By Stephen Ubanna
President Muhammadu Buhari is no longer finding it funny that the government Agricultural policy aimed at promoting local rice production is not making the desired impact on the economy as the Asian countries of Thailand grown parboiled rice and Indian rice still dominate the Nigeria market.
From Lagos, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Calabar, Kano, Sokoto, Dutse, kebbi to Maiduguri, the story is the same: foreign parboiled rice dominate the markets . the situation is so bad in the south west and north west geo-political regions where there were said to be established rice markets and warehouses where foreign smuggled parboiled are sold to retailers and distributors . The Alaba and Daleko rice markets in Lagos are evident of such markets in Lagos .
The existence of these rice markets in Lagos and other areas in the south west may have given Muhammed Uba Garba, Comptroller, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, Federal Operation Unit, FOU, Zone A, and his officers ammunition to intensify efforts to cut off the source of supply to these markets by the smuggler syndicates.
Between June 2016 and now, the Command, going by its records had made several trucks load of ”50” kg bags of rice from the south west. Investigation by the Magazine shows that over 50 percent of the 252,666 ”50” kg bags of rice seized by Customs Formations across the country within 22 months which were supplied the internally Displaced People’s, IDPs, Camps last January were said to have been made by FOU, Zone A alone. The situation was the same in last May rice supplies to the IDP Camps , on the orders of Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, NCS.
The rice seizures from smugglers by officers of the Command may have increased in the recent time with the deployment of the Bauchi state born Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent of Customs from Ijebu Ode Checkpoint to Head the Command Lagos Roving team, now batptised Operations and Lagos Roving team.
Mohammed, the FOU, Zone A, Customs boss, confirmed that between May 16, 2018 and June 12,2018, the Command , alone made a seizure of 15 trucks load of rice from the south west alone, awaiting for orders from the Headquarters to be evacuated to the IDP Camps . He was said to have been enthused by Lura and his officers exploits at a Creek at Oyingbo, Lagos, where smugglers were disposed of two barges loaded with over 700 ”50” kgs bags of foreign parboiled rice. The barges were said to entered Nigeria waters from Republic of Benin.
Last friday, Riks and his team members were said to have impounded 482 ”50”kg bags of rice from the notorious Iseyin area in Oyo state. No body had expected the Riks led team to dare the smugglers in the area because they were armed with sophisticated weapons. Eyewitness account said the team took them by surprise and dispossessed them of the items which were quickly transferred to the Command warehouse at Ikeja with little or no resistance. The foreign parboiled rice that was said to have been seized by the Command in t and other Customs formations across the country in the recent time may have emboldened Ali, the Customs boss to inform Buhari that smuggling of rice into the country is thriving because of the country inter-connectivity with the Republic of Benin and other neighbouring countries in the West African Sub-region.
According to him, the situation had become more worrisome as Nigeria kinsmen living across borders in these neighbouring countries speak the same language with the nation which makes it difficult to claim that a particular border is well secured in the country. He insists that Nigeria borders are porous because ”there is no line where there is Nigeria in Republic of Benin, Cameroun, Niger or Chad Republic.
The information that 0ver 250,000 ”50”kg bags of foreign parboiled and Agricultural brands of rice were supplied to the IDP Camps in the south eastern states of Adamawa, Borno, Yobe and Edo state , in the south south geopolitical region seized within 22 months by the Ali led Customs may have convinced him that something urgent needed to done to protect Nigeria’s land border stations.
Audu Ogbe, minister of Agriculture and Rural Development may have spoken the mind of the President when he said that the” land border stations will soon be ”totally shut to prevent smuggling of foreign parboiled rice into the country”.
given the hint, the President may have sent a signal to Patrice Talon, his counterpart in Republic of Benin that the land border stations would be shut because smuggling of parboiled rice and other toxic materials into the country is becoming a problem.
The minister had corroborated the Customs Comptroller General claims that the ”friendly relationship between Nigeria and the other neighbouring West African countries , particular Republic of Benin, was adversely affecting the country’s economy and hence the need to shut the land border stations to stop foreign parboiled and other toxic materials from being smuggled into the country any more.
He was said to have made it clear to those that care to listen that there was no basis for foreign parboiled rice from Thailand or india Agricultural brand of rice to be found in the Nigeria market because the government in the last two years had stopped giving letters of Credit, LC, to rice importers. . It would be recalled that rice, was among the 41 items banned by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, from acessing the official foreign exchange market, forex, to protect the Nigeria local rice farmers in 2016.
The minister had confirmed that the Buhari government had succeeded in reducing rice importation into the country, and therefore there was no need for foreign rice to still dominate the Nigeria market both not for the activities of smugglers across the country.
An elated Ogbeh, who is the minister of Agriculture and Rural Development reportedly said that there ought to be enough locally produced rice in the market because the number of rice farmers in the country have increased from the initial figure of five under former President Goodluck Jonathan Administration to 30 million currently.
He is optimistic that the number would still go up as the Bank of Industry, BOI, has stepped in to give out loans at subdised interest rates to young Entrepreneurs wishing to go into Commercial farming for growing of rice and other agricultural items.
At present states like Anambra, , Eboyi, Kebbi, Kano and Jigawa, he said had taken the lead among the comity of states to take advantage of the Achor Borrower programme, ABP,, of the government , administered by the BOI, to go into full scale rice production.
The aggressive drive by Anambra and these other states involved in rice production may have emboldened Ogbeh to say that such ”achievements ” would not be allowed to be destroyed by the activities of smugglers across the country.
The seriousness of the government to protect the local rice farmers may have encouraged Ali , the Customs Comptroller General to read the riot act to the Comptrollers at the Lad border stations to sit up by ensuring adequate blockage of the Creeks and bush paths used by smugglers in their areas of jurisdiction.
The Customs Comptroller General was said to have met recently with Mohammed Aliyu , Agbara Ojobo, and other invited Comptrollers holding forth at the land border Stations. The meeting , according to a source was not unconnected to the problem of rice smuggling into the country. The ource disclosed that the Customs boss was not happy with the land border stations Comptrollers because foreign rice was still been smuggled into the country, undetected. The seizures of trucks load of foreign parboiled rice and other brands by Muhammed led FOU, Zone A, personnel and other FOUs across the country give credence to what is happening at the land border stations, which had been blamed on Corruption of the officers by VIP smugglers and their agents.