Lagos and Abuja — The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) has bemoaned threat to arrest 30 chief executive officers (CEOs) of some of its member companies by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff, Senator Hope Uzodimma, over their non-appearance at a public hearing of the National Assembly.
The committee is charged with investigating infractions by companies in connivance with officials of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and other agencieswhich have allegedly led to the loss of N30 trillion revenue.
Addressing journalists in Lagos yesterday, the President of MAN, Frank Udemba Jacobs, said maligning individuals whose activities have contributed immensely to the growth of the nation's economy was unfortunate, inappropriate and inimical to the current effort of the federal government at pulling the economy out of the recession and placing it on the path of sustainable growth.
According to him, it also amounts to sending the wrong signal to prospective investors and casting a shadow on the safety of high net worth individuals operating in our economic space.
The threat to arrest the CEOs by the Senate committee was the fallout of their inability to appear at a public hearing set up to investigate companies alleged to have been involved in the N30 trillion revenue leakage in the import and export value chain between 2006 and 2017.
Jacobs said: "In the first instance, this allegation is against respective companies and not the CEOs as individuals and so if the concerned companies in their wisdom choose to mandate a representative from the organisation who has adequate knowledge and responsibility for the issue in question to attend the inquest, we see no justification for the rejection of such a representative, not to talk of the threat of arrest of the CEOs for not attending the public hearing in person.
"Moreover, one would have expected that the logical and first thing to do was for the committee to channel its observations or inquest to the NCS, the statutory organisation in charge of imports and exports.
"If not satisfied with the response from the NCS and after thorough investigation, the committee may then avail the companies concerned with the details of the alleged infractions and then invite them to make necessary clarifications or defend themselves. All these could be done without the sensational involvement of the press which may result into unfair media trial."
He added that it had written the Chairman of the Senate committee and reiterated that the non-appearance of the CEOs of the affected companies was not intended to disrespect the Senate but arose from the short notice and unavoidable absence of some of the chief executives due to reasons beyond their control.
"Our findings from the CEOs of MAN-member affected companies revealed that most of them were not in the country the time of the meeting, which informed the deployment of very senior and competent officials from their respective organisations to represent the companies
"We therefore deplore this attempt to tarnish the image of the CEOs by publicly threatening them with arrest, when they have not been indicted for any wrong doing.
"Maligning individuals whose activities have contributed immensely to the growth of the nation's economy is unfortunate, inappropriate and inimical to the current effort of the Nigerian government at pulling the economy completely out of the recession and placing it on the path of sustainable growth.
"At the same time, it amounts to sending the wrong signal to prospective investors and casting a shadow on the safety of high net worth individuals operating in our economic space.
"Besides, there is need to ensure that rights of individuals engaged in legitimate business ventures in Nigeria are respected and protected.
"The man-hours and resources expended in honouring such invitations should also be taken into account, as these invitations have become more frequent, in some cases, such appointments have been cancelled after the CEOs arrived at the venue of the meetings, the busy CEOs are left waiting for hours before the meetings commence," Jacobs stated.
Meanwhile, the Senate committee has called on the companies under investigation to be alert to the activities of some persons parading themselves as staff of the committee, with intention to extort money from the affected companies.
The committee, in a statement issued by Uzodimma yesterday, clarified that it did not mandate any agent to hold brief for it, in its assignment.
Any individual or individuals claiming to be staff of the committee and soliciting favours or asking companies to pay monies are nothing but impostors and criminals who should be promptly reported to the relevant security agencies and promptly arrested, the committee said.
The statement read in part: "It has come to the notice of the Joint Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff and Marine Transport investigating alleged infractions at the nation's ports that some unscrupulous individuals are busy parading themselves to companies and organisations under investigation as staff of the committee with the intent to extort monies from them.
"Let it be made abundantly clear that our committee has no single person or agent holding brief for us on this all-important National assignment,"
"The Senate Joint Committee was set up by the Senate with a strong mandate to investigate infractions leading to massive revenue leakages at the nation's Ports and help government recover those funds,"
"Our mandate is not to serve as revenue collection agency for the federal government but to unearth infractions and subsequently direct the NCS and other security agencies to recover such funds and return them back to the nation's coffers. All organisations currently under investigation by the Joint Senate committee should be fully guided please," it read.