Smugglers of foreign rice are beginning to flood Nigerian markets with smuggled products as the Yuletide season approaches and have warehoused over one million tonnes of the commodity in neighbouring countries.
In October, the Federal Government stated that it had restricted the importation of rice to only designated seaports and banned its coming into the country through land borders.
But the commodity has continued to find its way into Nigeria in large quantity through the borders despite the restriction.
In a petition addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari, the Rice Processors Association of Nigeria, a body consisting of over 25 million indigenous rice farmers, stated that aside the massive smuggling of the produce into the country, documents at its disposal showed that shiploads of rice were being warehoused in neighbouring countries, waiting to be smuggled into Nigeria.
The Chairman, RIPAN, Mr. Abubakar Mohammed; and the Secretary, who is a former Minister of Justice, Chief Michael Aondoakaa (SAN), in a joint statement in Abuja on Thursday, said if the development was not checked by the Federal Government, the local rice industry would die and over N200bn worth of investments in the sector would be destroyed.
“Information at our disposal shows massive smuggling of finished rice into Nigeria. Our investigation showed that these products are berthed and warehoused in Republic of Benin, Niger and Cameroon at very little import duties, and then pushed into Nigeria where the perpetrators eventually make unconscionable profit, having paid zero duties at our borders,” they said.
Displaying some documents before journalists, Mohammed said, “For your confirmation, please find attached these documents that show the list of ships carrying these products and their time of arrival at the various ports.
“And please be reminded that among countries in the West Coast of Africa, only the Nigerian market consumes parboiled rice and this list shows that all the ships conveyed parboiled rice.”
The RIPAN stated that although it had sent its petition to the President through the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, and had briefed the Nigerin Customs Service on the matter, it was, however, imperative to raise the alarm publicly as the smuggled rice was not safe for human consumption.
“This has been confirmed by different agencies like NAFDAC, the NCS and a few others,” Mohammed added.
The association urged the Federal Government to engage the governments of the neighbouring countries where the commodity was warehoused to fashion out anti-smuggling measures to address the menace in order to save the Nigerian economy and its citizens.
It said, “The NCS should collaborate with the DSS and other relevant security agencies to track unpatriotic elements at the borders and bring them to book in order to deter others from being used by smugglers to smuggle over one million tonnes of rice currently warehoused in these neighbouring countries, with the dubious intention of smuggling it into Nigeria during the festive season.
“For if this is not checked, it will kill the huge investments made by the Federal Government in the various rice intervention programmes and it will also destroy the billions of naira invested by private sector stakeholders in the rice value chain.
“If this massive act of smuggling is not checked by the Nigerian government, it will undermine the zeal and efforts of over 25 million Nigerian farmers across the country who have gone back to farming in response to the present administration’s call for the diversification of the economy through agriculture.”