prices and foreign exchange woes.
They said that apart from Intercontinental Hotel, NCS’ actions and threats included closure of several unrelated industries promoted by the rice investors including factories that partner global multinationals and are driving industrial growth and employment.
With no clarity on import quotas for 2015, Nigeria may once again open itself only to be fed by smugglers through the borders, ironically denying NCS its rightful revenue, they argued.
The industry hopes the new administration will direct a progressive forward-looking approach to ensure continued rice production operations by the affected investors, said one of the rice investors.
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