The vice of rice smuggling appears to be an undying gold mine for those profiting it. But, for the commodity farmers and millers, the thriving vice is causing them severe economic pains.
Apparently burdened by the unbearable pain, the Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN) has cried out, alleging that over 20 million bags of foreign rice, equivalent of one million metric tons, were smuggled into the country in the last three months.
RIPAN Chairman, Mohammed Abubakar Maifata, made this known in Abuja, the country’s capital, on the latest development in rice smuggling in Nigeria.
Before now, the smuggling of rice through unapproved routes has always been on the increase especially festive holidays.
Controller, Federal Operations Unit Zone ‘A’ of the Nigeria Customs Service, Comptroller Muhammed Uba had last June said that the increase was evident in their seizure then of 15 trailer loads of rice intercepted by the unit within three weeks.
‘’Between May 16, 2018 we intercepted nine trailers of smuggled bags of rice. Between that time and June 14, we have intercepted 15 trailers of smuggled bags of rice. You know during the festive period, the concentration on a particular food makes its availability in large quantity compulsory. Because we know these things happen majorly during the festive period, we have also widened our tentacles to ensure such food item is not brought in illegally into the country’’, he said.
Uba reiterated that the Federal Government ban on importation of rice and vehicles through the land border was still in force and the unit will not relent in its fight against smuggling.
According to him, ‘’we are worried ourselves with the number of seizures in our warehouse and that is why we do take part in trade facilitation. But what we want Nigerians to do is to make sure that they are trade compliant. If they are compliant, there is no way their goods will reach our warehouse. Most of the traders are non- patriotic and it is because of their non patriotism that their goods are here.
‘’It is not in our interest to continue to seize people’s goods and that is why government give incentives to those who are compliant to encourage them. In order to ensure full implementation of the Federal Government policy banning importation of rice through the land borders, and following headquarters directive, we re-strategized our operational modalities and beamed our searchlight at the creeks and waterside, including various locations in the South-West zone, hence the reason for the massive seizure recorded within the period under review.’’
However, for Maifata, ‘’investors in Nigeria have made enormous financial commitment in the Rice Sub-sector. Unfortunately, the only threat to the industry’s total development, is smuggling. Over one million metric tons of rice which is equivalent to about 20,000,000 bags of 50kg Rice have been smuggled into Nigeria in the last three months.
‘’Nigeria currently loses huge revenues, foreign exchange and Jobs to this menace as Nigeria rice processing companies are shutting down because of their inability to gain market access. More painfully millions of small-holder farmers are stuck with their paddy because the Millers can no longer afford to buy from them.’’
Continuing, he said investigations conducted by the Association in the last few months indicated that ‘’all our international borders have been converted to smugglers route and our markets are filled with smuggled foreign rice. There is the need for urgent actions to avert eventual national food emergency by combating smuggling so that we can continue to grow our local Rice industry and the economy.’’
While commending the efforts by the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN) in its intervention in the rice sub-sector of the economy, he lamented that investors in the country despite their financial commitment are met with the threat to the industry’s growth due to the activities of smugglers.
The RIPAN boss said ‘’all the programmes have impacted greatly on our integrated processing capacity which has increased from 800,000 metric tons in 2014 to 1.6 million metric in 2018. This is in addition to about 3.9 million metric tons of finished Rice milled by thousands of cottage millers scattered across the country.’’
They are therefore, recommending the immediate raid of the various rice smugglers market across the country and appealing to the Federal Government to begin to sanction officers and employees of Customs, NAFDAC, SON who are saddled with the responsibility of enforcement, and who compromise their offices or fail in their various responsibilities.
They also drew the attention of the government to the fact that some officers working in these government agencies are in collaboration with these smugglers and called on the authorities to fish them out and prosecute them for economic sabotage.
‘’Government must deal firmly with smuggling and severely punish infractions in a way that makes smuggling too costly to risk. Particularly, Government must begin the fish out and punish multinational companies who play on both sides of the Border; – those who drive the syndicates (the promoters).
‘’Government must as a matter of urgent national importance, take strong diplomatic action against our neighboring countries who allow Parboiled Rice into their country for final destination to Nigeria. The government may consider closing the Borders for some time if diplomatic overtures fail’’, RIPAN said.