Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd.), recently ordered the immediate removal of rice from import restriction list and the re-introduction of import duty payment at land borders. With the new directive, all rice imports through land borders by rice traders would attract the prevailing import duty of 10 percent, with 60 percent levy. Also, rice millers (preferential levy) with valid quota allocation would also attract a duty rate of 10 percent with 20 percent levy on rice importation.
In a statement issued by Wale Adeniyi, the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS public relations officer explained that, “Over the years, importation has been restricted to the seaports because border authorities have found it difficult to effectively monitor and control importation of rice. When the decision to ban it (rice) was taken, it was not an effective measure because smuggling of the product thrived, with people using different means of conveyance, including small trucks, bicycles and even animals – putting them on donkeys and some actually carry it on their heads. These new measures will be there for Customs to reorganise their anti-smuggling operations in the border areas and ensure that all those importers, through the borders, bring their rice through approved routes and pay their extant duty.”
Before the ban on rice importation, Customs had placed different rates of levy on rice imports. 30 percent levy was placed on rice millers (preferential levy) and 70 percent for rice importers. Despite the reasons adduced by the NCS boss for the reintroduction of the policy, we believe the timing is inauspicious and should be reversed because its implementation will destroy the rice value chain attained in the country. Already, the policy has received the boot of key stakeholders in the agriculture sector, including members of the National Rice Millers Association of Nigeria, NRMAN, who through their chairman, Mohammed Abubakar, said the decision was an attempt by Customs to legitimise the smuggling of rice. We agree with them. First, going by the law establishing it, the NCS does not have the power to do that; it is a matter of national policy and Customs does not make national policy, it is an implementation agency. Only the federal government does. Second, this new policy will completely kill the rice value chain, a major milestone attained by the federal government under the immediate past Agric Minister and now President of African Development Bank, AfDB, Dr. nAkinwumi Adesina.
“We recall the number of farmers that took to rice farming in the last five years based on the friendly climate created by Jonathan’s administration. Many of these farmers took bank loans to finance their investments. The result was increased rice production and cheap prices in local markets. It is common knowledge that last December, unlike what obtained in the past, a bag of rice sold below N8, 000 in the open market as against N12, 000 the previous year. The price slash was as result of many people producing rice locally. Policy such as the one being contemplated by the new NCS boss would take us several years back. If the rice chain is killed, everything concerning rice production will automatically stop. The multiplier effect of this policy reversal is monumental. It will encourage rice smuggling, it will kill local industries and increase number of the unemployed as workers would be laid off. Many of the affected youths and women would resort to illegitimate and illegal means of survival such as armed robbery, kidnapping and prostitution.
“At a time, our country is battling terrorism and other criminal acts, any action that will encourage taking up of arms by distraught youths must be discouraged. The argument by the NCS boss holds no water as this ban was placed six years ago and everybody knows that, so the organisation does not have any reason to say rice should be brought in through the land borders. Definitely, anyone who gives such directive has smuggling intentions. Rather than open our borders for the importation of all manner of finished goods into Nigeria such as rice, the federal government should focus attention on how to facilitate local production of these essential food commodities, make Nigeria self-sufficient and encourage export of same as a means of diversifying our mono economy now that revenue from oil is nothing to write home about.
“President Muhammadu Buhari should, as a matter of urgent national attention, call the NCS management to order. We cannot say we want to encourage local industries when our borders are open to importation of products that can easily be produced locally.”


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