By Oge Obi
The resonating voices from different quarters on the danger of illegal importation of rice to the nation’s economy and her populace seem to have caught the attention of different stakeholders. A recent development saw the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Nigeria Customs Service as part of the efforts towards stopping rice smuggling through the land borders.
In an interview with journalists in Abuja recently, the President Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Alhaji Aminu Goronyo lamented that despite the Federal Government’s ban on importation of rice through the land borders since April 2016 with an extension to the restriction of rice into the Nigerian market from the Export Processing Zones (EPZ), not much has changed.
Warning Nigerians against the consumption of foreign rice, Goronyo said that most of the imported rice is stale and best for animal and fish feeds. According to him, the result of tests carried out by NAFDAC on some samples of the rice seizures showed that smuggled rice through the land borders was unfit for human consumption. “Ninety-nine per cent of rice smuggled through the land borders are not fit for human consumption.” Adding that the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd), had at a joint meeting between RIFAN and Customs reiterated that rice importation through the borders remain banned.
Disclosing that the Comptroller-General has approved a 12-man implementation committee to be headed by Assistant Comptroller-General, Alino Dangaladima for an effective monitoring of the borders, RFAN President also said that the committee would be replicated at the state level to be headed by all state chairmen of RIFAN and its members would serve in the committee. And that Customs Service has re-organised its anti-smuggling patrols to provide additional capability, to enforce the ban of rice import through the land borders. According Goronyo, the enforcement has become imperative because of the ongoing Rice Revolution undertaken by many state governments. Stating that if adequate measures is not taken to stop the activities of the smugglers, it would have adverse effects on the rice self-sufficiency drive by the government.
In response to the on ongoing rice revolution undertaken by the government, the Senate through a motion sponsored by Senator Hope Uzodinma (Imo West) moved against rice smuggling. The lawmakers who noted that smugglers are hampering Nigeria’s quest for self-sufficiency in rice production, said that total implementation of ban on rice importation through land borders has become imperative. Stressing that its implementation would culminate into increased rice production by the farmers, create employment and food sufficiency.
Assessing the progress of the ongoing rice revolution by the government, Senator Uzodinma, said that the rice revolution has amounted to nothing as a result of the continuous influx of foreign rice, the lawmaker said that viable steps should be taken to curtail the worrisome trend of smuggling.
Uzodinma who maintained that smuggling harms the economy of any country said that it undermines the local industry in different ways, discourages legal import and reduced revenue. According to him, the Federal Government should intensify border patrol to check activities of smugglers.
Speaking also, Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan said if total ban on the importation of rice is achieved, it would lead to abundant rice production and provide job opportunities through industrialisation.
And for other lawmakers, the implementation of total ban on illegal importation of rice through land borders cannot be achieved without FG collaborating with neighbouring countries to strengthen security at the boarders. The lawmakers charged the committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff to carry out a holistic investigation on the operation of Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme (CISS) and unravel the smugglers.