…Seek FG’s intervention on Customs harassment
Less than two months after the ban on importation of rice through land border by the Federal Government, the price of the commodity in the market has skyrocketed out of the reach of most Nigerian consumers. A bag of rice which sold for N9,000 before the ban, now sells for between N15,000 and N17,000.
Daily Sun investigations show that some importers who had stockpiled rice in anticipation of the closure of land border are now taking advantage of the import ban through land borders to sell the stockpiled rice at very high prices.
It was alleged that some importers who had prior knowledge of the ban and got approved Form M last year, which they allegedly used to stockpile the commodity in their warehouses.
There were also allegations that rice importation quotas were given to some politicians without any stake as rice millers or farmers.
Worried by this trend, traders are calling on the government to urgently intervene on the rising cost of rice, which they feared may go as high as N25,000 before December if it is still left in the hands of few individuals.
The rice traders also noted that as soon as the ban was announced, a few dominant and highly connected players took over the rice market with their brands of rice and started dictating the price to the detriment of the poor masses leading to the astronomic increase in price. Rice retailers, however, alleged that these importers who had stockpiled the product are working in concert with some Nigeria Customs officers to ensure that there is no other brand of rice in the market except the stockpiled brands.
“Whenever they see a brand that is different from their brand in the market, the Customs officers seize them from the traders. What they failed to realise is that some importers had other brands of rice in their shops before the ban and they had to finish selling them before new ones.”
They also alleged that following the ban, Customs reportedly began indiscriminate seizure of trucks of rice which were in the market before the ban within states that share no border with neighbouring countries, and that Customs duties papers are always the reason they gave for this harassment. For instance, on March 23, 24 trucks of rice were seized in Owerri from innocent local traders who came to Lagos to buy rice simply because it was not a particular brand. There were similar seizures in Lagos by men of the Nigeria Customs from Ikeja. Now traders are afraid to buy rice from distributors except it is a particular brand, for fear of their goods being impounded.
A trader, Dupe John, said “rice being Nigeria’s number one staple food, it is not good for a few people to monopolise the market especially when we are yet to be self-sufficient in local production. Only one brand dominating the market is the reason we have artificial scarcity and high cost of rice due to shortfall in supply. While these few importers are smiling to the bank, Nigerians are made to bear the brunt.”
The ban on importation of rice through land border is said to be encouraging undocumented cross border rice trade. Banning or control of rice importation is usually aimed at encouraging and boosting local production. However, local production has not been enough to meet the consumption demand of the rapidly growing population. Therefore, there exists an imbalance between rice production and consumption.
Richard Okonkwo, a rice trader, said before we talk of banning importation, we must increase local production to avoid food scarcity. “The companies that promised rice milling and packaging are now biggest rice importers without any tangible investment on how to increase local production. Presently, the rice mills in the country cannot meet the commercial needs of the market.’’