Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, yesterday flayed the Nigerian Customs Service (NIS) over the smuggling of rice into the country.
He disclosed that over 1.9 million metric tonnes were smuggled into the country last year , a development, which he said was a sabotage of government?s policy of encouraging local production
The minister stated this at a two-day public hearing on The New Rice Duty Regime organised by the House of Representatives Committee on Customs and Excise.
Insisting that the NIS has not done enough to stop rice smuggling, Adesina asked: ?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 said, ?the Customs must do its job. My job is not to police the border?.
Adesina lamented that the rate of cancer cases is rising in the country because of illegal smuggling of dead fish and frozen chicken which are then sold to unsuspecting consumers.
Defending the government policy aimed at discouraging rice import, Adesina said Nigeria has the capacity to be self-sufficient in rice. The minister said Nigeria spends N365 billion yearly on rice import making it world?s second importer, saying, it was unacceptable. He wondered what the countries that produce rice have that Nigeria doesn?t have.
?Our country must not be a dumping ground for food. Poverty is not an industry because one day the farmers will revolt. We must not import what we can produce.
?We must look at ourselves in the mirror and change our ways. The import apologist wants India and Thailand to be dumping rice here?
According to him, the rice policy was the best the country has taken, noting that as a result of the policy, the local production got a boost by 1.4 million metric tonnes in 2012 which later increased to 2.9 million in 2013.
Earlier, while opening the public hearing,the Speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, lamented that though the rice policy was a noble, 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 borders?, he said.
In his welcome address, the Chairman, House Committee on Customs, Sabo Mohammed, said that it was absurd for an agrarian country like Nigeria to be totally depended on food importation to feed its teeming populace.