Border Closure: Rice Millers And Processors heave sigh Of Relief As Importers Resort To the Use Of Containers To land Foreign Rice At The Country Seaports

By Stephen Ubanna

For years, rice millers and processors, have  been working on officials  of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN,  particular, Godwin Emefiele, the CBN, governor, who has the ear of former President Goodluck Jonathan and now  Muhammadu Buhari , in to faciltate the closure of the common  borders with the neigbouring Republic of Benin, Niger, Chad and the Central African country of Cameroon.

The rice milles and processors may have spearheaded the closure of the land borders to retain their control of the nation’s rice mart which have  almost slipped out of their hands because of  people’ s patronage of the smuggled par boiled rice from the  Asian country of Thailand.  parboiled rice as seen  as n match.

 Note that the local rice millers and processors had almost lost the rice market which they  blamed  on smuggling  and dumping  through the  Republic of Benin and other border posts across the country. It  was not surprising why they  were said to have piled up pressure on Emefiele and other top CBN officials  to impress it on  President Muhammadu Buhari,  to ‘’do something about it. That much was confirmed by the CBN governor. The pressure from the Rice Millers and Processors may have  forced  him to arrange a meeting with the President in order t to listen to their Complaints.  The meeting between the CBN governor and the millers and  processors, particular, according  to sources were said to have been held several time and later with the President. Who became convinced that the land  borders across the country needed to be closed to protect the local rice farmers  market.

Lagos Port Complex

Emefiele, the CBN governor  also said  that much while addressing Reporters on the border closure on Abuja on Monday, October 28, 2019. ‘’I am aware  that some meetings we held, in addition  to the engagements with the  President  before the borders across the country were closed’ he had said. Perhaps, when the Rice Millers and Processors became convinced that they have won the heart of the CBN  governor  who has the ear of the President, they shifted their attention to  the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS.  The Rice Millers and Processors were said to have closely with  the Rice Millers and Dealers Association  of Nigeria, RIM DAN, to reach out to Abdullahi Dikko, the immediate past   Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs  Service, NCS and continued the pressure on  Hameed Ali , a retired Army Colonel, and who is incidentally the current   customs Comptroller General  , in order to win their support.  RIMDAN may have got it right when they started donating anti-smuggling patrol vehicles and  giving  financial support  to the Service as a way of  giving a helping  hand  in the fight against rice smugglers,  across the country’s porous borders.

The fallout was that when the government  came  up with   the border Drills comprising of the NCS, as the lead agency, Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, the  Police, Military, Department  of the  State Security, DSS, and the Directorate of Military Intelligence, DIM,  to man the  borders  with the neigbouring countries, to ensure that there would be no imports or exports, Ali, the NCS , Comptroller General, threw his weight on it.

Investigation by The Values t shows that that  since the the Katsina state born Nigerian President  gave ahead for the closure of the nation’s land border, foreign rice smuggling into the country has been minimised over the last two months. This evident  going  by the report of  the Rice Millers and Processors Association  to the government that  within one week of the country’s border closure they sold over 50,000 ‘’50’’ bags of rice, an indication that the foreign rice smugglers who use Benin and other neigbouring countries as base to smuggle the item into the  country had actually  deprived them of having a firm  control of the country rice market.

  The Chairman of the Rice Millers and Processors Association who could not hide his feelings  over the border closure  across the country and its gains ,  was  said to have  to have confided on the CBN governor  that before the border closure they were having   over  25,000 metric tonnes, which translates to 500,000 ‘’50’’Kg bags of rice  of unsold  milled  rice in their warehouses in different parts of the country because of the activities of the foreign rice smugglers  from Benin and other neighbouring countries.

 Emefiele, disclosed that  the same Rice Millers and Processors, who had been complaining of lack of patronage over the years are happy  that all the rice  in their warehouses  had been sold as they now struggle to meet the local demand. Given that the foreign  par boiled rice smugglers from Republic of Benin, are no longer finding ease   to smuggle  the item into the country because of the tight security  at the country land border areas across the country, let alone meet the  demand of their local Customers,  many of the foreign  rice  dealers who do not want to be forced out of  the market were said  to have transferred    their loyalty to members of RIMDAN  who deal directly with the  rice millers and processors,  to get their supplies for sales.

Hameed Ali: CG, Customs

 The   dealers were said to have been depositing  money into the Millers and Processors account  in the recent time to ensure that their supplies are regular  to meet the need of their Customers, including hoteliers who need it on  a daily basis  .

 Indeed, the border closure may have forced  importers who were landing the cargo at Benin  Terminal, Cotonou,  and Bollore port in in Republic of Benin  to resort to  the use of’’20’’  Containers  to stock the item and land it at  the Nigerian ports,  The Containerised rice importers may have been unlucky at Tin can Island port  as Comptroller Abdullahi Musa,  eagle eyed officers  at the port were said to have   frustrated their efforts as the Containers were seized.

 This may have been one of the reasons why  the Customs Comptroller General  based was in Lagos on Tuesday, October 29, 2019.  O Given the briefing from  Musa , the Area Comptroller, the Customs Comptroller General,  disclosed  that the Command  discovered 33 Containers which were loaded with ‘’50’’ bags of rice and an additional Container of rice Concealed with Spare parts. Note that given the government policy on rice imports into the country through the portsand land borders, the Containerised cargoes were promptly seized.

 This is an indication that no matter the  tactics employed  by rice importers to flood the Nigerian market with the  item, by land  or the  seaport, Ali, the Customs Comptroller General  was said to have  prepared the mind of the Officers to be ready for them.

 Given  the tight security at the land borders and the country seaports to ensure that foreign rice did not enter into the country,  the local  rice  farmers appear to have risen up to the challenge  to fill the gap  created  by the  rice importers and smugglers in the country rice market in the last two months. Recall that  an elated , Emefiele, had  attributed  it to the rise in the number of Companies  setting  up integrated  and small mills  across the country.  

He disclosed  that between  2015 and 2019, the Companies were able to set  up the facilities because of the loan from the apex bank . The loans were  said to have also encouraged the  farmers  to acquire seedlings, fertilizers and some herbicides  for rice production.

Notwithstandung that the local rice millers and processors are making a headway in the Nigeria rice market, other  Heads of State and Government of other  West African countries , including Cyril Ramaphosa,  African Union, AU, Chairman, and President of South Africa  were said to have  intensified pressure on  Buharithe Nigerian President,  to re-open the closed borders with the neighboring  countries which is  already  having a toll on their economies.

But Emefiele, the CBN governor  was said to have told those that cares to listen that before the borders would be opened ‘’ there must be concrete  engagements  with the neighbouring  countries that allowed   their ports to be used  as landing ports for bringing  in goods  that are smuggled into the Nigerian market’’.

The apex bank  governor  insists ‘’that  the engagements must  be held  at all cost, so that the  countries  will agree on the basis of what products  they can import into the country. He noted that if the imports are  for their local consumption , ‘’it is understandable,  but if it is  for re-export to other land locked countries  like Niger and Tchad, which are smuggled into the country, , the parties would have no option but to agree  to stop it because  ‘’it undermines  the nation’s economic policies’’.

There are fears in both official and unofficial circles, that Patrick Talon, the Beninese President may not want Buhari, his Nigerian counterpart  to  dictate for him  what type of goods should be landed  at his country’s seaports. He was said to have told his close political associates  that he will never  mortgage the sovereignty of Benin  to satisfy the Nigerian government  economic interest.

  This is an indication that the borer closure would drag until he is ready to see reason  to stop allowing his country to be used a s base for smuggling prohibited goods, particular foreign parboiled rice into the Nigerian market.

In a related development,  Ali, the Customs Comptroller General, may have taken advantage of his visit to Tincan Island port to discuss the i overtime cargoes that liter the terminals with Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman, the Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, and the terminal Operators,  as they agreed to set up a Task Force, to look into the  matter without further delay.

 the terminal operators had  at a   meeting a recent  meeting with the  Representatives of the importers  with  their agents had  agreed to  give  waivers of 90 % on the demurrage charged importers as a way of encouraging them  to take delivery of their overtime cargoes but that was how far they could go.

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