THE NATION——Smugglers seem to have taken over the Nigerian rice market, flooding it with substandard and expired brands.
Hundreds of trailers have been crossing the porous borders unchallenged – a development that is endangering the country’s plans to achieve self-sufficiency in rice production.
Industry sources and consumers have urged the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) to curb smuggling. They also want the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to step up the inspection of rice stored at several locations in the country. Supply of expired and poisonous rice to unsuspecting consumers could rapidly develop into a major health disaster if left unchecked, a source said yesterday.
Stakeholders have urged the Presidency to urgently step in by directing the regulatory agencies to take action to prevent the outbreak of diseases.
Given the unmet demand of more than three million tonnes annually and owing to inadequate local production, rice consumption needs are currently limited to legal imports with high import tariff and lack of cohesive policy.
Legal importers paying full tariff of 70 per cent will never be able to compete with smugglers who enjoy a free ride into the market, aided by negligible tariffs in neighbouring Cameroon and Republic of Benin and taking advantage of porous borders. To add to these woes, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) also barred rice importers from accessing foreign exchange through its window.
The resultant shortage in the market is now being exploited by smugglers, who prospered significantly in 2013 when they smugled around 2.5 million tonnes of rice into the country through the borders, without paying any duty. In 2013, the Federal Government increased rice importation tariff to 110 per cent as against zero duty regime administered in Benin and Cameroon.
The National Rice Millers Association of Nigeria (NRMAN) has complained that the NCS erred in its decision to lift the ban on rice importation through land borders. Its chairman said if the NCS succeeds in its decision, it would erode the gains achieved by the previous administration in the country’s rice value chain.