By Emmanuel Mayah
A total N215 billion in import duty exemptions was granted in four years, between 2011 and May 2014 under the leadership of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, PREMIUM TIMES can report today.
Most of the waiver deals, it was gathered, were sealed during midnight visits to the presidential villa.
Data obtained from the Budget Office of the Federation detail a fiscal policy recklessness that made duty waivers in Nigeria synonymous with cronyism, racketeering, political patronage and outright brigandage.
In 2011 the sum of N56 billion was issued by the Federal Government as waivers on import duties, levies, ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS) charges, Comprehensive Import Scheme (CIS) and other charges.
The waiver beneficiaries included operators and individuals in the gas sector, agriculture, health, mines and steel and “other sectors”.
Whilst some of the waivers may have been well-meaning and granted for the purposes of stimulating local production, economic growth and job creation, the data, riddled with red flags, show that some of those who benefited did not deserve such concessions.
For instance, a steel company, Vero,was granted a fabulous N12.6 billion in waivers to import iron rods. In applying for the waiver, the only reason given by this company, owned by a foreign businessman, was “compassionate grounds”. Curiously this waiver was granted weeks before the 2011 presidential election.
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In the agricultural sector, another company McSally Investment Limited received an equally staggering N21.1billion waivers to import 250,000 metric tons of vegetable oil.
That was at a time local producers of vegetable oil in Nigeria were swimming against the tide and begging for government protection against merchants flooding the market with imported oil. The indiscriminate issuance of waiver soon sounded the death knell for local manufacturers, including the Nigeria Oil Mills and the Kano Oil Mill which, unable to compete, sent thousands of workers away as they closed shop.
But if the perfidy in the 2011import waivers appear not too explicit in some areas, a cursory look at the “other sectors” soon begets a riveting attention as names and incongruous items combine in a clear defeat of the same economic policy the concessions were meant to promote.
Waivers were granted for the importation of Mercedes-Benz cars; personal effects like refrigerators, tiles, marbles, beddings, sunglasses, chairs and cups.
Seizing the moment, the Rivers State Government under Mr. Rotimi Amaechi joined the frenzy and imported 200 units of luxury cars, including BMW Ford and other brands.
There was no agricultural machinery nor any economic enhancement tool in the Rivers’ import. The sum of N503.3 million in duty was not paid as a result of the waiver, thus there was no discouragement of any sort for state executives that chose to waste taxpayers’ sweats on luxury goods.
Inside the 2011 waiver document
In the 2011 waiver, N502 million was given to beneficiaries in the gas sector. A total of N4.6 billion went to the health sector; 9.1 billion to Mines & Steel; N21 billion to agriculture while N3 billion went to “other sectors”.
For the gas sector, the imports were generally plants, machinery, equipment and spare parts.
In this category waivers of values N7.8 billion went to Shell Petroleum Development Company Limited; N3.4 billion to Chevron Nigeria Limited and Frontier Oil Ltd while N502 million went to the Delta State Ministry of Energy for the import of “Machinery for Utilization of Natural Gas”.
For the health sector, concessions were given for the import of medical equipment, solar vaccine refrigerator, test kits, vaccines, malaria control drugs, anti-retroviral, cancer and tuberculosis drugs.