Saving agric investment through strong anti-smuggling law

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Smuggling of agricultural products into Nigeria across the country’s land borders has become endemic and hinders Nigeria’s achieving food sufficiency and security and only proper of the recent Senate anti-smuggling report recommendations can save agric investments. JOHN OBA writes.
It is no longer news that one of the major bane of Nigeria economic development is the endless smuggling of banned products into the country. And more troubling is the fact that Nigeria’s neighbours’ see smuggling into the country as a major source of their internal revenue generation.
A recent report by the World Bank on the level of illegal importation of goods into Nigeria from Benin Republic and other West African countries revealed the alarming rate of smuggling and its damaging impact on the economy.
The report revealed that a whooping N1.45 trillion worth of assorted goods are smuggled into Nigeria through Benin Republic alone annually.
This amount according to the report represents about 15 per cent of total smuggled goods through Nigeria’s land border, even as it claimed that over N116 billion representing about 25 per cent of total current annual revenue collected by the Nigeria Custom Service (NCS) is lost through smuggling across the sub regions’ borders. This is aside the fact that the NCS efficiency is being hampered by a lack of operational facilities.
This call to question the economic benefits of the much publicised Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Protocol on free movement of persons, goods and services. It is currently being abused by some West African countries as they leveraging on the protocol to destroy other country’s economy through Smuggling.
Though some believed that Nigeria can take advantage of the protocol to flood its neighbour’s with agricultural produce but with these countries taking smuggling as a means of revenue generation, it will hinder to a great extend Nigeria farmers’ ability to produce enough quantity for export since these smugglers are bringing goods that are being produced locally.
Also lack of adequate anti-smuggling law and the inability of government to fully enforcement anti-smuggling laws by those charged with the responsibility further compound the problem.
And more disturbing is Benin Republic’s total disregards for the ECOWAS external trade liberalisation agreements, as report say that 75 per cent of containers that land at the Cotonou Port end up in Nigeria illegally.
Miffed by the total inaction of the government of Benin Republic and lackadaisical attitude of ECOWAS commission ib addressing this dangerous trend, the Nigeria Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Chief Audu Ogbeh, warned during a meeting with Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) that Nigeria government would close it borders with those countries while also implementing it agreements signed during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure with Benin Republic as part measures to curb the menace before it destroys the country’s economic.
He also raised an alarm on some complications in the ECOWAS agreements, which he alleged was being abused to a greater extent by some neighbouring countries.
On several occasions, he stated, the agreements appeared exploitative to the Nigerian economy. “Some of our neighbours are violating this ECOWAS treaty, as they import especially agric products and station it in their countries borders, only to smuggle it into our economy, because they know the market is here as they have devalued the naira.
“From the record I have, there are about 571,000 tons of rice waiting to be smuggled into Nigeria for the Christmas from the borders of Benin Republic. The Republic of Benin doesn’t eat par-boiled rice, they eat white rice, and yet all the rice crossing the Republic borders into Nigeria is par boiled.
“I have a list now of all the ships that left Thailand in the last seven weeks, and are arriving now. Key of which is 571, 000 tonnes or rice now waiting to enter Nigeria for Christmas. The whole list is on my table,” he said during the meeting.
He however assured that the federal government will be working with the National Assembly to ensure that something is done urgently, this is even as he promised to persuade the Vice Porder that the borders between Nigeria and the affected countries be blocked.
Raising to the occasion, the Nigerian Senate last Thursday adopted the Report of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development on anti-smuggling and dumping of agricultural commodities in Nigeria.
Senate President, Senator, Bukola Saraki, while commenting on the report said: “Earlier this year, we held a public hearing at the Senate that was centered on ‘Tackling Smuggling’. At the hearing, I highlighted that “we have invested over $7 billion over the last 10 years in stimulating local production. If we do not address the area of smuggling, this investment will go to waste.”
Saraki said the report must be seen as more than just another ‘recommendations’ as the implementation can go a long way in providing more opportunities for Nigerians in the agricultural sector.
“If the only thing that we do over the next year is the full and holistic implementation of the recommendations of this Senate Report on smuggling, we will be able to turn around the future and fortunes of this country for the better.
“On our part, we will continue to work with our Committee on Agriculture to legislate on the issues that have been raised in order to provide more certainty in the areas of policy for investors.
“It is necessary for Mr. President to take this report and personally see to the implementation of its recommendations. This is because many of the challenges that our people are having is that some of our existing policies also conflict with some of our actions. For example, there is no way we can achieve self-sufficiency with rice if right before our eyes people are smuggling in rice across our borders,” he urged.
He however blamed the Customs and other security agencies at the border saying: “Oftentimes, the officers in charge of safeguarding our borders see this happening and no sanctions are applied. Till date, I have not seen or heard of any officer who has been charged or dismissed for aiding and/or abetting the smuggling of rice into Nigeria. Unless we do this, nothing will happen. This is because smuggling is the most extensive form of economic sabotage in Nigeria today.
“The same thing applies to poultry. Many farmers and producers now have stock that they cannot sell because we have chickens coming in from countries like Brazil. We need to engage with many of these countries and make it clear to them that we do not want these products imported into our country,” he charged
He said the executive must back the recommendations with proper implementation. “The most important thing for us to do is backing up the Senate’s recommendations with the implementation power of the executive. If we do this, I am confident that we will see an upsurge in agriculture revenues across the nation,” he assured.

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