Rice stakeholders have expressed concerns over the increased activities of rice smuggling at the nation’s porous borders, noting that the ugly situation poses threat to local investment in rice production in Nigeria.
The stakeholders told journalists in Lagos that smuggling also threatens millions of job opportunities that had been created by local investment in the nation’s rice industry.
The stakeholders that rice is being smuggled into the country through the nation’s unapproved and porous borders, maintaining that the high rate of smuggling activities has resulted in loss of revenue for the nation and local investors in the industry.
They added that as a result of smuggling, lots of jobs and new businesses are springing up in neighbouring countries like Republic of Benin, Niger Republic, and Cameroon because of the increased activity in smuggling of rice at the nation’s sea ports and borders.
According to the rice dealers, the concessionaires of Nigerian seaport are laying off staff massively while operations of shipping and clearing agents, transporters, and other service providers have grounded to a halt in the past one year.
Executive Director, Nigeria Agriculture Development Watch, Dr. Johnson Idowu, lamented that shipping lines and many other businesses are pulling out of Nigeria.
In his words, “The ripple effect of rice smuggling into the country would lead to a mass laying off of staff and redundancy. Interestingly, the Minster of Labour will soon come on air to issue an ultimatum to these companies not to sack”.
Idowu noted that the federal government even contemplated the idea of opening the land border initially for the importation of rice, which he said was a colossal error of reasoning.
“Let us do some elementary geography. Nigeria is bounded in the North, West and South by Niger Republic, Republic of Benin, and Cameroon respectively. None of these countries is a rice producing nation per se. So what is the rationale behind opening the borders for rice importation from these countries. The only reason there is an increase in rice importation activities in these countries is because they have favourable tariff and policy for rice importation,” he said.
“On this premise, unpatriotic business men hitherto in Nigeria i.e. rice importers have since diverted their businesses to these countries. Whereas you may not blame them, opening the land border is to encourage them further to export rice to Nigeria from these countries. Moreover, why would we want to continue to favour neighbours in terms of job creation and revenue generation from rice import rather that adjust our own policies in order to boost our own revenue generation, and to make businesses return”, he added .
“Government faced with these very robust challenges will continue to seed the goodwill and revenue it ought to generate from the sea ports/ rice import in the ‘spirit of good neighbourliness’ to Cameroon, Niger and Republic of Benin is to say the least, preposterous. Enough with encouraging economic saboteurs”, he advised.
Coordinator of Nigeria Agribusiness Group, (NABG) Mr. Emmanuel Ijewere, said the story of smuggling of rice in Nigeria is historical, saying that the situation has been on for a very long time destroying the country’s industries.
“Because it has destroyed our local industries and the kind of story we are hearing now that the business of smuggling of rice has increased is a bad omen and to the Nigeria Customs in particular. Let the customs take some drastic and strategic decisions, whether to destroy our industries and provide job for our neighbouring countries or to provide jobs for our own people in Nigeria.
“We cannot run away from that, it is simple as that, Nigeria need to take decisions. Nigerian farmers have suffered for long and I am getting tired”, he said.
Ijewere added,” The advancement we have made in rice industry would be destroyed if something is not done to curb smuggling activities. A lot of people have invested billions of dollars in rice growing as well as rice processing. If government reserves its position on it, the investors would be discouraged and they would lose confidence in any policy of government concerning agriculture in the future,” he warned.
Commenting on the rice integration backward production abandoned by private sector which resorted to importation, he said he is not aware of any company that participated and abandoned the programme, calling on the federal government to exercise patience, saying that schemes such as this require sometime to yield positive results.
General Manager of Ebonyi State based rice company, Oyus Brown Rice, Mr. Francis Okpani, said smuggling of rice into the country has affected genuine business people who are willing to contribute to the growth of the economy.
“Now, we are not producing enough to feed ourselves, we need more rice into the country but not through smuggling. Although, the imported rice is not cheaper and affordable for some people in the country as price has gone N20, 000 per bag from N8, 000”, he said.
Managing Director of Abibcom farms, Mr. Habib Stephen Temitope, urged government to intervene now or the affect would be unbearable Nigerians who have invested hugely in the rice industry.
It would be recalled that many companies like Elephant Group, Dangote Group, Olam and others have invested a lot of money in Nigeria’s rice industry setting up mills and processing plants that has created millions of jobs to Nigerians