- Throwing borders open inimical to Nigeria’s economic survival
Senate yesterday summoned the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, Col Hameed Ali (rtd) to appear before it for explanation over his allegations bordering on the removal of rice from import restriction list and legalizing its importation through land borders.
Specifically, the Customs boss is to appear before the Senate’s Ad- hoc Committee on Import Duty Waivers to explain reasons behind his action, viewed by the senate to be above his level since the order restricting rice importation through land borders was a Presidential one issued in 2011.
The resolution was sequel to a motion titled: “The Danger Posed by the Removal of Rice from Import Restriction List and the Re- Introduction of Import Duty Payment at Land Borders”, sponsored by Senator Muhammad Adamu Aliero (APC Kebbi Central) and supported by 32 others.
According to Aliero, the lifting of the ban placed on rice import through land borders by the Customs boss would be counterproductive to the gains already made from the ban placed on the commodity within the last four years.
He said the latest action on rice importation from the customs boss looks suspicious as the ban on rice importation through land borders in the first place, was due to customs woeful failure to man the borders, let alone collecting the needed import duty from rice importers, aside other detrimental effects it has on local producers.
The former Kebbi State governor added that the ban on rice imports through land borders has to a very great extent, reduced cross border smuggling which he noted would be escalated if the Customs boss’ recent policy statement is not reversed.
“Allowing rice importation to proceed through land borders without checks is detrimental to local producers.
“This motion is about saving foreign exchange for Nigeria, is about protecting our local rice producers from being run out of business again, it’s about protecting the 15 rice mills already built for local production, is about preventing the already provided enabling environment for the teeming unemployed youths to go into rice farming , from being destroyed ,etc”, Aliero said.
Senate Deputy Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah (APC Kebbi South), Deputy Minority Leader, Emmanuel Bwacha (PDP Taraba South), Shehu Sani (APC Kaduna Central), James Manager (PDP Delta South) and Foster Ogola (PDP Bayelsa West) , supported the motion by condemning the policy reversal on rice importation.
According to them, rice importation is bad to the nation’s economic growth and therefore should be stopped.
Senator Bwacha said, “It will be a contradiction to reverse the policy. If the importation of rice is not banned, we will be building the economy of other countries, especially Thailand, China and others”.
He added that the policy, if reversed, would affect the economic diversification programme of the federal government.
In his contribution, Senator Shehu Sani said: “Rice importation is not good for our economy. We cannot afford to continue enriching rice farmers in Thailand, India, China etc, and impoverishing our own farmers.
“There is existence of a rice mafia in Nigeria. We must stop falling into their antics. It is high time in the interest of our economy, we sacrifice our appetite for rice consumption until we encourage our local producers to meet up with our local demands”, he said.
But some other senators like Kabiru Marafa (APC Zamfara Central) and Ali Wakil (APC Bauchi South) opposed the motion on the grounds that with or without ban, smugglers will always bring rice into the country through land borders, thus the need for the ban to be lifted and import duty collected.
According to Marafa, “the motion is not well intentioned to the masses of Nigeria but to the money bags, who have huge resources to bring in rice through the sea ports and after, sell it at exorbitant prices”.
“What the Customs CG is saying through the latest policy is that, instead of smuggling rice into the country free of charge, they should be brought in through the land borders and pay the needed import duty”, he said.
Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, in his ruling on the motion, gave the committee two weeks to submit its report, due to the in-depth nature and importance of the issues raised in the motion.