The Senate on Monday revealed that Stallion Group and Olam International, two foreign companies involved in rice importation into the country, are owing Nigeria a whopping N44 billion in import duties.
The money has allegedly been outstanding since May 2014.
However, the two companies were quick to deny owing the country.
The Senate Adhoc Committee on Import Waivers, which is probing the abuse of the policy in recent years, made its position known when Stallion Group and Olam international appeared before the Committee on Tuesday.
The Chairman of the committee, Senator Adamu Aliero, told the concerned importers that the government would not fold its hands and watch the huge debt swept under the carpet.
Aliero requested the companies to quickly pay their debt.
He said: “There is no way the government will ignore this kind of money.
“We have to ensure that that this money is collected and deposited into the Federation Account.”
The Chairman also revealed that the companies imported rice into the country without paying waivers, off-loaded it into their warehouses only to refuse to pay required duties when asked by the Nigeria Customs Service.
According to him, when Stallion Group was accosted by the Nigeria Customs Service for the money, the company opted to drag the NCS to court.
Aliero also disclosed how the company flouted the quota given to it to import 157,000 metric tonnes of rice with impunity by opting to unilaterally import 457,000 metric tonnes.
Responding to the allegation, the Executive Director of Stallion Group, Harpreet Singh, claimed that its mission in Nigeria was to ensure that the country was self-sufficient in rice production and equally ensure that the nation is saved from scarcity of the product.
Singh also claimed that Nigerian borders were porous, adding that former President Goodluck Jonathan granted the approval on fiscal policy on rice production on May 26, 2014.
According to him, the Ministry of Agriculture opted to flout the tenets of the policy by giving quotas to “non-existing millers and investors who have no connection with the policy, while existing investors were left blind”.
Also reacting to the allegation, Olam informed that it had the largest rice farm in Africa and that it has been operating in Nigeria in the past 35 years.
The company argued that given its long period of business operation in Nigeria, it would not consider shortchanging the nation.
In a report submitted to the Senate Committee, Stallion Group specifically underlined the fact it had fully paid N17.15 billion in duties and levies for its imports and therefore has not evaded anything due to the government.
Olam, on the other hand, claimed that it had the largest rice farm in Africa and that it had been operating in Nigeria in the past 35 years, arguing that given its long period of business operation in Nigeria, the company will not consider shortchanging the nation and has filed a suit in the law courts for determination.
Stallion Group submitted on Tuesday that the rice import by its companies were governed by the content and stipulations of the 2014-2017 fiscal policy measures on rice by the federal government, and are not duty waivers as misunderstood by in some quarters.
It stated further that rice production companies have applied to the country’s courts to determine if the additional retrospective duties meant for traders are payable by bonafide rice millers.
Stallion stated that it had no choice but to approach the country’s judicial system for relief and fair judgement.
The company also assured the Senate Committee that the group will duly abide by the court’s final determination after a due process and is fully committed to the country’s quest for self-sufficiency in rice production.
Olam also contended to the committee that given its long period of business operation in Nigeria, the company will not consider shortchanging the nation, and according to its representative, the company was seeking a legal determination on the matter by the law courts.