The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has said it will not rule out the possibility of a hike in the prices of rice in the market following the closure of the business premises of four defaulting rice importers.
It would be recalled that the prices of frozen poultry products had in the last three weeks increased by 35 percent following a renewed onslaught on smuggling of poultry products into the Nigeria market by the Service.
Public Relations Officer of the NCS, Wale Adeniyi, while fielding questions from journalists on Tuesday in Lagos said the objective of the clampdown on the rice importers was not to make life difficult for Nigerians but to enforce compliance and make the importers pay what they owe the Federal Government.
He said the aim of the Rice Import Quota System was to fill up the national supply gap and build up the nation’s domestic capacity that would enable Nigeria have some level of self sufficiency in rice production but lamented that the beneficiaries of the policy have continued to flout the law with impunity.
He said that while the sealing up of the warehouses of the rice importers may lead to increase in the prices of the commodity, it will only be for a short while but in the long run, the economy will be the better for it.
“Importers of rice must play according to the rules. It is true that most of them are international conglomerates. They operate in different countries and in the country of origin; they subject themselves to the rules. So we are saying that if they are to operate here they should do so by the rules. The rules are quite simple; they said that they have investments in the rice sector and we gave them concessions. The concessions came with a caveat: Don’t import beyond a particular quantity. So what we are just trying to do is to enforce the rules and regulations.
“It is unfortunate if this will lead ultimately to increase in the prices of rice. It will happen in the short run, then after some time, as we achieve balance and self sufficiency in rice production, it will crash the price,” he said.
Meanwhile, while reacting to the claims by the Sales Manager and Secretary General of Rice Importers Association, Shaibu Muhammed that the quota was not well defined, and that the vessels have already discharged and were on their way before the quota came from the Service, Adeniyi said that a document that defines the quantity of rice the company was supposed to import was made available and that the same document specified that if they import in excess of that, they will pay 10% duty and 60% levy.
On whether the excess quota could be rolled over to next year, Adeniyi said the quota that was given to all rice importers in 2014 was given based on the sufficiency gap; hence, the Service cannot just roll over without knowing what the sufficiency gap of 2015 will be.
“Olam is a very big player, a very big domestic rice producer and this was the factor used in determining their quota for 2014 and it would be indecent for us to roll the quota over,” Adeniyi said.
He expressed dismay at the fact that other companies have paid up the concession differences while Olam which claims to be a big company with spread in other countries has refused to comply.
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