Buhari administration’s claim on rice false, Atiku insists
Obinna Chima in Lagos, Omololu Ogunmade and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
The federal government and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) yesterday debunked the report by the United States Department of Agriculture World Markets and Trade that Nigeria imported three million metric tons of rice in 2018.
The US report had said the import figure is 400,000 metric tonnes higher than the quantity of the product that was imported in 2017.
The report also stated that Nigeria’s local rice production dropped from 2016 to 2018 compared to the situation in 2015.
The report ran contrary to several claims by the Nigerian Government that local rice production had increased while importation had dropped by up to 90 per cent.
The report, which was released in October, showed that since 2016, Nigeria had consistently milled 3,780,000 metric tons annually which is a reduction from 3,941,000 metric tons recorded in 2015.
But the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, while briefing journalists in the State House, described the report as false.
Mohammed, who said he had contacted the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), the Minister of Agriculture and rice millers on the authenticity of the report, argued that they all dismissed the report as untrue.
According to him, whereas 1.2 million metric tons of rice was exported to Nigeria in 2014, the figure declined to 644,000 in 2015 and went further downward to 25,000 in 2016.
However, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has said the claim by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari that it has increased rice production in the country is false.
The minister also faulted the claim by the report that local rice production in the country is declining, saying instead, local rice production capacity has risen to 4.9 million metric tons.
The CBN has also clarified that the volume of rice importation into Nigeria (in metric tonnes) has declined drastically in 2018, judging by figures obtained from various official sources.
Indeed, figures obtained from India and Thailand, which are dominant rice exporters to Nigeria indicated that as at September, the latter had so far exported about 5,161 metric tonnes of rice to Nigeria, while the former sold only a paltry sum of 426 as at July 2018.
Attributing the reduction to concerted effort by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and interventions of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Director, Corporate Communications at the CBN, Mr. Isaac Okorafor, in a statement yesterday, also stressed that the Bank had not allocated any foreign exchange for the importation of rice this year.
Okorafor, argued that the figures being bandied in certain quarters were based on unrealistic assumptions such as satellite mapping of farms, expected demand by politicians for election campaigns as well as expected losses from flooding, all of which led to unauthentic conclusions that the country had imported or could import 400,000 more metric tonnes.
The spokesperson for the CBN further noted that the combined figure of 5, 587 tonnes of rice imports from India and Thailand may have been rice imported on not-valid-for-forex basis.
Meanwhile, trade figures for the second quarter of 2018 received from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed that total imports value was N2,106.7 billion; -16.3% lower than the first quarter (Q1), 2018 (N2518.26 billion) and – 19.9 per cent lower than Q1, 2017 (N2,631.65 billion).
The report on the Bureau’s site showed that the value of imported agricultural goods in the second quarter of 2018 (N224.52 billion) increased by 21.7 per cent from Q1, 2018 (N184.49 billion) and lower by -3.14 per cent from Q2, 2017 (N231.80 billion).
According to the report, raw materials imports in Q2 2018 (N261.10 billion) declined by -8.3 per cent compared to Q1, 2018 (N284.81 billion) and lower by -14.2 per cent in Q2, 2017 (N304.43 billion).
The solid minerals import in Q2, 2018 (N17.29 billion) increased by 37 per cent on a quarter-to-quarter basis (N12.62 billion), but declined by -91 per cent on a year-to-year basis (N193.16 billion). Energy goods imports in Q2, 2018 (N98.17 million) was 202.6 per cent higher than Q1 2018 (N32.45 million) and 288.5 per cent higher than Q2, 2017 (N25.27 million).
The NBS reported that the value of manufactured goods imported in Q2 2018 (N1,175.86 billion) declined by -1.2 per cent over the previous quarter (N1,189.97 billion) but increased by 1.6 per cent over the same quarter in 2017.
The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the CBN had been collaborating to reduce the volume of rice importation through what has become famed as the Rice Revolution.
Meanehile, the presidential candidate of the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has said the claim by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari that it has increased rice production in the country is false.
Atiku in a statement issued yesterday by his campaign organisation said the recently released data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) World Markets and Trade Report has proven the claims by Buhari and his government to be false.
President Buhari boasted about it when he told British Prime Minister, Theresa May, on April 16, 2018, that: “We have cut rice importation by about 90 per cent; made a lot of savings of foreign exchange and generated employment. People had rushed to the cities to get oil money, at the expense of farming. But luckily, they are now going back to the farms. Even professionals are going back to the land. We are making steady progress on the road to food security.”
Atiku noted that the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, on May 2, 2018, also made similar claim.
According to Ogbe, “Unemployment in Thailand was one of the lowest in the world, 1.2 per cent, it has gone up to four per cent because seven giant rice mills have shut down because Nigeria’s import has fallen by 95 per cent on rice alone.”
The former vice-president, however, noted that the “World Markets and Trade Report of the USDA, which is a public document disclosed that Nigeria imported three million metric tons of rice in 2018, which is 400,000 metric tons more than the quantity of the product imported in 2017.
“It does not end there. The report shows that there has actually been a steep drop in commercial rice production from its 2015 peak under the previous Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) administration.”
Quoting the report further, Atiku added that “Nigeria had consistently milled 3,780,000 metric tons annually-a drop from 3,941,000 metric tons recorded in 2015.”
Atiku, therefore, appealed to Buhari and his government to be truthful to the Nigerian public, rather than claiming progress they have not made, “because no matter how far and fast falsehood has travelled, it must eventually be overtaken by the truth.”