By Stephen Ubanna
In spite of the thousands of bags of 50Kg, each of the Asian country of Thailand, parboiled rice that had been seized from smugglers across the country, on a monthly basis by the Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel led Nigerian Customs service, NCS, that over the last five years, the situation has not changed as the smugglers has continued to do the illegal business.
Beni Republic had remained a haven for smugglers since 2014, when President Patrice Talon lowered tariffs on rice imports from 35% to 7% in the country. The move was intended to encourage rice importers to patronize the Benin, Cotonou and Bollore ports, the two major ports in the neighbouring West African country.
It was not surprising why rice is the most Commercial food that can be found in the West African country. It is on record that the entire 17 million tonnes of Foreign rice that African countries had imported in 2016, 2.3 millon tonnes of the quantities had passed through the two operating seaports in the country alone. The Senai group, SARL, comprising of Global Reseau, Herman Haver Company Limited and Maxworld, were said to have dominated the rice market in the country.
There are other notable rice importing firms like Kashish Food, Germany Company.com, Yiwu Commodity Import & Export Co Ltd, Shenzhen the Chiina &South Import & Export Co ltd, Wuxi Better Import&Export Co. Ltd and Mipro (Manufactured Imports and Investm
The rice Importing Companies may not have marched t SARL imports , but The Value News learnt they have a fair share of the rice market. Others trading firms involved in the rice business in the country are New brands Import and Export Company Ltd and Wardak Trading Company ltd.
The Beninois government may have opened the market for Foreign rice importers to flood the Benin Republic ports because the local rice producers were unable to supply the amount needed by the urban population.
A Beninois senior Customs officer told The Magazine that given that rice has become part of the culture of the people, a profitable business and easy to import more Companies began to import larger quantities of rice into the Beninois market. The Companies, may have been encouraged to do so as the government’’reduced the bureaucracy and the entire rice import process’’.
The Magazine findings further shows that the larger quantities of parboiled rice discharged at the Benin seaports had made the Benin rice market very popular as importers struggled to have their vessels discharge their rice Consignment at the ports. Investigations shows that out of the 184 countries importing paddy rice from the Asian country of Thailand Benin Republic had consistently topped the list by making the largest imports.
This may have given President Muhammadu Buhari and all those running the affairs of the country including Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NSC, the impression that the West African country has done great damage to Nigeria’s economy through ‘’smuggling’’. The country with its population of about 12 million people, according to informed sources was importing rice more than what the Asian country of China , with a population of 2 billion people was doing.
Reporst from the Thailand Rice Export Association show s that the West African country was the largest importer of rice from the country between 2017 and 2019. The country was said to have imported nearly 2 million metric tonnes of paddy rice from the Asian country in 2017 compared to China which had imported 1.2 million metric tonnes. The situation was not different in 2o18 and 2019.
In 2018, the country was said to have imported over 1.6 million metric tonnes to China’s 1 million metric tonnes while it imported 695,854 metric tonnes , between January to May in 2019 to Chaina’s 205,830 metric tonnes.The large quantities of Foreign parboiled rice that had been seized by the Federal Operations Units, FOUs,, the Border Drills overseeing the border closure across the country with Benin, Niger and Central African country of Cameroon and the Comptroller General Customs Strike Force, across the country speaks volume.
Take for instance, between October and now, The CGC Strike Force, Team A, under the close watch of Ahmadu Shuaibu, a Deputy Comptroller, through credible intelligence have been making a weekly seizure of about 600 bags of foreign par boiled rice of ‘’50Kg each. The CGC Strike Force Team A, boss and his officers may have devised a strategy to protect the seized bags of rice from weevil by allegedly using ‘’40’’ Containers to do so.
The team, according to an insider transfers such Containers filled with seized rice from the Lagos ports and land borders are transferred to Ikorodu Lighter Terminal , ILT, used by the Customs Authorities for storage of overtime cargoes. Before now , the adhoc Team , had joined the FOU, Zone A, under the care of Usman Yahaya, the Command acting Comptroller , to keep their seized bags of rice at the Government warehouse , Ikeja.
Recall that last April, the Katsina state born Nigerian President ordered Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, to distribute the 152 trucks load of the Asian country of Thailand par boiled rice seized from smugglers but kept in various government warehouses across the country to the 36 states of the Federation and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.
The trucks load of Foreign rice, were said to have been handed over to the ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management for distribution to the states and the FCT, at the instance of Hajia Zainab Ahmed, minister of Finance, Budget and National planning. The drive to seize the large quantities of smuggled rice smuggled into the country t by the Customs personnel at the land orders and the seaports was said to have been facilitated by the Rice Millers Association of Nigeria, RIMDAN.
Recall that RIMDAN, over the last five years have lobbied the government for a crack down on rice smugglers operating between Nigeria and the neighbouring West African countries and Camerron. There were allegations, making the rounds that Indian rice traders in Nigeria were involved in the rice smuggling business. RIMDAN, officials may have won the heart of the Nigerian President who had closed the borders across the country with the eneighbouring countries.
Indeed, the continuous seizure of bags of ‘’50’’ each of imported par boiled rice that were to the Nigerian market by Ali’s men may have sent a signal to the Thailand rice farmers and importers that the game is up. A month to month comparison at Concors Inland Container Depot, ICD, in Vapur , Benin, in 2020, shows that as against 2,6000 Containers dispatched to the Benin ports in October, only 1,500 were sent in November. A senior official of Makinada Port Trust in Thailand had said that there is actually a fall in the country rice exports.
. Almost 22 vessels were said to have waited at the two Benin republic ports awaiting clearance t but delayed because of the border closure and the difficulty of smuggling the rice into the Nigerian market through unapproved routes if it is discharged. There are fears that with the reopening of the Four major borders in the north west, south west, and south-west geopolitical region, the smugglers may find way to do so. But Maritime experts expoused that it would be very difficult to do so as Customs anti-smuggling officers are everywhere , with their AK 47, to police the nation’s land borders.