Operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) under the Seme Area Command have been accused of sabotaging the Federal Government’s fiscal policy on rice through their avarice.
A Beninese who claimed to work as a cargo consolidator at Seme Border, Didier Kouandete, said on every truck of rice passing through Customs checkpoint at the Nigeria end of the border after leaving Cotonou port; the importer parts with an amount ranging from N2 million to N2.5 million.
He said the money is paid to the Customs operatives to allow the goods gain free entry into Nigeria despite the fact that it the Federal Government has banned the importation of rice into the country through the land border.
When asked if official NCS receipt is issued after the payment of the amount, he said: “How can you collect receipt on bribe money? It is not Customs duty because you cannot pay officially since rice is banned through the land border. This is money we pay to the officials to facilitate easy movement otherwise the rice will be seized.”
Kouandete said that apart from the money paid at the major Customs checkpoint, other smaller bribes are handed out at other checkpoints mounted by other security agencies including the army, police, immigration, mobile police and others. He said amounts paid out at such other checkpoints range from N10,000 to N20,000 depending on the size of the truck.
Nigeria’s neighbouring countries, the Republic of Benin and Cameroon recently crashed the import duty payable by importers of rice in their countries to take advantage of Nigeria’s burgeoning market.
Investigation by SHIPS & PORTS DAILY revealed that as soon as Nigeria increased the customs duty and levy payable on imported rice to 110% last year, Benin Republic crashed its own tariff from 35% to a paltry seven per cent while Cameroon introduced a zero per cent duty policy on the commodity, down from 10 per cent.
Analysts believed that the move by both countries was aimed at taking advantage of the huge Nigerian market where parboiled rice is a staple food. In the entire West African region, only Nigerians eat parboiled rice.
The result of the measures by both countries is the total diversion of all rice vessels meant for Nigeria to these and other neighbouring countries including Togo and Ghana.
Investigation by SHIPS & PORTS DAILY revealed that in 2013 when the 110% tariff policy was introduced, only one rice ship berthed in the country as against over 500 in 2012.
Area Controller, Apapa Command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Comptroller Charles Edike, told journalists recently that the NCS was losing huge revenue as a result of the hike in rice import duty.
Edike disclosed that the command’s revenue on rice has plunged to an all time low as it has recorded zero income on imported rice since July last year. He said the hike in the import duty of rice to 110 per cent by the Federal Government early last year had impacted negatively on the Apapa Command revenue.
“The glory of Apapa Port is rice. The bulk of Apapa revenue is rice but now rice is not coming in at all,” he said.
He said the command collected a paltry N11 million by the end of November 2013 as import duty on rice compared to N131.38 billion collected in 2011 and N125.35 billion in 2012.
ENL Consortium, which handles most of the rice cargo imported into the country is facing a difficult time as all its 11 berths are empty.
As a result of the strategy adopted by the neighbouring countries, Nigeria lost all its annual import of two million metric tonnes of rice to them.
Checks at the Cotonou Port revealed that the port handled an unprecedented 2.2 million metric tonnes of rice in 2013 compared to 650,000 metric tonnes it handled in 2012.
Koundate said: “I believe about 1.6 million metric tonnes of the rice imported into Benin must have been moved by road into Nigeria because all of it is parboiled rice and we don’t eat parboiled rice in Benin. Also, there is no way Benin could have consumed all that quantity in one year.”
He said rice is brought into Nigeria enroute neighbouring countries largely due to the high import duty on rice in Nigeria.
He said large trailers, which can carry between 60,000 and 72,000 tonnes of rice are now used to haul smuggled rice into the country from the Cotonou ports.
About 70 of such articulated trucks bring rice into Lagos alone on a daily basis, he said, stressing that the smugglers have taken over rice business in the country.
The illegal way of moving goods across borders is eating deep into Nigeria, crippling the country’s economy. Observers say the federal government’s loss owing to unlawful importation of rice through the nation’s land borders may peak at N300 billion this year should the status quo remain.
Recently, the Rice Importers and Distributors Association of Nigeria (RIDAN) expressed worry about the disturbing spate of rice smuggling into the country and appealed to the federal government to do something drastic about it.
Comptroller of the Ogun State Customs Command, Comptroller Haruna Mamudu, confirmed last week that importation of rice through the land borders is banned by the Federal Government.
He warned importers of rice to desist from importing the commodity through the border routes.
“Buying rice is not prohibited; it is allowed but must go through the port where you’ll have to pay your tax to government. You are not paying the duty to Customs’ pocket but government.
“Rice is not banned but rice is banned when it comes into the country through unapproved routes. The border stations are unapproved routes for rice but you can make other importations. It is a federal government policy; it is not Customs policy. We are only here to enforce the law, but these are the enemies of the law.”
Apart from trucks, he also disclosed that motorcycles are used to smuggle the products into the country.
“You can see some of the motorcycles carrying four bags and some five bags of rice. So you can imagine these motorcycles in hundreds going across the border and carrying these quantities of bags of rice on motorcycles. By the time they make two or three trips, they would have carried about three trailer loads of rice,” he said.