Customs to raid warehouses of rice smugglers

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.. as RIPAN alleges smuggling of 20m bags in 3 months

By Ayo Fadimu

The Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) has vowed to intensify raid on rice smugglers’ warehouses across the country in its bid to end the economic sabotage being perpetrated by the smugglers.

The Service spoke through its National Public Relations Officer, Joseph Attah in an exclusive interview with Nigerian NewsDirect.

Attah spoke against the background of claim made by the Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN) that over one million metric tonnes of rice have been smuggled into Nigeria in the last three months.

The Chairman of RIPAN, Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar Maifata had alleged that 20 million bags of rice were smuggled into the country in the past three months. He made the revelation while briefing the media in Abuja on the latest development in rice smuggling in the country that: “Investors in Nigeria have made enormous financial commitment in the Rice Sub-sector. Unfortunately, the only threat to the industry’s total development is Smuggling. Over 1 million metric tonnes of rice which is equivalent to about 20,000,000 bags of 50kg rice have been smuggled into Nigeria in the last 3 months.

“Nigeria currently loses huge revenues, foreign exchange and Jobs to this menace as Nigeria Rice Processing companies are shutting down because of their inability to gain market access. “More painfully, millions of small-holder Farmers are stuck with their Paddy because the millers can no longer afford to buy from them.” He said investigations conducted by the Association in the last few months indicated that “all our international borders have been converted to smugglers’ route and our markets are filled with smuggled foreign rice”.

He cautioned that “there is the need for urgent actions to avert eventual national food emergency by combating smuggling so that we can continue to grow our local rice industry and the economy”.

However, Attah disagreed with the figure quoted by RIPAN. He described it laughable and unappreciative of enormous work being deployed by Customs to stop rice smuggling in the country.

“We have seized so many bags of rice and even all our warehouses across all the commands are filled up. We have lost several of our many officers and men in combat against the smugglers but we are undeterred. Recently, when we stormed a smuggler’s warehouse in Ogun State, even some traditional rulers did media briefing against our operation, I think our efforts should be appreciated” Attah added.

He then called for collaboration with RIPAN to stop the rice smuggling. While commending the efforts by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in its intervention in the rice sub-sector of the economy, he lamented that investors in the country despite their financial commitment are met with the threat to the industry’s growth due to the activities of smugglers. Speaking further on CBN and federal government’s deliberate intervention in the sub-sector the RIPAN boss who is also the Chairman Umza International Farms Limited said “all the programmes have impacted greatly on our integrated processing capacity which has increased from 800,000 Metric tonnes in 2014 to 1.6 million metric tonnes in 2018.

This is in addition to about 3.9 million metric tonnes of finished rice milled by thousands of cottage millers scattered across the country”.

The Association among other things recommended the immediate raid of the various rice smugglers’ markets across the country while appealing to the Federal Government to begin to sanction officers and employees of Customs, NAFDAC, SON who are saddled with the responsibility of enforcement, and who compromise their offices or fail in their various responsibilities.

The RIPAN boss drew the attention of Government to the fact that some officers working in these government agencies are in collaboration with these smugglers and called on the authorities to fish them out and prosecute them for Economic Sabotage. “Government must deal firmly with smuggling and severely punish infractions in a way that makes smuggling too costly to risk. Particularly, Government must begin the fish out and punish multinational Companies who play on both sides of the Border; – those who drive the syndicates (the Promoters)”, he said. Maifata also stated that “Government must as a matter of urgent national importance, take strong diplomatic action with our neighbouring countries which allow Parboiled Rice into their country for final destination to Nigeria.

The Government may consider closing the borders for sometime if diplomatic overtures fail”.

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