The Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, yesterday took a swipe at the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) over continued smuggling of rice into the countrythrough Nigerian borders.
He said that over 1.9 million metric tonnes of rice were smuggled intothe country last year thereby sabotaging government policy ofencouraging local production.
He stated this at a two-day public hearing on ‘The New Rice Duty Regime’ organised by the House Committee on Customs and Excise.
Adesina gave the customs some posers saying “is rice being smuggled by ghosts? Are those smuggling have the power to disappear? Do they put the rice on their heads and walk across border?
He submitted that “the customs need to do its job. My job is not to police the border”.
The minister lamented that the rate of cancer cases is on the rise in the country because of illegal smuggling of dead fish and frozen chicken which is then sold to unsuspecting people.
Defending the government policy aiming at discouraging rice import, Adesina said Nigeria has capacity to be self sufficient in rice.
For the Minister, the country spends N365 Billion annually on riceimport making it second importer in the world which he said wasunacceptable.
He wondered what the countries that produces rice have that Nigeriadoes not have.
“Our country must not be a dumping ground for food. Poverty is not anindustry because one day the farmers will revolt. We must not importwhat we can produce.
“We must look at ourselves in the mirror and change our ways. Theimport apologist wants India and Thailand to be dumping rice here.”
According to him, the rice policy was the best the country has takenadding that as a result of the policy the local production was boostedby 1.4 million metric tones in 2012 which later increased to 2.9million in 2013.
He said that from just one integrated rice miller before the policythe number has increased to 14 with an annual income of about N22Billion.
Earlier in his remark to declare the public hearing opened, Speaker Aminu Tambuwal lamented that though rice policy was a noble one,smuggling had sabotaged the effort.
Tambuwal who was represented by the Deputy Leader, Leo Ogor noted that over N300 Billion was lost to illegal smuggling of rice.
It is sad that in this country, we continue to abandon good policy because of our porous border.”
In his welcome address, the Chairman House Committee on Custom, SaboMohammed said that it was absurd for an agrarian country like Nigeriato be totally depended on food importation to feed its teemingpopulace.