(From Mustapha Sumaila, NAN)
The Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RPAN) has appealed to the Federal Government to criminalise the sales of foreign rice in the country.
The Director-General of the association, Mr Andy Ekwelem stated this while addressing newsmen in Abuja on Saturday over the influx of smuggled rice into the country.
Ekwelem cautioned if the government did not take decisive action on smuggled rice, all the mills in the country would collapse and lead to many jobs losses.
He stated that rice value chain sub-sector had engaged about 13 million Nigerians on direct employment.
He added that the number of people that would lose their jobs to the activities of smugglers would be much especially in this trying period.
He said that the government tackled the menace of rice smuggling but with the reopening of borders by the Federal Government, the markets were flooded with foreign rice again.
“We have said it many times on the need for government to criminalise sales of foreign rice in the markets and supermarkets. Rice is number one on the list of prohibited products in which CBN placed forex restriction.
“It is assumed that any rice you see in this country now, in the markets, shops and even in your homes that is not Nigeria made rice, it is smuggled into the country.
“The country is losing revenue because these smugglers are not paying the right duties to bring the rice into the country and this ugly development is killing our economy.
“We want a law that will empower law enforcement agencies to go to markets and shops to arrest anyone found with foreign rice because their action amounts to economic sabotage.
“When that is done, people will be discouraged from buying from these people that smuggled rice into the country. We need to take drastic measures against smugglers as well as those selling the products,” Ekwelem said.
The director-general lauded President Muhammadu Buhari for his giant stride in the rice production, adding that there were only six Integrated Rice Mills in the country before 2015 and had risen to about 60.
According to him, about N3.4 trillion has been invested in the entire rice value chain production across the country.
He added that the gains made in the sub-sector in the last few years were possible through the support and interventions of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
He said addressing this challenge of smuggling was paramount so that all these efforts, commitments and resources put in the rice value chain sub-sector would not be a waste.
He noted that most of the mills in the country were now working at half capacity because there were no off-takers for the products they produced for Nigerian markets.
Ekwelem, however, appealed to Nigeria Customs Service to step up in manning borders to curb the activities of smugglers.
The director-general said the association was committed to standard in rice production, adding that all members are committed to maintaining it.