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Barely three years after the appointment of Col Hameed Ali (rtd) as the Comptroller Customs of Customs (NCS), he has come up with several reforms.
One of his key promises is stamping out smuggling of rice from the porous uncountable land borders.
For record purposes, the same Customs has informed Nigerians that From M in the two years has not been raised or given out for rice imports, meaning that no vessels has ever ferried rice into the country within the period Ali had been the Comptroller General of NCS.
However, across every market in Nigeria including Abuja, the nation’s capital and Lagos the seat of business, every foodstuff shop is laced with several brands of imported rice either from China, India or Thailand.
An investigation by Business Hilights Intelligence Unit (BHIU) revealed that upon the good news in rising local rice production, it is yet to saturate the market and “Official complacency by relevant agencies including the Customs at the borders has continued to fuel the near easy entry of rice into the country”.
According to the report, “As part of illicit drive to avoid seizures, smugglers now ferry rice through creeks and within the country, move them in bags of six on motorcycles who are clearly seen along the highways located at close proximities to the borders.
“Random counts on Lagos-Badagry Expressway show that an average 200 motorcycles carry six bags each from the Seme border or flashpoints within the highways into the shops of rice dealers within the State of Lagos.
The report added that “The motorcyclists ferrying the smuggled rice bags into town from border area said smuggled rice dealers prefer using them to outsmart rampaging Customs operatives along the road and”.
BHIU report also revealed that “In every rice shop in Lagos, between 85 to 100 per cent of rice on sale is foreign, meaning that they are all smuggled hence, no importer has ordered for importation of rice in the last two years.
In an interview recently before he was moved from Federal Operations Unit (FOU), Zone A, Ikeja, the former Controller, Mr. Mohammed Uba who is now redeployed to Seme border, expressed pleasure on what he described as serious drop in rice smuggling due to his command’s no-nonsense approach in dealing decisively with culprits.
But the question remains how every rice shop still has quantum number of foreign rice if importation has stopped and Customs has cordoned off every entry point on land borders?
BHIU report also hinted on rising price of the product due to approaching yuletide season. Some shop owners who spoke to our correspondent said Nigerians would need to brace up for another round of hardship, with the soaring price of rice, considered as a staple food for households in the country.
According to them the price might escalate in few weeks to come and may last till December or new year if urgent provisions are not made to address the challenges.
They revealed that as it stands now, a 50kg of parboiled foreign rice initially sold between N12, 000 and N12, 500 has risen to between N13, 000 and N14, 500, depending on the area, in the last two weeks in Lagos alone.
Unfortunately, a puzzle the present government has not been able to resolve is the fact that whereas Nigeria is ranked the largest producer of rice in West Africa, at the same time, she is still ranked second largest importer (now smuggler) of rice in the world as at 2017, incurring an average import bill of N1b daily on rice import.
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