There is no doubt that Nigeria derive much of its protein needs from fish and seafood products. With the total fish demand of 3.5 million metric tons per year with 800,000 tons produced locally and 2.1 million tons deficit the ban on importation gives room for smuggling that is currently a threat to the sector. JOHN OBA writes.
Nigeria fisheries sector is faced with a lots of challenges ranging from pirates attack on fishing vessels, low productivities, lack of investment, but the most of these are the grievous challenges of smuggling and the unbridled importation of unsafe, unregistered, unwholesome frozen foods due mainly to the abuse of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) by neighbouring countries.
ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme is to establish a Customs Union among all member states aimed at the total elimination of Customs duties and taxes of equivalent effect, removal of non-tarrif barriers and the establishment of a Common Customs External Tariff to protect goods produced in Member States.
But this seems to have given a lead way for other ECOWAS countries to flood Nigeria with unsafe products. For experts in the industry believe nefarious activities of smugglers has further buttress the fact that, the tariff impacts negatively on Nigeria economic.
The recent out cry of the Association of Indigenous Seafood Stakeholders Nigeria, on the increasing rate of smuggled frozen fish from land borders into the country indicates urgent need to address the lopsided effects of the tariff.
Though Nigeria had at no time placed a wholesale ban on the importation of frozen fish into the country, but it prohibited the importation of farmed fish.
However the association through it national president, Mr, Lamina Rasheed, lamented that there has been rising cases of abuse on the ETLS by the Republic of Benin which as a matter of urgency needs to be resolved by the government.
Speaking, with journalists in Abuja, on the sideline of the press conference by the Minister of state for Agriculture, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, the national president, Association of Indigenous Seafood Stakeholders, Mr. Lamina Rasheed, said smuggling has done a lot of harm to local production and the legitimate importers of seafood products, for instance, when you import when you import the regulated frozen fish, the importer pay duties as much as 14% to the federal government but the illegal importers are not paying anything. Those that brought fish into the country legally are unable to sell their fish because of smuggling.
“We have a lots of stocks unsold in the cool room now due to this illegal smuggling. Prices of fish went up because frozen fish is not among the items enjoying forex from the Central Bank of Nigeria, when you buy dollar high, it will affect the fish price. Fish should be removed from such items so we can get dollar at affordable price hence reducing the price of fish,” he said.
Rasheed stated further that Benin Republic is currently being used as a transit port to import and smuggle frozen fish into Nigeria, adding that Benin has become very recalcitrant and an exception to the rule. They are killing our economy, they are sabotaging our economic policy, and we cannot love our neighbours more than we love ourselves.
Findings revealed that farm fish such as tilapia and catfish have been prohibited from the import list, as parts of efforts to encourage local production but according to Rasheed, lamented that these plan is now being rubbished as catfish, tilapia and other species of fish produced for Republic of Benin by non ECOWAS nations have flooded Nigeria market.
Taking step to address the anomalies, the federal government announced measure to curtain the problem.
Addressing a press conference on Thursday, the minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, said the ministry will commence a search of all cool rooms in order to fish out all smuggled seafood products for prosecution.
“In the light of the above, the Ministry is using this medium to warm all those involved, colluding, aiding and abetting in these nefarious activities to stop or face the full wrath of the law of Nigeria importation of frozen fish without licence attracts five years imprisonment or a fine of $250,000 or both in addition to forfeiture and destruction of the vessel and its products.
“As a government in the next few weeks we will ensure that we go round most of the cool rooms and fish out those who have brought in this smuggled fish and ensure that they pay the $250,000 because by the time a few of them are made to face the full wrath of the law, it would serve as a deterrent.
“The ministry has put in place measures to arrest, detain and prosecute offenders as provided in the Sea Fisheries Act Cap S4 Laws of the federation 2004. Such persons would be dealth with as criminals and economic saboteurs,” he warned.
He said must of the illegal importations comes from China, and other part of the world since they are not subjected to any certification or regulations, and they are always cheaper.
He said: “Our annual demand is placed at 3.2 million metric tons, and the supply is about 1.1 million metric tons, we are progressive, when we assured office, the production was about 800 metric tons but today we are collaborating with the stakeholders to see how we can gradually upscale local production by not allocating large quotas for fish importation, last year, we allocated between 500 and 800 metric tons but before, it use to be over two million metric tons.
“And the deficit is about 1.9 million metric tons. We collaborating with other countries in the gulf of Guanine to check illegal and unregulated fishing which resulted in a lot of issues. We are doing that to be able to provide security for our fisher men within the Nigeria water,” he explained.
Lokpobiri said the smuggling of unhealthy frozen fish into the country is detrimental to the progress being made towards guaranteeing the good health and nutrition of Nigerians, adding that some of the negative effects of this include unhealthy fish and fishery products circulation in the Nigerian market, the consumption of which pose grave health implications to our people.
“It will lead to loss of revenue to the federation, decrease in local fish production from aquaculture resulting to loss of jobs. The fish farmers become discouraged due to the influx of cheap smuggled frozen fish into the country.
“In the light of the above, the ministry is using this medium to warn all those involved, clolluding, aiding and abetting in these nefarious activities to stop or face the full wrath of the law of the federal republic of Nigeria. Importation of frozen fish without licence attracts five years imprisonment or a fine of $
“Today bulk of the fishes produced are from the trolley holders., or both in addition to forfeiture and destruction of the vessel and its products.
“We are in collaboration, with the Customs, Quarantine Service, the Marine Police, we also have qualify officers from the fishery department to work with these agencies. We will continue to work as hard as we can to bring this smuggling incidence to the barest minimum,” he said.
He stated further that lots of incidences in different hospitals, and lots of strange ailments that are not known to Nigerians, has prompted the government’s intervention.
Saying: “There are lots of children now in hospitals taking dialysis because of what they eat, that is why the ministry is doing whatever it can to stop smuggling and that is why we are doing whatever we can to encourage local production.
“These are criminal activities but government will reduce these criminalities and we would continue to partner with other agencies, even those who have been able to bring in these prohibited fish into the country we are setting up a task forces to go into different cool room and any cool room that we find this, we will seal up the cool room and ensure that they pay the penalties,” he assured.