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Customs seizures

Its breach warning neighbouring countries to stop ‘Nigeria-bound’ rice imports—Expert

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Ahead of the forthcoming 2018 National Rice Conference that would hold in Abuja this week, local producers are of the view that time has come for the Federal Government to warn neighbouring countries to stop encouraging Nigeria-bound rice imports in their seaports.

Need for the warning was raised by the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Agro Nigeria, a body of indigenous agro-dealers, Richard-Mark Mbaram.

He said the progress being recorded in the production of rice within the country was being threatened by the smuggling of the commodity via countries sharing borders with Nigeria.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, had on Monday last week, declared that smuggled rice from Thailand and India came into Nigeria through the country’s borders with Benin, Niger and Cameroon.

According to Mbaram, “Yes, there has been progress thus far in rice production in Nigeria. However, we have serious systemic challenges facing this effort; and number one is smuggling. We know what the countries around us are up to. The figures they have for rice coming into their countries are more than the population which some of them even have”.

“Countries that share borders with us are stockpiling rice which they try to smuggle into Nigeria. So, Nigeria needs to take definite and radical measures. There’s no point playing big brother on issues like this anymore. It is about our life as a nation. It is about the business of our citizens.

“These are corporate entities and if their businesses are challenged and threatened by this, then we have a problem as a nation. So, let’s get radical. If we have to take on these countries directly, I don’t see anything wrong in it. We have to confront Benin Republic and read the riot act to them that we feel they are undertaking inimical measures against our economy.”

However, a Lagos based diplomatic affairs analyst, Dr. Sadiq Hassan has cautioned the federal government not to initiate a diplomatic row it will lack locus standi to drive.

In a telephone interview with Business Hilights on Sunday, he said “It will be the height of diplomatic breach for any nation to warn any other nation to stop doing any form of business within the constitutional territory of that sovereign state in the first instance”.

“What am saying is that it will amount to height of international embarrassment if Nigeria government warns any of its neighbouring nation to stop rice imports whether the nation is importing more than it can consume or not.

Continuing, he argued that “If rice farmers have noticed that smuggled foreign rice is frustrating their business, they should hold the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) responsible and not to push the federal government into what can be viewed as neo-colonization of neighbouring nations because a government agency failed to do its work to the letter”.

“Even if any study has shown that either Benin Republic or even Niger imports more rice than it can ordinarily consume, that is not Nigeria’s business. It is the business of the NCS and other border security outfits to step up their fight against illicit trade and rice smuggling.

Stakeholders in the rice value chain such as Stallion Group, Notore, Afex, Umza, Olam and the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria said the government must show enough concern about the issue to raise investors’ hope.

Mbaram, who spoke on behalf of the stakeholders, said, “This radical type of confrontation is what you need in order to put the conversation on the front burner. If at the level of ECOWAS this issue has to be raised, so be it. If at the level of the AU we need to start engaging each other on this concern, so be it. But it mustn’t be under the table. We are threatened here. It is war.

He further argued that “Let’s begin to see clear measures on the part of government to show that it is concerned in a radical manner. Again, you want to look at those issues that make smuggling attractive. You also look at incentives to give from a fiscal and regulatory perspective that will discourage players in that space and make them turn to more noble acts.”

Mbaram added that “It is obvious that there has been progress in rice production in Nigeria. But we feel that in order to ensure that this is sustainable progress, the private sector needs to be galvanised and mainstreamed into the play. Presently, what we have is a public sector intensive drive, and as much as we commend this, we know that without the private sector’s participation, sustainability is really not assured.”

In his review of success recorded in rice production in Nigeria, the Senior Manager, Sales, Stallion Group of Companies, Bala Sule, said his firm’s rice mill in Kano, which used to get about 20,000 metric tonnes of rice paddy a few years ago, had moved to about 100,000MT of the commodity.

He said “When we started the production of rice, which was actually when the ban on importation commenced, we hardly got rice paddy from farmers. For instance, my company’s rice mill in Kano, which is about the largest in the country, has capacity of 150,000 metric tonnes per annum. But hardly do we get 20,000MT then.

“We now devised a means by working with rice farmers. We identified farmers in some states such as Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Jigawa and Kano where rice is predominantly produced so that they can produce paddy for us. We gave them improved seeds, fertilisers and the required technical know-how, Sule revealed.

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