Duty on rice and the fading hope of the common man

After one year in office, the government would have realised that governance is no tea party or some walk in the park.   It is one thing to be good at propaganda as a tool for ascendency; but after that comes the nitty-gritty. Without any sense of satire, it is not out of place to say that one year after; the government is still testing the waters–; a veiled reference to absence of any formidable blue print.

Part of this blind dashing is the policy on rice. Why it is wrong to absolutely condemn the government’s policy on this essential commodity, the high cost of this staple food that hitherto provided cover for the common man exposes the weakness of a policy that was ill rehearsed. The outcome is that the cost of rice which almost everyone in Nigeria eats daily is already hitting the roof. So where lays the hope of the common man if this trend continues?

When the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs, Hameed Ali assumed office, importing rice through the border was prohibited. When he observed what was going on, he thought the spate of the smuggling through the border was as a result of the policy. He reversed it. The borders were thrown open. People could import using that avenue. What happened?Six months after, he reversed himself.

Justifying the reversal, the Nigeria Customs in a statement by its Public Relations Officer, Wale Adeniyi said that rather than abating, reports from border commands indicated an upsurge in the tempo of rice smuggling.

According to him, “implementation of the restriction order got off to a smooth start, with a high level of compliance in October 2015. However, revenue started dwindling from January 2016, with importers blaming access to forex as major impediments. During the five-month period when the importation was allowed, October 2015 to March 17, 2016, a total of 24.992 metric tons of rice valued at N2,335,131,093 were imported through the land borders.

“During the period, total revenue generated amounted to N1, 685,112,810, which is considerably lower than the revenue projected to be generated with the removal of import restrictions.”

That was the reason given by the government for the reversal order. To some Nigerians, it was worrisome as it exposed some kind of blind dashing as earlier indicated. One expected that a deeper research should have been done before coming up with a policy that has spiralling consequences.

Few months after the ban, the price of the commodity in the market has skyrocketed out of the reach of most Nigerian consumers. A bag of rice which sold for N9, 000 before the ban, now sells for between N18, 000 and N20, 000.

Trust Nigerians, some importers who had stockpiled rice with the hope of the closure of land border are now taking advantage of the import ban through land borders to sell the stockpiled rice at very high prices. Reports allege that some importers, who had previous knowledge of the ban, got approved Form M last year, which they allegedly used to stockpile the commodity in their warehouses.

There were also allegations that rice importation quotas were given to some politicians without any stake as rice millers or farmers. But the situation is gradually getting out of hand. Importing through the ports attracts a duty and levy of 110 per cent. Taking into consideration the poor state of the naira against the dollar, the matter becomes too knotty for conjecture. While the government has a brilliant idea to encourage local rice millers, it lacks the proper strategy to bring it to pass. This is what has brought this sorry state with many fearing that the price of rice may get to N40, 000 at the end of the year.

Worried by this trend, traders are calling on the government to urgently intervene on the rising cost of rice. Reports said that as soon as the ban was announced, a few dominant and highly connected players took over the rice market with their brands of rice and started dictating the price to the detriment of the poor masses leading to the astronomic increase in price. Rice retailers alleged that these importers who had stockpiled the product are working in concert with some Nigeria Customs officers to ensure that there is no other brand of rice in the market except the hoarded brands.

This situation has triggered all kinds of rumours that may not be too good to the psyche at this trying time. They even alleged that whenever the officers see a brand that is different from their brand in the market, they seize them from the traders.

Rumours and damaging allegations thrive when the government of the day did not properly define its direction. SHIPS &PORTS DAILY believes that it’s high time the government reconsider its options towards rice. Yes we need to grow rice. Who are the people with the milling license? What are they doing with it? How long will the common man wait before things begin to take shape? Beggars are increasing daily on the streets. This is a time bomb that needs urgent attention.

Copyright Ships & Ports Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit given to www.shipsandports.com.ng as the source.