By Stephen Ubanna
Those who think that smuggling of foreign parboiled rice into the country will stop with the repeated confiscation of impounded Consignments by the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, across the country, particular, Federal Operations Unit , FOU, and Land Border Stations, would be disappointed.
This is because of the alleged failed government policies, wrong Trade Agreements, poor enforcement and Conspiracy of some of the Law enforcement agencies with the smugglers. More worrisome was the not well demarcated common boundaries between Nigeria and the other neighbouring countries such as Republic of Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, which makes the Borders porous.
From the south west, south -south, north west, north central to north east, the story is the same: porous Borders. Note that importers who make wrong declaration at the seaports to reduce the amount of duty that ought to be paid on the Consignment in into the Federation Account are also involving in an ”act of smuggling.
The question on the lips of most people Is: who are those responsible for this business who would never back out despite the millions of dollars lost monthly to government through the continued seizures of the prohibited item by the NCS formations across the country?
Investigation by The Value News shows that the multi-national Companies rice importers who are the oversea producers and their local distributors at the Borders are the real smugglers of the foreign parboiled rice cargo into the country. According to a source, they are all over the nooks and crannies of the Border. The multi-national Companies, the source disclosed, provide these foreign rice cargoes at cheap rates to entice the distributors to buy, who in turn smuggle it into the country through various unapproved routes to make quick profit .
John Isemede, a United Nation’s Industrial Development Organisation, UNIDO, Consultant, reportedly said the problem of rice smuggling into the country has been made worse because of the country’s ”culture of importation which has not allowed the development of proper forex regime”. He noted that the banks have not helped matters because of the preference to advance loans to importers against the the demand of manufacturers.
”When you go to the bank to seek for loans to go into manufacturing for export , nobody would look at you or think of granting you the loan” as the country is well prepared for imports”, he said. It is not surprising why it is on a single window list.
The neighbouring countries may not have helped the Nigeria situation as they appear to be benefiting from the foreign rice imports through their respective countries which in turn are smuggled into the Nigeria market. Take for instance, the Value Added Tax, VAT, regime which, is five percent in Nigeria while that of Republic of Benin is 18 percent, an indication that they are raking in millions of dollar annually, from rice imports alone and therefore would not want to lose the market because of the country’s stringent economic policies banning the importation of foreign rice through the land Borders.
The Beninois government may have made the Cotonou port to be more attractive for the multinational Companies rice importers as it takes only about 24 hours for an importer to get his Consignment out of the port as against three days to one week in a Nigeria port.
This may have informed the reason why the multi-national rice importers , who have the wherewithal to rush to Cotonou port and other ports in the West African sub-region to take delivery of their cargoes to avoid the delays and the demurrage paid at the Nigerian ports.
Aggrieved traders and genuine importers , say the problem of rice smuggling into the country has worsened in the recent time because of wrong government policies. They cited the tariff increase on imported rice by the government to discourage smuggling of the product, described as a failure as it has not been effective. Insiders disclosed that for the past one year , no foreign vessel has discharged foreign parboiled rice in any Nigeria port because of the high tariff, described as killing.
Only recently, Mohammed Abubakar, Chairman, Rice Processors Association of Nigeria, RIPAN, has raised alarm over continued smuggling of rice into the country , accusing the Customs, under the close watch of Hammed Ali, a retired Colonel and Comptroller General, NCS, of not leaving up to expectation in combating smuggling of rice into the country. Abubakar disclosed that in the recent months over 20 million bags of 50 Kg foreign rice had been smuggled into the country through the country’s porous Borders.
RIPAN leadership who are no longer finding the situation funny were said to have met several times in the last one month with Ali, the Customs Comptroller General , over the rising spate of smuggled rice through the country’s unapproved Borders into the country and to know Customs immediate plan to stop the trend .
They were said to have earlier suggested to Buhari, the Katsina state born Nigerian President on the need to draft the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, operatives into the anti-smuggling war as it is affecting local production because of the gross ineffectiveness of Customs anti-smuggling officers. They had averred that if the problem is not solved quickly ”it could lead to national food emergency” in the country.
The local paddy rice processors may have thrown a challenge to the customs Area comptrollers at the Border Commands and the FOUs , across the country that they have tightened up security at the ports and Borders to ensure that no foreign bag of rice enters the country illegally ..
Mohammed Uba Garba, the Customs comptroller at Seme Command , who is a stickler to implementation of government fiscal policies and his anti-smuggling officers were said to have been alive to their duties by policing the Borders and the Creeks within its area of jurisdiction. s Rice smugglers who could not stand the superior fire of the officers in the area were said to have relocated to Ogun, Ekiti, Oyo, Osun, Cross River and the northern states to carry out their nefarious trade.
Between January and February, the Seme Command alone, had made a mindboggling seizures of 5,383 ”50”Kg bags of foreign rice, equivalent of nine trailer loads, with a Duty Paid Value of about N97 million. Those who have escaped from Seme Border axis to operate from The Ogun and Oyo axis were said to have fallen into the waiting hands of Riks Lura, a Chief Superintendent f Customs , led FOU, Zone A, Lagos Roving Team and the Command Strike Force, led by B. Ahmed, a Customs Superintendent and the Head quarters strike Force, HSF, Zonal office officers, led by Salisu Shuaibu , an Assistant Comptroller and the Zonal Commander and his officers
. Lura, who was said to have been discovered at FOU, Zone C, by Garba, the current Area Comptroller of Seme Command, may have carved his teeth to face rice smugglers squarely at Ikan axis in Bakasi , local government Area of Cross River state, where his team seized trucks load of rice in 2014, amidst threats from Pirates and the smugglers to frustrate their plan to take the impounded rice to Government warehouse, Calabar
. the Customs Chief Superintendent, who led the operation that involve both the Army and the Navy was said to have successfully taken the items to Calabar without any exchange of bullets with the smugglers. He is still repeating the same feat with his team at FOU, Zone A. The performance of the team , according to sources, was said to have shored up the Command foreign rice seizures in the Ogun and Oyo axis of the south western part of the country.
Mohammed Aliyu, the Command Area Comptroller confirmed that the Command impounded 13,680 of 50 Kg bags of foreign parboiled rice, equivalent of about 20 trucks load of rice . The massive rice seizures, across the Borders in the six western states under the control of the FOU, Zone A, and the Seme Command at the Seme and Owode axis , should clearly , tell RIPAN , members that the rice smugglers have not realy overwhelmed the Customs anti-smuggling officers in the region.
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