Recently the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs, Col Hameed Ali (rtd), raised an alarm over the state of rice imported into the country. Speaking during a news conference, Ali said the Federal Government had not issued licence for importation of rice and that any rice seen on the streets that was not produced in Nigeria was smuggled.
He stated that imported rice was poisonous because before coming into the country, it must have spent a minimum of five years in the silos and harmful chemicals must have been added to sustain its freshness even as it is often re-bagged with a new date, thereby altering the production and expiry dates.
Much as one appreciates the concern of the Comptroller-General that his fellow citizens are consuming “poisonous rice”, it will be important to know what he meant by all foreign rice in the country being smuggled product. Following the revolution of rice production in the country which was triggered by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN’s) Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), the volume of rice importation into Nigeria may have declined drastically, but that does not mean we are now sufficient in rice production. Reports show that Nigeria is still an importer of rice. According to the 2018 United States Department of Agriculture World Markets and Trade Report, Nigeria imported three million metric tonnes of rice in 2018. Similar export figure obtained from India and Thailand, which are dominant rice exporters to Nigeria, indicate that the latter exported some reasonable tonnes of rice to Nigeria last year.
So it couldn’t have been proper for the Comptroller-General to term all foreign rice consumed by many Nigerians both the ordinary people and those in authorities, smuggled. Neither was he the appropriate authority to label such food as poisonous even when no death had been reported of anyone who ate imported rice.
Besides, even if these were to be smuggled rice, whose duty is it to ensure that the so-called unhealthy food does not enter into the country. Or is he telling us that the Customs which he heads is not competent enough to man our borders? What is the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) doing about this worrisome development? What about Immigration and other agencies responsible for manning our borders, what are they doing? How can we have all these bodies, yet Nigeria remains a dumping ground for all kinds of, unhealthy, fake and substandard products? Not too long ago we heard about the existence of poisonous animal skin popularly called ponmo in Lagos State said to have been smuggled into the country from neighbouring African countries.
We all know that our borders are very porous but if Ali and his men should do what is expected of them, the massive smuggling of all manner of unwholesome items into the country will be curtailed.
Incidentally, they are also caught up in the web of bribery and corruption that has engulfed the nation. The smugglers know that there are corrupt men and women in the Customs and among other agencies at the borders, so what they do is to “settle” them and have a thorough fare.
So while Nigerians will assist with vital information on how to apprehend rice smugglers, as requested by the Comptroler-General, he and his men should begin to consider the interest of the nation over and above their selfish gains and do the right thing. Federal Government should also heed the age-long calls to fortify our borders and make them security tight. A visit to the borders and you will wonder what a country would expose all her entry points the way we do.
Again, Col Ali’s call for more Nigerians to eat locally produced rice is in order and very patriotic. Anyone who has consumed Nigerian rice will testify that there is no comparison between it and the foreign ones in terms of taste. It is also said to be more nutritious than the imported ones whose nutrients have been washed off during processing.
But the questions are, can the local rice we produce sustain the about 200million population of the country? Wouldn’t you be giving room to smuggling if you ban rice importation when the quantity produced in the country cannot feed the people, coupled with the low quality of some of them? Some of them are full of pebbles, dirty, smells awful and are poorly packaged, which is why some people prefer imported rice.
So for rice importation and smuggling to stop, effort must be made to increase rice production in the country. To achieve this, some challenges that impede rice production within the country must be tackled. These include: lack of good roads in the rural areas; obsolete and inefficient processing technology; weed, pest and disease problem; non availability/inadequate credit facilities to farmers; high level of productive inputs such as seeds, fertilizers and other agrochemicals; climatic factors like flood, soil salinity, erosion, drought and global warming; land tenure and development; low level of income for farmers; inconsistent government policies and many more.
Throwing more light on these problems, particularly lack of modern equipment, President of Badagry Rice Farmers Association, Ibrahim Iroko said, “With mechanisation, farming would become more attractive to youths as opposed to this growing trend of ‘okada’ business. “Rice farming without mechanisation is tedious and not so profitable. For instance, when rice is planted today, the following day, the boom sprayer has to be used to spray herbicides to prevent weeds. If done, weeds would not come up until about two months later by which time the rice would have fully grown.” He pleaded with the Federal Government to help rice farmers so they can plant larger quantities by making available tractors, harvesters, boom sprayers and other modern equipment, low interest loans available to rice farmers.
Of a great importance is speedily finding lasting solution to farmers/herdsmen clashes in various parts of the country which has made many farmers to abandon their farms. More so, our political leaders should patronize our local rice as well as other made-in-Nigeria products. A situation where the “poisonous” imported rice is seen at every government function and used as gifts during Christmas, Salah and other festive periods by those in power does not show that we are serious about ending the consumption of imported rice in the country.