New Telegraph Nigerian Newspaper
Exactly one year after the Federal Government placed a ban on rice importation through land borders, the battle between the commodity smugglers and officers of Nigeria Customs Service has intensified by the day. BAYO AKOMOLAFE reports
In the last three years, Nigeria spent about $2.41billion on rice importation apart from those smuggled from the neighbouring countries. According to a Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) report, the amount was spent between January 2012 and May 2015. It was learnt that in 2012, the country took delivery of 2.8 million tons; 2.8 million tons in 2013; 3.5 million tons in 2014 and 2.5million tons in 2015.
Miffed by the huge amount spent yearly, the Federal Government imposed a ban on the importation of the commodity through the land border in October 2015, having realised that the special levy on imported parboiled rice from 40 per cent to 100 per cent in addition to the 10 per cent statutory duty at the port was no longer working.
The commodity is smuggled through the various land borders and creeks.
Just a few days ago, NCS enforcement team said that it had intercepted 37 vehicles loaded with smuggled rice at a forest within Ipokia axis of Owode Alari, Ifoyintedo community, along Idiroko, the border between Nigeria and Republic of Benin in Ogun State.
Also, in July 2016, the service said that its anti-smuggling units had confiscated 13,328 bags of rice in Ogun borders alone; apart from other illegal routes in Lagos, Oyo, Cross Rivers, Katsina, Sokoto and Kwara. Similarly, the Seme Area Command of the NCS impounded 12 trucks laden with 2,131 bags of 50 kilogrammes rice with a Duty Paid Value (DPV) of N23.9million.
The imported rice was reportedly smuggled through Ere-creeks, bordering Lagos and Ogun states. Customs Area Controller of Ogun Command, Comptroller Waindu Multafu, who decried the unpatriotic attitude of smugglers in making rice smuggling a matter of life and death, noted that there were many creeks around the borders used by smugglers with small canoes to transport rice across rivers.
He explained that rice was the most smuggled commodity in the state because of the financial benefits accruing to the smugglers. According to him, people smuggle rice to avoid payment of Customs duty.
He added: “There is no place in our warehouse to put rice again. We are making efforts to dispose the ones we have in the warehouse. We made seizures of vehicles and motorcycles daily. They used the kind of vehicle that can carry 80 bags of rice.” The controller said that Ohunbe, Oke Odan and Ilase were some of the notorious places located along the road to Ajilete.
Benin Govt pleads
A source in NCS disclosed to New Telegraph that the Benin government had written to the Federal Government of Nigeria pleading that the ban on rice should be lifted. The source noted that exports of rice from Benin to Nigeria were the main source of revenue to Cotonou Port.
According to the source, “Benin does not consume parboiled rice, 90 per cent of the imports are for Nigerian markets. Large volume of the imports are shipped from Thailand, Pakistan, India, United States and Vietnam to Benin for transshipment to Nigeria.”
Data from the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) revealed that 70 per cent of the import coming to Nigeria was shipped through the land borders and illegal routes. In 2015, over 1.8 million metric tons of rice were loaded in 30,000 trucks and routed via transit shipments through Niger to the northwest of Nigeria. The commodity is valued at N144 billion ($720 million).
It would be recalled that between January and August this year, NCS had seized rice valued at N598 billion through the Seme, Idiroko, Cameroon, Jibya and other borders and creeks.
It was learnt that the value of the commodity seized was N267.2 billion higher than N330.5 billion rice seized in the same period in 2015.
According to NCS’ Public Relations Officer, Mr. Wale Adeniyi, a deputy comptroller, the increase in the seizures was an indication that the customs was operating zero tolerance to illegal importation of rice.
He noted that the Service’s relationship with its counterpart in Republic of Benin had helped to facilitate the spate of confiscation of the commodity along the borders of both countries. He said: “Our seizure on rice from January to August 2016 was N597.7 billion as against N330.5 billion during the same period in 2015.
This shows a huge increase; the number of seizures from the statistics shows that smugglers now know that it is no longer profitable to bring in rice through the borders.”
According to him, since importation of rice has been restricted to the ports, smugglers with one bag of rice are being arrested, particularly those using motorcycles, donkeys and even small vehicles. He said: “After the meeting we had with our colleagues from the Republic of Benin, we went all out on zero tolerance on importation of rice.”
To further curb the menace of smuggling in the creeks, it was learnt that the service had sealed an interagency collaboration between its Eastern Marine Command and the Eastern Naval Command of the Nigeria Navy.
There is need for government to encourage and protect local rice farmers from smugglers in order to boost local production