By Bayo Bernard Business Editor
The Ogun State command of the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS had received enough knocks from worried Nigerians over the spate of the smuggling going on in the axis, more so the perceived tardiness of the command to rein in smugglers of imported rice into the country.
The activities of rice smugglers from the Idi-Iroko and adjoining routes between Nigerian and Benin Republic had worried border monitors to no end, raising concerns on the seriousness of the command to tackle the menace.
The development appears to have pushed the command to action lately. As part of the command’s six months anti-smuggling activities, it announced recently seizure of prohibited items of different kinds, including over 15,000 bags of foreign rice.
The major breakthrough, the command stated is the seizure of 600 bags of rice, which according to the Area Controller of the command, Michael Agbara was intercepted by eagle-eyed men of the command. “Further investigations, Comptroller Agbara stated revealed that the foreign rice was re-bagged in branded bags of a popular indigenous rice producer.”
The Source however, learned from the Public Relations Officer of the command, Abdullahi Maiwada that the seized foreign rice was branded in Elephant Rice, an indigenous producer of the commodity.
Importation of foreign rice through land borders was banned from the inception of President Muhammadu Buhari administration. In spite of the ban, the commodity has continued to find its way into the country.
The Elephant Group is the maker of Elephant Rice, believed to be produced in Nigeria. The company said it has invested huge capital in procuring machinery and personnel as part of effort to localize the production of the commodity in the last few years.
The concerted efforts by the Group to churn out locally produced rice now faces a big challenge, as investigations by the magazine indicate that foreign rice branded as Elephant Rice have now flooded the market.
There is no way to differentiate ‘fake’ Elephant Rice from original. For instance, the over 500 bags seized by Ogun Customs’ command left no one in doubt the capacity of those involved in smuggling foreign rice into the country, which they later brand as Elephant Rice.
The question is whether the Elephant Group is involved in this shameless action as being suggested in some quarters, or it’s simply the work of some mischief makers working tirelessly to destroy the reputation of the Group as a foremost local rice producer. This is not the first time smuggled foreign rice re-bagged as Elephant Rice will be impounded by the NCS.
As part of on-going investigations by the command to get to the bottom of the issue, the command led by Comptroller Agbara, told the magazine that it had written to the group demanding explanation on the issue.
The command said it wrote a letter of invitation to the company on June 24. Elephant Group was in the letter required to appear at the command’s office in Idi Iroko on July 2.
But according to the command’s spokesman, Elephant Group “has failed to show up.”
But the company has also denied involvement in the dirty business of re-bagging foreign rice as locally made.
Elephant Group Media Consultant, Mr Ajibola, told the magazine that the company has nothing to do with the allege smuggling.
He said some unknown persons are neck deep in destroying the reputation of the company as an indigenous local rice producer.
He explained that the matter has become an embarrassment for the company. And as part of effort to nail the scam, the company he explained has decided to rebrand and repackage its own rice brand.
He said part of the effort to find solution to the matter is that” we are planning to rebrand” Elephant Rice in the next two weeks or one month.”
As it seems, that may not entirely solve the problem, market analysts say, considering that foreign rice branded as Elephant Rice have already flooded the market. This poses brand conflict for the company apart from the negative effects for the federal government’s policy to localize rice production.