How Multi-national Companies Aid And Abet Rice Smuggling As Seme Customs Tighten Up Security

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.

Muhammed Abubakar: Chairman, RIPAN, Accuses Customs Personnel Of No Doing Their Work

It was learnt that importers who had  managed  to obtain Letters of Credit, LC, from the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN,  to buy the items were said to have found it difficult  to pay the 110 percent duties . Recall that former President  Goodluck Jonathan in 2012,  in a bid to reduce rice importation, on the advice of the National Economic Council, NEC,   had increased  the levy on rice par tonne,    from 20 percent to 100 percent but the duty still remained at 20 percent.  At present” rice smuggling is boosting the Beninois economy and the economy of other countries in the West African sub-region. but bleeding the Nigerian economy to death”, maritime analysts had said.  

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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