By Frank Oyakhilome.
The Upper legislative chamber, ad-hoc committee on import duty waivers, concessions and grants, chaired by Adamu Aliero (Kebbi central) has submitted its report after a probe of the policy on the Nigeria Customs Service removal of ban on importation of rice in October. The Senate quickly came to the rescue by inviting the Comptroller-General of the Customs, Hameed Ali for explanation, since the institution is only empowered to implement and not to make decision.
The Senate president, Bukola Saraki who asked PMB to direct the customs to suspend the lifting of ban on the importation of rice on the grounds that it would escalate rice smuggling into the country, reiterated that the customs lacked the capacity to monitor and control the flow of goods through the land borders.
Saraki said that the issue should not be handled with any sentiment, but from logic, questioned why anybody will go through the borders to incur extra cost unless there is an attention to defraud government.
The Senate President thinks that everyone should support the local farmers as he strongly advise the customs to suspend the lifting of the ban on importation of rice through the land borders and continue to operate through the sea borders.
Earlier in October, the Chairman of National Rice Millers Association of Nigeria (NRMAN), Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar had decried the decision of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), reiterating that the NCS overreached its statutory mandate as an enforcement agency in taking such a policy decision in such a sensitive issue.
To Abubakar, if the Customs had succeeded it would have destroyed Nigeria’s rice value chain attained by the previous administration. Reports say the cost of these rice imports represents a significant amount of lost earnings for the country in terms of jobs and income.
The Secretary General of Rice Importers, Millers and Distributors Association of Nigeria RiMIDAN , Shaibu Mohammed also a senior personnel with Olam Nigeria says “No descent business man will want to take parboiled rice into these neighboring countries, pay duties in that country and further bring it to Nigeria and pay another duty to the Nigerian Government. It doesn’t make business sense when the same can be brought straight to Nigeria and duty paid once”.
Shaibu who looked beyond just rice import implication says that even if with the success the Customs in collecting duties at the land borders, such importation will take activities away from the seaport and jobs will be lost by Truck drivers, motor boys and even labourers.
Mohammed who argued further asked that in the first instance why NCS would want rice to neither come into our country from neighboring countries that we know do not produce rice nor even consume parboiled rice, that to them it’s only a trade thing. He added that Importers of such parboiled rice into these neighboring countries are only toying with the intelligence of our border security.
Abubakar, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of Umza Rice, had reaffirmed that the decision of the removal of ban would be an attempt by the customs to legitimise the smuggling of rice and stressed that the removal of ban will completely kill the rice value chain and everything concerning rice production will stop.
It should be noted that the ban was placed six years ago and within that period Nigeria production capacity was increased to meet 3.4million metric tonnes due to the Nigerian National Rice Development Strategy (NRDS) set up in 2009 aimed to make the country self-sufficient in rice by raising production of paddy rice from 3.4 million tonnes in 2007 to 12.8 million tonnes in 2018.
Stakeholders welcomed senate decision in asking the President of the country to stop the Customs totally from this move, now that farmers and millers are reaching the set target.