*Says rice importation not banned but restricted to coming through seaports only
*Vows to move on with anti-smuggling patrols
*’Bags of rice Nigerians consume smuggled in coffins inside ambulance’
*Tells how corrupt customs officials aid smugglers’ activities
*Says Nigeria now has rice healthier for consumption
By Kemi Kasumu with agency reports
It has been said that rice smuggled through the borders into Nigeria was mostly unfit for human consumption.
Comptroller-General (CG) of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali, disclosed this during a joint news conference on illegal rice importation to Nigeria, Tuesday, in Abuja.
He said samples of some of the rice seized over a period of time were taken and sent to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration Control (NAFDAC) to ascertain their condition and that the test reports certified that smuggled rice through the borders was unfit for human consumption.
Col. Ali said: “Importation of rice into the country is not banned but restricted on the point of entry to seaports only.
“We remain firm in our resolve to enforce the restriction of rice imports only to our seaports.
“We have re-organised our anti-smuggling patrols to provide additional capability and bite,’’ he said.
Ali said that during his recent trip to Benin Republic on effective management of the borders, some delegations from groups came giving commitments to pay all charges applicable if customs relaxed the policy on borders.
According to him, there has been a significant increase in seizures in the first three quarters of 2016.
He said 117,034 (50kg) bags of rice seizures had been made at a duty paid value of N774.2 million.
He said customs seizures had revealed several ingenious but devilish ways of smuggling into country what Nigerians consumed as food.
“We have seen rice conveyed in open wooden canoes across our creeks and water ways with generous amount of dirty waters splashing on them.
“We have seen some mixed with other grains bags to deceive customs; some are stuffed inside any available crevice and compartments of vehicles, including the engine area.
“The concealed rice is thereafter re-bagged half cooked and presented in our markets for sale as imported rice.
“Bags of rice meant for Nigerians’ consumption (are) being conveyed in coffins inside make shift ambulance vehicles.
“Often time, importers in the borders have to wait for months for the green light from corrupt customs officials before they gamble their ways across the borders.
“Rice being a perishable product, lose valuable shelve life in non conducive strong conditions.”
Ali said that many state governments had injected massive investments in local production of rice, adding that the Federal Government, through the intervention by Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Bank of Industry, was also investing to give momentum to rice revolution.
He said Kebbi State Government, in 2016, harvested over 700,000 tonnes from irrigation farming while 800,000 tonnes were projected from rain-fed rice farming with similar projection from other states across the country.
He said that customs was inundated with periodic intelligence about ship loads of parboiled rice that offloaded regularly in the neighbouring port of Cotonou.
Ali added that Benin Republic did not eat parboiled rice, adding that the imports were ultimately destined for Nigeria by smuggling through the land borders
He said that with the support of patriotic Nigerians, “we will not only achieve national self-sufficiency of rice in 2017 but be in pole position to clamp a total ban on its importation in the years ahead”.
The DEFENDER gathered that in April 2016, customs re-introduced the ban on importation through the land borders. It was however said that the reversal of the policy introduced in October 2015, was informed by high level of non-compliance by rice importers who resorted to large scale smuggling of the product.