From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), made up of governors of the 36 states have raised concern over the quality of rice being consumed by Nigerians.
The governors described it as substandard, harmful and called on the Nigeria Customs Service to take urgent measures to arrest the situation.
A statement by NGF’s Head, Media and Public Affairs, Abulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, said the alarm was contained in a communique released after the forum’s last meeting in Abuja.
The governors said a large consignment of rice still finding its way into the Nigerian market was imported since 2014 when the Goodluck Jonathan administration issued a liberal import licence regime to those who were able to bring substantial quantity of rice into the country using a waiver from the presidency at the time.
The governors noted that while bulk of the consignment was stale, others were either rejected in other countries or had overstayed in various warehouses before they found their way into Nigeria through the activities of some unscrupulous elements.
“Governors expressed concern that Nigerians were either falling sick or losing their lives to the consumption of this substandard produce even though some states have commenced elaborate efforts to produce rice in commercial quantity with a view to halting the nation’s over-reliance on staples that can be produced locally.
“Most governors of the states that have already embraced the back to land mantra of this administration frowned at the situation where Nigerians snubbed the locally produced commodity in preference for foreign ones which were most of the time stale, contaminated or even fake,” the statement said.
The Nigeria Customs Service was invited to shed light on the matter in order to proffer solution to the problem.
Briefing the Forum, the Comptroller General, Col. Hameed Ali who was represented by Deputy Comptroller General, Dangaladima Aminu, said though there was an upsurge in the smuggling of rice through the nations land borders, there had been no alteration to the prohibition on the importation of rice through land borders. He claimed that any quantity of rice which found its way into Nigeria through land routes was smuggled.
Dangaladima said rice was usually smuggled through unauthorized border routes which span more than 4,000 kilometres. He claimed that the smugglers were aided by border communities who alternated between motorcycles, canoes and rafts to smuggle contraband rice into the country.
“It may interest you to note that a motorcycle can make up to 30 trips with six 50kg bags of rice per night depending on the distance. And when the border communities are not smuggling the produce themselves, they are aiding or providing cover for smugglers.”
Dangaladima added that rice merchants had recorded huge losses as a result of seizures by the customs.
He disclosed that in 2014 Customs seized 12, 000 metric tons of the commodity, 4, 503 tons in 2015 and 14, 000metric tons in 2016.
He informed the governors that the Customs “takes the issue of smuggling of rice seriously, having identified the danger posed by it to the economic well-being and health hazards it constitutes to the Nigerian people.”
Rice, which was hitherto occasionally consumed during special occasions and ceremonies, has became a daily household staple and first choice at public gatherings.
Recently, there has been renewed efforts to produce it locally, with several state governments going into rice farming.