FG Raises the Alarm, Says Rice Smugglers Up in Arms against Economy

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• Insists on no waivers, quotas •Customs, NAFDAC, others team up against smugglers

Ndubuisi Francis in Abuja
The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has raised the alarm that importers of rice through the nation’s borders are still up in arms against the economy five months after it reintroduced the ban on the importation of the commodity through the land borders.

The NCS Comptroller-General , Col. Hammed Ali (rtd), who expressed the concern in Abuja at a joint press conference yesterday, disclosed that the service was inundated with periodic intelligence about shiploads of parboiled rice that offload regularly in the neighbouring Port of Cotonou, Benin Republic.

Ali said the worry was that “our neighbours in Benin Republic do not eat parboiled rice,” adding that “these imports are ultimately destined for Nigeria by smuggling through the land borders.”

“Since we have declared total war on these economic saboteurs, those who have invested their fortunes in this business are finding it increasingly difficult to perpetuate their acts. The result of this is that several thousand metric tons of rice are now trapped in warehouses across the borders,” he said.

In his address at a joint press conference, which also featured The chairman, Presidential Committee on Trade Malpractices, Alhaji Dahiru Ado Kurawa); the Acting Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Mrs. Yetunde Oni, and the Governor of Kebbi State, Alhaji Atiku Bagudu, the NCS Comptroller-General said the press conference became necessary to bring to the fore the danger of rice smuggling on the nation.

The joint press conference was held by the critical stakeholders, where they unfolded plans to pursue an effective synergy to check the activities of smuggling and the importation of harmful food into the country.

Ali said there was the need to address the worrisome menace in a bid to protect local industry, enhance national food security and equally protect Nigerians from the consumption of unwholesome rise with health implications.

Ali said it was also important to check the activities of unpatriotic elements who are depleting the nation’s foreign exchange reserves through rice smuggling a s well as ensure that the fragile security situation in the country is not further compromised by those who may want to use rice as a means of concealing dangerous weapons into Nigeria.

“There has been a lot of misconceptions about rice imports into Nigeria. During my working tours, I experienced the manifestation of this wrong notion about the policy on rice even from highly placed Nigerians. Therefore, let me start by restating the fact that importation of rice into Nigeria not banned. What we have is a restriction on the point of entry to our seaports only.

“You may wish to recall that in April 2016, the Nigeria Customs Service re-introduced the ban on importation of rice through the land borders. The reversal of the policy introduced in October 2015 was informed by the high level of non-compliance by rice importers who imported resorted to large scale smuggling of the product,” he said.

According to him, five months down the line, it became imperative to raise this alarm that importers of rice through the borders were still up in arms against the economy.
Ali stated that during his recent trip to Benin Republic to engage with Customs colleagues on efficient management of the borders, there were clandestine moves by those caught in the ‘Great Rice Trap’ to seek amnesty through some kind of waivers or relaxation of the ban through the border policy.

“During the visit, I received delegations from groups giving commitments to pay all charges applicable if we relax the policy. As you may be aware, we remain firm in our resolve to enforce the restriction of rice imports only to our seaports. We have reorganized our anti-smuggling patrols to provide additional capability and bite.
“We have reconstituted our compliance teams created to compliment our Federal Operations Units and regular resident officers deployed at our borders,” the NCS boss said, adding that the resultant effect was a significant increase in seizures in the first three quarters of 2016.

He said that a total of 117,034 (50kg) bags of rice were made at a duty value of close to N800 million.
The NCS chief disclosed that NAFDAC had reported on the result of expired rice, which were seized over the same period, stressing that
samples were taken and referred to NAFDAC to ascertain their
condition.

“With me here are some reports from such tests, certifying that smuggled rice through the borders are not fit for human consumption,” he said, lamenting that cases of various types of cancer and other chronic diseases had evolved from unwholesome foods smuggled into the country.

In his address, the Chairman, Presidential Committee on Trade Malpractices, Alhaji Dahiru Ado Kurawa, opposed calls from some quarters for the introduction of waivers or quota in order to encourage the importation of rice in the country, in a bid to push down the price of the commodity, which had risen astronomically in recent months.

He also emphatically declared that the nation’s land borders would remain completely shut contrary to interventions that the entry points should be opened to allow the inflow of rice into the country as a check against the prohibitive cost of the commodity.

Kurawa stated that there were concerted efforts by some countr4ies to ensure that Nigeria continues to import rice, in spite of the huge negative toll it inflicts on the economy, stating that in spite of calls by various groups and individuals, no attempt would be made to open the land borders, grant waivers or quotas on rice.

Kurawa, who reeled off statistics to buttress his position said from all empirical evidences, Nigeria has all it takes to produce enough rice to feed the teeming populace, adding that only a little push was required.

According to him, Nigeria imports three million of the 600 million metric tons of rice produced globally, noting that only 40 million of the total world production output are traded internationally. He stated that most countries of the world cultivate and produce their rice needs, stressing that only Africa and Middle East were involved in shipping of tons of bagged rice into their domain.

Kurawa also disclosed that 80 per cent of the rice cultivated in the world is from small farms of two hectares and below and equally milled in small mills, developments Nigeria can currently boast about.

He regretted that the nation had adopted the culture of consuming rice without a commensurate culture of producing, insisting that the trend must change in order to save the nation’s currency from the unnecessary battering inflicted on it by the huge demand for foreign exchange.

Kurawa, therefore advised against calls from some quarters to open the borders to allow rice through neigbouring countries, and insisted that the government would not pander t5o such calls, adding that smuggling was an affront on Nigeria’s sovereignty. Rather than continue to devalue the local currency to create room for imports, he said the propensity to import should give way to local