By Gabriel Ewepu, Abuja
As Federal Government reopens some land borders and take-off of Africa Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA, agreement, rice millers under the auspices of Rice Millers Association of Nigeria, RIMAN, Saturday, expressed fear and raised the alarm over massive smuggling of foreign rice into the country.
The alarm was raised by the National President, RIMAN, Peter Dama, in a statement made available to Sunday Vanguard, as activities of smugglers of the commodity intensify.
According to the statement, millions of tonnes of smuggled rice is being offloaded at various entry points into the country on daily basis, which the association alleged that the Nigerian Customs has gone to sleep as the agency has failed to intercept the illegal consignments and trucking by smugglers.
The statement also identified markets smugglers transport the commodity to including Kano, Abuja, Kaduna, Jos, Lagos and others, while the boarders frequently used for the smuggling activities are Babura, Kongolon, Ibadan, Seme, Owede, Benin and so many other illegal routes into the country.
The statement reads in part, “Rice Millers Association of Nigeria, RIMAN, wishes to express its deep concern over the intense smuggling of Rice into Nigeria following the reopening of some of the Nigerian Borders and the take-off of The African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA, trade agreement.
“While we praise the Nigerian Government on its efforts to ensure the growth in the Nigerian Rice sector, we are deeply concerned about the heavy rises in the smuggling of foreign rice into our markets all over the country through the and borders.
“Millions of tonnes of smuggled rice is being offloaded at the following borders on daily basis without any interruption, or checks by customs and the security agencies for onward transportation into Nigeria markets, for example, Kano, Abuja, Kaduna, Jos, Lagos and several cities in the country. The boarders frequently used for the smuggling activities are: Babura, Kongolon, Ibadan, Oyo State, Seme, Owede, Benin and so many other illegal routes into the country.
“At the moment at various markets in the country smuggled rice is openly displayed in shops.”
The association also called on the government to urgently stem the tide of the illicit business by changing the security architecture at the borders for effective policing and curbing of the worrisome situation that endangers the economy deep in recession and the health of Nigerians who consume such ‘poison’.
“For the Nigerian Government to safeguard its investment and protect rice millers, processors and farmers in this country, we call on the Nigerian Government to take the following steps in order to stem the tide of Rice Smuggling into the country that is harming its investments and the economy generally”, it pointed.
However, the association appealed to the government on issues raised, “While RIMAN sympathizes with officers and men of the Nigerian Customs Service together with other security personnel being killed daily by armed smugglers, we call on Nigerian Government to properly equip and compensate adequately all customs officers, manning our borders in order for them to function optimally in the discharge of their duties in order to ensure Rice Smuggling is reduced to the barest minimum.
“Any customs personnel or security agent found to be compromising his position through bribery and corruption to allow smuggled Rice into the country, should be arrested and prosecuted and if found guilty, be dismissed from service.
“Any truck or means of transportation used to transport smuggled Rice into Nigeria, through the boarders be confiscated with the entire goods, while the culprits are arrested and prosecuted and jailed if found guilty.
“We also appeal to the government to set in motion, urgently committees made of various security agencies to raid Nigerian markets and confiscate any smuggled rice found and marketers caught with the smuggled rice products be termed economic saboteurs and be prosecuted.
“All the confiscated Rice found to be good for consumption should be sent to IDPs, correctional centres and schools for feeding of inmates and students, and others.
“While stores owned by these unpatriotic economic saboteurs also be sealed up completely, until after paying up fines or after serving prison terms before such stores/shops are reopened.
“These foreign Rice sellers and distributors in the markets are themselves, economic saboteurs, by accepting to market banned goods in the country, they should not be spared, as they are contributing in the destruction of our commonwealth and our attempt to be self-sufficiency in National food security.
“Their acts also contribute to exporting labour to other countries, since most millers in the country will close shop and retrench their workforce if this is allowed to continue.
“We also appeal to Nigerian Government to fund our Agricultural Research Institutes, so that they can come out with high breed seeds for our Rice Farmers that can be competitive like the foreign ones used as imports.
“We also advise that the Federal Government as a matter of urgency should subsidize Rice Millers, processors and farmers, in the entire Rice value chain in order for us to be competitive. For example, the European and Asian Government do subsidize their Rice farmers and millers particularly those being exported or smuggled into our country.
“We equally advise that bank accounts linked to rice smugglers distributors and marketers be blocked.
“We equally appeal, that Nigeria should not be used as a dumping ground under the AfCFTA agreement. All protocols entered into should safeguard our interest.
“Finally, the Nigerian Government should take note of the fact that some of the smuggled rice into the country is not fit for human consumption. They are only good as animal feeds but being smuggled into our country.
“Our Government should, therefore, take necessary steps to educate our people on the dangers of consuming smuggled rice in the country in order to safeguard the health of our citizens.”