Lokpobiri Blames Rice Smuggling on ECOWAS Protocol

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James Emejo in Abuja

Nigeria’s Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, has said the nation’s efforts at curbing the smuggling of foreign rice into the country is being hampered by Nigerian neighbours, particularly Benin Republic who take advantage of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocol on free trade to frustrate Government’s efforts.

Lokpobiri regretted that Benin Republic allowed countries like Taiwan to dump foreign parboiled rice in their country and later re-bag such products and smuggle them into Nigeria, taking advantage of the ECOWAS protocol, which allows access to free trade within the sub region.

The minister, who made this disclosure recently in his office in Abuja when he received Ms Ndine Gbossa, the new country representative of International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to Nigeria noted that, “The challenge we have with our neighbours is that because of the extant ECOWAS protocol, people will dump their rice products in their region and re-bag them and bring them into Nigeria. The reason is that under the ECOWAS protocol, any goods produced within the sub region can have free access to any market within the region.

“Based on that, those from Thailand would go to Benin Republic with their par b oiled rice and then re-bag them as though they were produce in Benin Republic and then smuggled them into Nigeria thereby denying the people of Benin the opportunity to grow rice and then benefit from the Nigerian market. Because of that, we have engaged the government of Benin Republic, up to the presidential level.

“The President had to invite the President of Benin Republic to engage him because we are neighbours; let’s see how we can work together and curb this issue of smuggling.”

Lokpobiri used the occasion to commend IFAD for supporting the nation’s agricultural value chain development programme with the sum $500 million.

Lokpobiri assured Gbossa that the Federal Government took the partnership with IFAD very seriously because the fund had played critical role in making Nigeria the highest producer of rice and cassava in Africa.

Lokpobiri said, “We take our partnership with IFAD very seriously and we appreciate the investments and the support that we are getting from you. Today, Nigeria is rated as the highest producer of rice and cassava in Africa, courtesy of IFAD intervention and the Anchor Borrowers Programme and Nigerians answering the clarion call of this administration to go back to the farms to produce what we eat and eat what we produce.”

Recounting the success story of the current administration in the area of agriculture, the minister disclosed that an average Nigerian farmer was now a millionaire, noting that in those days, people used to send money from the townships to their relatives in the rural areas, but right now, it is those in the villages that are sending money to their relatives in the townships.

Lokpobiri said if more people got to see the results the Federal Government and her partners like IFAD were making in investments, they will be encouraged to go back to the rural areas instead of being in the townships constituting nuisance, committing crimes, going into drugs.

The minister disclosed that Nigeria used to spend a whooping sum of $5 million for the importation of rice every day, but that through new policy programmes by his ministry and the intervention of partners like IFAD the figure has drastically reduced.

The IFAD representatives in her remarks disclosed that the executive board of the fund recently approved additional financing for Nigeria in the Value Chain Development programme to the value of $89 million, which brought the total investment in this programme to $228 million, for supporting rice and cassava production. This, she stated was in addition to another $60 million for supporting the Niger Delta Youth known as the Alive for Niger Delta fund.

She stated that Nigeria remained a very important partner of IFAD and had also attracted the highest investment in Africa, noting that, “Altogether, we have investment in Nigeria that is worth half a billion dollars. Nigeria is one of the biggest investment countries for IFAD, so it is a very important country.”

Gbasso further disclosed that IFAD had set aside another $100 million for investment in Nigeria for 2019, but was applying caution to know the outcome of the coming election before putting pen on paper for the fund.