Rice worth over $3 billion meant for the Nigerian markets are said to be stuck in various warehouses in Benin Republic due to the Federal Government’s policy banning importation of the commodity through land borders and fierce Customs anti-smuggling drive.
It has been learnt that the annual routine of importing rice into the neighbouring countries from July to December to make massive sales in Nigeria during Yuletide has hit a brickwall as the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), has insisted that his men tighten the borders.
Nigeria shares major borders with Benin Republic at Seme Border (Lagos), Idiroko (Ogun State), Shaki (Oyo State), Chikanda (Kwara State) and other smaller openings. Prominent among them is Seme where the highest volume of trade and largest smuggling opportunity exists because of its easier access to Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital city.
Seme border, which hitherto was a major transit point for foreign rice importation and smuggling also became a no go area for the commodity as almost daily seizures of 50kg bags of it have taken a good portion of the government warehouse
A competent source in Benin disclosed that most of the warehouses where the bagged rice are kept before shipment into the country are now battling for space.
According to the source, who does not want his name in print, “some consignments of imported rice into the small West African country that had no space at the usual and popular stores were moved to makeshift storage areas and are exposed to rains, weevils and other unhygienic forms of storage.
According to the source, “Popular warehouses no longer receive rice shipments as thousands of bags earlier delivered to them since July could not be evacuated into Nigeria as planned and as the usual case in previous years. Popular Cherika warehouse in Akpakpa near Cotonou with a capacity to hold 25,000 bags is fully loaded with Thailand rice with no hope of evacuating them into Nigeria except government relaxes its policy disallowing rice imports through border or customs softening their round the clock enforcement in Seme.
“Defezi warehouse close to the Cotonou Port is filled with over 40,000 units of 50kg bags of Indian and Thailand rice. Defezi got occupied earlier due to its proximity to the port but was not evacuated as the owners could not risk entering Nigeria with it. Cica warehouse in Missebo area of the Cotonou outskirts that suffered lack of patronage in the past due to distance from Seme border and bad road presently have over 15,000 bags. Some are getting moulded, caked with their bags torn and quantity reduced while under storage in several odd arrangements endlessly awaiting shipment into Nigeria.”
It was also revealed that while hope of smuggling them into Nigeria gets dim by the day, there is a conscious effort at attempting the smuggling of the commodity without using bags.
The unwholesome methods, our findings revealed, require pouring grains of rice into various compartments of vehicles like the booths, bonnets, inner part of the doors, under the seats and other spaces meant for spare tyres and tools.
Sources disclosed that attempts to try bringing in some hundreds of bags failed as the smuggling bags ended up inside the Customs warehouse in Seme and Idiroko as seizures.
The seized rice, some of which are closed to expiring and unwholesome for human consumption have become bad and unqualified for donation to Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps as was done in the recent past.
Numbers made available by the NCS revealed that over 37,000 bags of rice have so far been seized in Seme and Idiroko between January and September 2016 with a recent clamp down on 13 vehicles at a go in the Ogun State area all laden with smuggled rice.
Nigeria Customs had in an October 2016 press statement reiterated government’s ban on rice importation through the borders. The statement signed by Customs spokesman, Wale Adeniyi, reinforced its resolve to protect government’s attempt to improve local rice capacity.
According to him, “We like to reiterate the position that importation of rice remains banned through our land borders, and we have the commitment of partner government agencies and stakeholders to enforce this restriction. While this restriction is in force, rice imports through the ports are still allowed subject to payment of extant charges.”