Rice smuggling stifles Nigeria’s economic growth

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Angela Okisor

There has been indeed an increasing concern, especially by operators in the nation’s agricultural sector over the massive importation of certain food items, particularly rice, into Nigeria which by all intents and purposes could be produced in the country.

Without mincing words, one of the agricultural produce which high rate of importation essentially through smuggling, have been roughening feathers and stifling the growth of non-oil economy is rice.  Rice, a major grain, has very high level of consumption across the country. But which rice do Nigerians consume-locally produced, imported, smuggled rice or what?

At the inception of the present administration, President Muhammadu Buhari sounded it loud and clear that Nigerians must produce what they consume. The watchword became less emphasis on imported goods especially consumables. Backward integration and agricultural revolution policy initiatives were rolled out. Attention needed to be paid urgently to local rice production after the rice millers and local rice farmers across the country have been eager to embark on massive rice production before now.

Indeed, Nigerians soon discovered that locally made rice has nutritional value than imported or foreign rice. Due to increasing interest in local rice, some operators in their wisdom, converged under the umbrella of Rice Investors Group (RIG). The vision and mission of the group include boosting the federal government’s agricultural and industrial revolution plan with the cardinal objective of promoting rice value chain across the country.

RIG was also meant to fast track the urgent realization of the government’s inward-looking initiative by increasing local rice production for guaranteed food security in Nigeria.

Again, the association was set up to ensure self-sufficiency in rice through encouraging the government to promote investment as well as drive the campaign on less dependent on imported rice in order to eliminate the menace of smuggled rice in the nation’s economy.

Investigations reveal that the rice farmers and miller were really out to sustain and stabilize the sector.

They started cultivating rice farms across the country as well as establishing rice mills and other post-production facilities for improved rice production to meet local demand and consumption. For example, Olam Nigeria Limited cultivates an estimated 10,000 hectares of rice farm in Doma, Nasarawa State; Stallion Group or Popular Foods Limited has an estimated 1, 000 hectares of rice farm; Elephant Group is spreading its tentacle beyond Moniya, Oyo State, to other parts of the country, while Dana boasts of an ultra-modern state-of-the-art production facilities, same for Flour Mills, among other rice producing firms.

The menace of rice smuggling

However, something went wrong concerning local rice production and consumption. According to Mrs. Folashade Abimbola, a rice seller at the Onigbongbo market, Maryland in Lagos, local rice has since been scarce because smuggled rice has succeeded in pushing the paddy rice out of the markets.

“We can’t even see the paddy rice to buy for re-sell; they don’t produce them much again because of unfair competition. Imported rice is cheaper and you know, people go for cheap things’, she said.

The federal government’s zero-oil economic pursuit is indeed predicated mainly on the potential and potentialities of the nation’s agricultural sector.

Stakeholders believe that the agro-allied sector alone could net billions of naira revenue if driven with proper promotional and protectionist policies.

Regrettably, the government, nay the economy, has been losing billions of naira daily to the nefarious activities of rice smugglers. Worse still, rice producers and millers have been the hardest hit of the menace.

Rice smugglers are now at their best elements especially those using Nigeria’s porous land borders. Million bags of smuggled rice are said to come into the country weekly especially from the Republic of Benin.

Instead of using trucks or lorries, the smugglers use motor bikes to convey bags of rice from Cotonou end into Nigeria.

At the Seme border, it was gathered that one motor-cycle could load about 10 bags of rice at once, and can make 10 or more trips daily. Once the bags are inside the country, there are already buyers waiting to take delivery. Thus, Nigeria is daily flooded with smuggled rice.

Okenze Emenike, Badagry-based businessman said Cotonou has become the hub of smuggling business in the sub-region. He estimates that 80 per cent of goods that come into Benin Republic from other countries are headed for Nigeria.

“That is why Nigeria is losing; a small country like Benin Republic is gaining because the duty that should be paid to our government agencies is diverted to Cotonou. This practice has been going on for a long time. We thought that the present administration would tackle the issue of smuggling but unfortunately it has become worse daily,” he said.

A stakeholder, Taye Sobowale, said smuggling is a monster as far as market share of genuine products is concerned.

 Way forward

Stakeholders would therefore want the government to tighten the noose against rice smuggling stressing that something urgent and radical should be done to check the high volume of smuggled goods across the nation’s borders.

“The government’s economic policy especially as it affects increased agricultural produce including rice, requires that we all go back to the land. We need to cultivate rice in abundance in order to feed our teeming population, provide jobs for large army of unemployment youths and diversify the nation’s economy. The Asian Tigers are what they are today due to the inward-looking orientation and mission of their leaders. Nigerians found ourselves importing rice from Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, India and so on whereas we have been blessed with good climate and abundant arable land,” said an industrialist, Folorunsho Attah.

The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) believes that the federal government’s robust engagements with officials of Benin Republic, Chad Republic, Niger Republic and Republic of Cameroon, would go a long way to tackling the menace of trade malpractices and smuggling.

For his part, the former minister of commerce and industry, Chief Charles Ugwuh, said local rice farmers and millers can deliver local rice far cheaper than they produce the commodity if the government restricts imports, deploys a viable quota system to import or encourage the governments of neighbouring countries to maintain high tariff levels on rice in order to protect Nigeria’s borders.

Ugwuh who had served as the president of MAN, maintained that Nigeria must make determined efforts to give market access and patronage to locally-milled rice that is properly graded.

The minister of state for agriculture, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri acknowledges that the federal government has a herculean task to curb smuggling of the commodity.

“The federal government has a challenge of smuggling. All the efforts and achievements recorded both in the fishery sector and in the rice sector, which we are doing excellently well will be reversed if we do not combat the issue of smuggling.

“It has a whole lot of problems; it affects our daily existence as a country because today we have been able to create a lot of jobs through agriculture and if smuggling is allowed to continue, the likelihood is that that will be reversed, there will be lot more of social problems,” he said.

The minister revealed that one of the measures put in place by the federal government was the setting up of the committee headed by the vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, which he said is working round the clock to ensure that “we combat the issue of smuggling.”

Besides, the minister said the federal government was doing everything humanly possible to collaborate with the republics of Benin, Niger and Chad to check the problem.

“That is why the president of Benin visited the president of Nigeria time ago,” he added.

For his part, the governor of Ogun State, Mr. Ibikunle Amosun who the minister visited recently, also shared his concerns with the minister on the issue of smuggling.

“We are not unaware of those challenges that smuggling poses to our agriculture and that is why we are insisting that all our porous borders should be closed,” he said.

Amosun regretted that his state has the highest number of unmanned borders in the country.

He said he was already discussing with the minister of interior minister and the comptroller general of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) as well as the comptroller of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) on the ways of mitigating the impact of the problem both in the short and long-term basis.

Indeed, it is the consensus of stakeholders that rice smuggling and its catastrophic consequences on Nigeria’s economy should be decisively checkmated, especially for the overall benefit of local rice farmers and millers.

 

 

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