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Sustain Ban on Rice Importation: Says Senate

The Senate of the Federal republic of Nigeria on Wednesday ordered the Nigerian Customs Service to Rice importssuspend the lifting of the ban on importation of rice through Nigeria’s land border.

This directive was issued at a plenary session in response to the report of its ad-hoc Committee on Import Duty Waivers, Concessions and Grants that was saddled with investigating the issues and circumstances surrounding rice importation in Nigeria and the Customs approach to handling the matter.

Chairman of the aforementioned Senate Committee, Senator Adamu Aliero while presenting the report to the Senate noted that should the ban on rice imports through Nigeria’s land borders be lifted, Nigeria stands to suffer severe revenue leakages through the non-payment of Customs duties and tariffs at the port.

Aliero noted that at the moment, certain rice importers collaborate with the business partners abroad and divert their shipping vessels to neighbouring countries such as Benin Republic or Niger, pay duties at those countries’ ports and subsequently load the imported rice into trucks to be transported to Nigeria by road through its porous and irregularly controlled borders, thus evading excise revenues that would have accrued to the Nigerian Government at the ports.

According to some sources, Nigeria currently spends almost 1 billion dollars (about 200 billion naira) on rice importation annually, a lamentable state of affairs for a country that boasts of millions of farmers and which once thrived on agriculture as its major source of foreign exchange before the discovery of crude oil in the 1960s.

Aliero also argued that rice marketers who displayed such attitudes do not have the good of Nigeria at heart as this trend would only escalate should the Customs lift the ban on land border rice imports, leading to grave economic consequences such as the death of the already weakened local rice mills across the country.

Senator Shehu Sani took an opposing stance by declaring that banning rice imports through the borders was a clear attempt by certain marketers to monopolize the sea imports.

Senator Bassey Akpan, who was also a member of the adhoc committee, however countered those who supported the action of the Nigerian Customs Service by telling the Senate that rice duty charges currently accounts for about 50% of the entire revenue generated by the Nigerian Customs Service and that Nigerian Customs should rather seek to implement the 2014 Nigerian rice policy that would make the country self-sufficient in rice production in 2017 instead of encouraging the smuggling of rice through the borders and destroying the local rice industry.

Other Senators and members of the committee called for a holistic investigation into the facts and figures of Nigeria’s rice importation as well as stepping up the capacities and capabilities of various border control agencies.

Senator Aliyu Wamakko nevertheless advocated for policies that would make rice farming in Nigeria very attractive as whatever revenue Nigeria was generating from rice imports was not as important as developing the nation’s capacity to feed itself. Wamakko cited Lebanon and Israel as countries that Nigeria ought to learn from as those countries had overcome adverse weather conditions, lack of water and poor soil composition in becoming self-sufficient producers of their local produce.

Senate President, Olubukola Saraki, while receiving the report remarked that the rice importation issue should be observed from a logical rather than a sentimental point of view because the matter in question equally bordered on the policies of Nigeria’s agricultural sector and not just its finances, subsequently making a case for the assistance of local farmers by the Government.

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