New Customs Boss, Col. Hamid Ali (Retd), Will Get His First Taste Of The Senate When He Appears To Shed More Light On His Decision On Rice Importation
Senate yesterday summoned the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (Retd.), to appear before its Adhoc Committee on Import Duty Waivers, and throw more light on the removal of rice from import restriction list, as well as legalizing its importation through Nigeria’s land borders.
The UNION reports that the Committee is expected to submit the report to the Senate in two weeks’ time.
This was sequel to a motion entitled: ‘The dangers posed by the removal of rice from import restriction list and the re-introduction of import duty payment at land borders’.
The motion, which was cosponsored by 29 senators, was presented by Senator Mohammed Adamu Aliero on behalf of others on the floor of the Upper Legislative Chamber.
Aliero gave reason rice importation was restricted to the seaports since 2011.
He said it was “because the Nigeria Customs Service lacked the capacity and machinery to effectively monitor and control the importation of rice through our country’s porous and extensive land borders”. Aliero added that the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) has all the requisite facilities for discharge and control of bulk cargo like rice.
Aliero, who noted that Nigeria is presently the world’s largest importer of rice, added that the nation’s current import rate stands at five million metric tons (MT).
“The Ministry of Agriculture has projected that the demand for rice will continue to rise from the current level to 36 million MT by 2050. It is in the light of this scary data that the Federal Government has put in place various measures meant to encourage private sector investment in rice production, processing and milling.
“One of such measures is the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme for the production of commercial agriculture through which it gives soft concessionary loans to private investors in agriculture at single digit interest rate, and over N300 billion had been disbursed. The measures have yielded desirable and positive result in rice production to the extent that it has reduced the supply gap to about 1.5 million MT,” he said.
Aliero pointed out that over 15 new rice mills have been established across the country by private investors, which have provided employments to millions of Nigerians between 2000 and 2015.
“The large scale commercial farming has the potential of absorbing and taking care of a large percentage of our country’s teeming population of unemployed youths and preserves the scarce foreign exchange of our country that would have been used to import rice. The ban on rice imports, through the land borders, has reduced cross-border smuggling.
Speaking in favour of the motion, Senator Shehu Sani, who observed that there was rice mafia, urged Nigeria to avoid playing into their game plan.
“Rice importation is not good for our economy. We cannot afford to continue enriching rice farmers in Thailand, India, China etc, and impoverishing our own farmers.
“There is existence of a rice mafia in Nigeria. We must stop falling into their antics. It is high time in the interest of our economy, we sacrificed our appetite for rice consumption until we encourage our local producers to meet up with our local demands,” he said.
Other senators, who condemned the policy reversal, include: the Senate Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Bala Ibn N’Allah; Deputy Minority Leader, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha; Senator James Manager and Senator Foster Ogola. There were, however, senators, who spoke against the motion, including: Senator Kabiru Marafa and Senator Ali Wakil. Their opposition is on the grounds that smugglers would always bring rice into the country through land borders, with or without ban.
They, therefore, argued for the ban to be lifted, and import duty collected.
“The motion is not well intentioned to the masses of Nigeria but to the money bags, who have huge resources to bring in rice through the sea ports and after, sell it at exorbitant prices. What the Customs’ CG is saying through the latest policy, is that instead of smuggling rice into the country free of charge, they should be brought in through the land borders and pay the needed import duty,” Marafa said.
– Teddy Nwanunobi, Abuja