By Stephen Ubanna
President Muhammadu Buhari policy on food importation, particular, foreign rice , and the recent moves to protect the Nigerian Borders through the joint efforts of the Nigerian customs Service, NCS, Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, the Military, other security and Intelligence agencies appear to have put the Benioise Customs Authority and the multinational foreign rice importers including the 20 other companies and individual importers into confusion.
Investigation by The Value News shows that the multi-national rice importing firms and several the other category of importing firms which had flooded the Benin Terminal, Cotonu and Bollore port, in Republic of Benin, a neighbouring country in the West African sub-region with white and Thai Parboiled rice, with the intention to re-export the parboiled rice to Niger as transit cargoes which are pushed into the Nigerian market through porous Borders have been disappointed.
The Beninoise government and the foreign rice importers may not have anticipated the Nigerian government policy on food importation and the Joint Border security exercise, code name in military parlance, as Ex-Swift Response’’, which was launched on Tuesday, August 20,2019 by Hameed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, and Mohammad Bandede, Comptroller General, Nigerian Immigration Services, NIS, in Collaboration with the military and the Nigerian Police force under the able leadership of Mohammed Adamu, the Inspector General of Police, IGP.
Given the importance attached to the project of protecting the country’s maritime Borders with Republic of Benin, Niger and Chad , all neighbouring countries in the west African sub-region and the Central African country of Cameroon, other security and intelligence agencies, were made to be part of the Team , which is Coodinated by Babagana Munguno, a retired Major General and National Security Adviser, NSA, in order to be effective.
Note that the Beninoise government had given license to four multinational Companies and several other smaller Companies including Individuals to import white and Thai parboiled rice into the country . A document made available to The Value News shows that one of such Companies, African Agro Food, with Headquarters in Pan Lebanese Group, Dubai, United Arab Emirate, UAE, controls 30 percent of the foreign rice imports, equivalent of 360,00 MT, per annum and Di fez i Fils, which is based in Cotonou, share of the foreign rice market import was 240,000MT, or 24 percent.
Others are SONAM, linked to the Stallion Group in Dubai, which also operates in Nigeria,, which was said to have been given approval to import N24000 MT or 20 percent of the total foreign rice ports into the country yearly and ABC Enterprises which, also has an operating base in Dubai, was said to have been given the nod to import 10,00MT, just one percent of the market share. The other 20-30 Companies, according to sources were given Presidential permission to import foreign into the Country , according import about 25000 MT per annum.
Going by the Rice fortification policy of the beninoise government the country ought to have attained self – sufficiency in white rice production since 2015 and export the food item to other countries in the West and Central African countries sub-region by 2018 but that was how far the government can go.
The question on the lips of most people was: why the beninoise government which wants to attain self sufficient in white rice production allow Multi- rice foreign rice importers , to use their country to destroy the Nigerian economy by turning it as a dumping ground for Thai parboiled rice.
A Beninoise Customs official informed The Magazine at Cotonou that the major rice importers bring in both white and parboiled rice. A according to the officer, the local wholesalers purchase the white rice, which is repacked in 25 Kg Bag bags for the domestic market.
The wholesalers, who are mostly Lebanese and Indians and who own virtually all the WareHouses in the country, according to the Customs official,also purchase the parboiled rice, which are sold to the Nigerian Traders. It was learnt that prior to the ban on the importation of foreign rice through the country’s Land Border stations into the country , the traders who managed the Trucks transportation and trans –Border shipment to Nigeria and Niger as transit cargoes were smiling to the Bank with their Customs Collaborators.
A recent market survey by The Magazine in an open market in Cotonou and some other Border Communities in the south west geo-political region shows that retailers buy from the wholesalers in their wareHouses .
A Cross –Border at do-Odo Otta, Ogun state , disclosed that the most retailers buy between 50-to 100 b50 kg bags of Parboiled rice weekly which are supplied to Customers. He opined that a few other retailers, who have the Capital to engage in the lucrative foreign rice business buy close to 1000 50Kg Bags at a time.
It is not surprising why the Nigerian market are flooded with foreign rice from Republic of Benin the north and the south flanks. Security sources disclosed that the Benin Terminal and Bollore port in the French speaking country are currently experiencing congestion as there many ships awaiting to berth in order to discharge their bulk cargoes and depart but have not been given the green light to do so because of where to keep the food items.
Between last Tuesday and now, Beninoise security Operatives , particular the Customs personnel, Shipping Companies and Agents , Rice Distributors and Retailers including those selling in the open market at the Border Communities are no longer finding it funny as they have cried out for government to relax the policy.
Note that there are 3000 Border Communities between the Nigeria and the neighboring countries of Republic of Benin, Niger, Chad and the Central African country used as window by the foreign rice distributors and their numerous retail customers that dotted the nooks and crannies of the country to smuggle the prohibited food items through unapproved routes into the country.
From Seme, Idiroko, Ilaro, Ohunbo , Saki , Iseyin, to the northern Border Communities, the story is the seme: Low Business . Indeed, for the next one month, the land Border Communities in the south west, south-south, north west and north east geo-political regions would still be living in a sorry state until they are ready to support government policies that would aid the growth of the local economy and create job opportunities for the tee mining unemployed youths in the society, particular in the Agricultural sector.
There are fears in both official and unofficial circles that if Talon, the Benionoise did not move fast to reach a truce with the Katsina born Nigerian President, the country’s economy may be heading for a collapse.
For those peddling the rumour that the Nigerian Borders with the neighbouring countries in the West and Central African sub-region had been outrightly closed in order to give the country a bad name in the commitee of nations should have a rethink. Joseph Attah, a deputy Comptroller, was said to have told those that cares to listen that the country’s Borders are not closed for business or the travelling public. The truth of the matter was that the Borders are not closed but to guard against those coming into the country with’’ incriminating items’’, he had said .He has in mind the terrorists, armed Bandits , smugglers and to stop proliferation of small arms and light weapons.
He insists that genuine traders and Cross Border Travellers have no reason to worry but go about their normal business without fear of harassment by the security Operatives. The Magazine observed the operations of the Ex Swift Response members at Seme and found out that people are properly screened to ensure that the right things are done.
But In spite of the Customs Spokes person to allay people’s fear over the government policy, thousands of people, on both sides of the Border Community, are still stranded.’’ We can not go in or come out with our vehicle’’, a Cross-Border Taxi operator lamented.
Mike Ukachukwu, a Lagos based trader would want Nigerians to support Ali, the Customs Comptroller , Heading the lead agency for the maritime Border security, in order to succeed in the National assignment to save the country’s economy from the grip of saboteurs for the local economy to grow.
Ukachukwu, noted that the country could not continue to patronise Agricultural products from other countries and allow the local rice farmers to go into Oblivion, and further the unemployment problem in the country.
Appealing to the Abubakar Amajam, an Assistant Comptroller General, ACG, in charge of the south west Drill Operations and his counterparts overseeing the Operations in the other geo-political region, to tighten the Border the more without listening people’s cry, noting that they would soon come to terms with it. He stressed that no can country can develop by being a’’ food dependent nation’’.
Note that prior to the Joint Border security Operation, the price of a ‘’50’’ Thai rice, popular, parboiled rice, was almost crashing to about N11,00.00 but has but suddenly skyrocketed to between N15,500.00. without the cost of Transportation to the market. Vintage Ali.