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RIPAN and Burden of Tackling Rice Smuggling, by Abdulsalam Mahmud

RIPAN and Burden of Tackling Rice Smuggling, by Abdulsalam Mahmud
Smuggled Bags of Rice
RIPAN and Burden of Tackling Rice Smuggling, by Abdulsalam Mahmud

RIPAN and Burden of Tackling Rice Smuggling, by Abdulsalam Mahmud

Nigeria is one country where the smuggling of foreign goods of all kinds is rife. The country’s porous land borders are gateways for criminals better known as smugglers to bring in all sorts of contrabands.

Are the contrabands only injurious to the citizens’ physical and mental health? Absolutely no! Some of them, like small and light weapons, whose proliferation across many parts of the country is frightening, are tools for snuffing out lives.

They have since become the prized assets of terrorists, armed bandits, and kidnappers, to mention a few of the daredevil criminals terrorizing many hapless Nigerians. As a staple food, rice production in the country would have since become a gold mine.

But producing it locally, especially on a massive commercial level, has become an uphill task. It is being threatened by smuggling. Less nutritious rice varieties cultivated in other parts of the world are finding their way to Nigeria.

In recent years, the Rice Processors Association of Nigeria, RIPAN, has waged a war against foreign rice, flooding many markets across the country. Though relative successes have been achieved in tackling the menace of rice smuggling into the country, the menace still thrives.

Between January and September 2016 alone, the Nigeria Customs Service seized 5.85 million kilogrammes of rice smuggled in through the land borders, a Nigerian newspaper, in 2017, reported. That translates to 117,000 bags in 50kg packages, the newspaper observed.

“The spokesperson for the NCS, Mr. Joseph Attah, stated that the service made rice seizures 1,933 times in 2016. The total duty paid value of those seizures is N1,299,433,530 ($3.5m)

“Between January and June 2017 alone, the NCS had already intercepted large scale smuggled rice 1,156 times. The seizures have combined DPV of N746, 977,000 ($2m).

“Yet, findings suggest that these seizures are mere tips of the iceberg compared with the actual amount of smuggled rice which makes it into the Nigerian market,” the tabloid asserted in its published story titled, “Inside Nigeria’s multi-billion naira rice smuggling business”.

According to a post on JOURNALISTS FOR TRANSPARENCY, a news blog, Nigeria exported more food than it imported, in the 1960s. The blog equally observed that, “In 2011, Nigeria was the world’s second biggest importer of rice, bringing in about 2.5 million tons of rice.

“In early 2013, in an effort to regain food self-sufficiency, the government increased the tax on imported rice from 50 to 110 percent, a 60 percent hike. The tax was meant to encourage locally produced and processed rice and wean the country off imported rice altogether before a full ban in 2015”.

Equally, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, around December 2021, was reported in the media to have said that about two million metric tons of rice is currently being imported or smuggled into the country.

Vice Chairman of the Committee, Muhammad Enagi, disclosed this at a meeting with multi-stakeholder group on rice council advocacy bill promotion.

The interactive meeting was organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – Global Environment Facility (GEF), in collaboration with Women Farmers Advancement Network (WOFAN), among others. Enagi stated that Nigeria’s rice rose from 3.7 million metric tons in 2017 to 5.0 metric tons in 2021.

He said, ”In spite of this, 6.7 million metric tons of rice is consumed in Nigeria annually, resulting in a deficit of about two million metric tons which is either imported or smuggled illegally into the country”.

According to him, “Nigeria should consider putting in place a National Rice Development Council and a comprehensive national rice development roadmap that will guide the country into self-sufficiency and export”.

Not too long ago, RIPAN, at a press conference in Abuja, last month, also bemoaned the persistent importation of rice into the country. Andy Ekwelem, Director General of RIPAN, was speaking some few days after an investigative report by Economic Confidential on, “How Illicit Rice Importation is Threatening FG’s Agricultural Sector Interventions”.

Ekwelem lamented that, though the country’s rice industry may have enjoyed considerable support from the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, all is still not well with the agro sub-sector.

He noted that rice smuggling across the land borders is the bane of the rice sub-sector, in Nigeria.

He said that because rice is a staple food for Nigerians, smugglers take it as an a-rated trade item and consequently smuggle millions of tons of finished packaged rice from India, Thailand and other southeast Asian countries into the country, from Nigeria’s porous borders with Benin Republic, Niger Republic and Cameroon.

But the gospel truth is that Nigeria is endowed with arable land for the cultivation of any kind of food crop. It should have little to do with smuggling of agricultural products. This reality has long been affirmed by both local and international agricultural institutions.

A worried Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (ADB), but as Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Adesina, in 2016, observed that, “Nigeria has no business importing rice… We have a massive amount of land, we have water, we have cheap labor, but we’re using these things to make a market for others.

“To make Nigeria a world producer of food, we had to reposition agriculture away from ‘farming’ [towards] a money making business.”

It is however exciting to know that RIPAN, among other stakeholders in Nigeria’s rice industry, has been unrelenting in its crusade of ending the importation of rice into the country. This, it has done with an uncommon panache, patriotic zeal and matchless commitment.

At the press conference it held last month in Abuja, the agricultural body had a word for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, President-Elect, on how to swiftly tame rice smugglers and their ‘vicious’ business.

The incoming administration must devise a new strategy of dealing with these economic saboteurs if the Government really wants the huge investments of both the Government of Nigeria and the private sector in the rice subsector to survive, it said.

Above all, RIPAN is hoping that Tinubu’s administration will follow through some of the laudable policies of the current administration, as well as design and launch new ones to further strengthen and sustain the Nigeria rice industry.

*Mahmud is the Deputy Editor of PRNigeria, and wrote in via: [email protected]*

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