Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Alhaji Dikko Inde Abdullahi, has faulted claims by the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adeshina, to the effect that the Service has not done much to curb the smuggling of rice into Nigeria.
During a public hearing on the smuggling of rice and loss of revenue at the National Assembly on Thursday last week, Adesina blamed NCS for the billions of naira the country was losing as a result of the Federal Government’s 110 per cent tariff regime on the importation of rice.
“The NCS must do its job of policing the borders, while my job is to encourage local farming of rice. The rice that is being smuggled is not carried on the head or brought in by ghosts. The rice comes in trailers and in large quantities,” Adesina had told members of the Committee on Customs and Excise during the public hearing.
But in a swift reaction through a press statement yesterday, Dikko described the Minister’s allegation as “misleading.”
“While this is not an attempt to join issues with the respected Honourable Minister, we owe it a duty to let Nigerians know our commitment to implementation of government policy particularly as it relates to rice smuggling.
“In the last decade for instance, poultry products and fruit juice sectors faced similar problem of domestic protection. Customs’ diligent implementation of government’s prohibition policy contributed significantly to the current steady growth being enjoyed by both sectors. Contrary to media reports, we believe that our anti-smuggling efforts will contribute in the long run to sustainable domestic rice production in Nigeria.
“As Nigerians and equal stakeholders in the economy, we believe that it may not be difficult for any person who has a fair knowledge of international trade to appreciate the peculiar situation Nigeria find itself. Government in its wisdom has adopted a regime of tariff restriction on rice importation while being surrounded by neighbouring countries that open their doors to importation of rice from all parts of the globe.
“Despite the challenge of our porous borders, the reinvigorated anti-smuggling operations in the last one year (March 2013 – February 2014) resulted in the seizure of 220,177 (two hundred and twenty thousand, one hundred and seventy seven) bags of rice across the country. It is instructive to note that this huge seizure of rice is an aggregation of all smuggled rice. Some of these are ferried in ones and twos on motorcycles, donkeys, some concealed among bags of millets and other forms. This is in view of the fact that the extant law on rice importation prohibits its entry through the land borders.
“To therefore, suggest that rice is being smuggled in trucks and trailers across the border in broad daylight is misleading.
“Worthy of note is the fact that these huge seizures of rice did not come without a price. Over the same period it is regrettable to recall that we lost 19 of our colleagues at different locations in the fight against rice smuggling,” the Customs Comptroller General said in the press release signed by Customs spokesman, Deputy Comptroller Wale Adeniyi.