By Godfrey Bivbere
Chairman of the SemeÂ Chapter of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents,(ANLCA), Mr. Patrick Ozobialu, has faulted claims by some stakeholders that rice is being smuggled into the country through the Seme border with the aid of clearing agents and men of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS).
Ozobialu who decried the recent attack on operators at the border post, noted that the attack may have been sponsored by big time rice importers that are fighting to hold on to their monopoly in the business.
He pointed out that all rice imports from Seme border were legitimate and duties are duly paid on them, a claim which is corroborated by the Customs Area Controller (CAC), Gabriel Toba Aliu while addressing the press on the performance of his command, recently.
The ANLCA boss further stressed that the large concentration of the nationâ€™s security agencies at the border,Â makes it a rare place for very serious crime.
According to him, the new management of the Nigeria Customs Service at the Seme border command have been able to nip in the bud the activities of smugglers, saying liberalization of rice imports, more than all government anti-smuggling efforts, has gone a long way to eliminate smuggling of the item around the border.
He said liberalization of importation of the product is fetching the Federal government a lot of revenue from customs duties which would have gone to smugglers before now.
He specifically called on Nigerians to change the mentality of assuming that all rice cargo coming in from Seme border were smuggled, saying those who want that thinking sustained are big importers who are masquerading under the guise of Rice Millers Association Nigeria, who alleged are not comfortable with the stable cost of the product in the market.
â€œAll they want is to deceive the government to ban importation of the product from Seme border so that they could continue to manipulate the cost of the item in the market. They are the same people that we are not sure they pay duties because they can afford to use their big money to tempt the customs officers and the nation loses billions of naira as a result of the activities of these monopolists. What is wrong with anybody who can import to be allowed to import?â€
â€œThose people who claimed that they are milling rice where are they? If they can mill enough rice for the nation let them show it.
I think time has come for Nigerians to call the bluff of these pretenders who hide under the guise of one manufacturing group or the other to get government to ban the importation of one product or the other only for them to turn around to become sole importers. It is a fraud and is unfair to the people of this country,â€ he stressed.
He said the cause of the worry of the monopolists is the liberalization of the imports of rice by government as the policy has made it possible for them to apply any of their antics to continue to rip-off Nigerians.
But the policy has made the product available everywhere and at affordable price.
He said since Nigeria has not started to produce enough of the food-stuff, the policy is the best for the country to avoid unnecessary loss of revenue. â€œIt is like the issue of second-hand clothing that is banned but is sold at every nook and cranny of the country and is worn by almost all and sundry. So what is the sense in the ban? Only the economy loses because the duty due is not been paid to the coffers of government.â€ he said.
Ozobialu, who was recently elected the chairman of Seme chapter of the association, complained of acts violence against Nigerians by the people in the Benin side of the border, but however added that he has been making effort to ensure cross-border peaceful consistence. He warned Nigerian crossing the border to always ensure that they have their ECOWAS passport stamped before they cross the border and to always ensure that they declare whatever money they have with them with the Nigerian authorities and the Beninious authorities before proceeding on their business journey.