IT takes a public hearing for Nigerians to know how government departments and ministries work with, or against each other. There are often speculations that governments sabotage themselves, but when they are stated officially, they are causes for concern.
Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, told the House of Representatives Committee on Customs and Excise that the Nigerian Customs Service, NIS, was smuggling rice, among other items, into the country. He was speaking on the New Rice Regime, a government policy that aims at domestic sufficiency in rice production, which is apparently doomed.
The over 1.9 million metric tonnes of rice smuggled into Nigeria in 2013, or 8,000 bags daily, the Minister said were stalling government’s policy on local production. Without the nod of Customs, he said, smugglers would be out of business.
He wants the Customs to police the border effectively, so that Nigeria can save on the N365 billion spent yearly on rice imports. The damage that smuggling does to the economy was not the focus of the address, but Dr. Adesina wants stiffer penalties for illegal importers of frozen fish and chicken. He said the imports were harmful to Nigerians, as they were smuggled in manners that made them unwholesome.
“We owe it a duty to our country to make sure that these people are sent to jail,” he said. The Federal Government increased levy on rice from 20 per cent to 100 per cent. The measure was meant to encourage domestic production. It worked in reverse; smugglers took advantage of the policy. With Customs on their side, they brought in rice without paying duty, to sell at prices that knock locally produced rice out of the market.
Dr. Adesina said Nigeria had the capacity to produce enough rice for local consumption and export. These would only be possible if the new rice policy survives. From the look of things, it is dead.
Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said government had decided to reverse the levy on rice because the product was still being smuggled into the country.
We find that curious. For how long would government bow to smugglers and waste billions of Naira in importing rice that could be produced locally? If we stick to importation, how do we create jobs? How do we develop the domestic rice economy?
The bane of policies to enhance domestic production is not limited to smuggling. Outrageous costs of production fuelled by poor electricity supplies and transportation infrastructure defeat government policies.
In addition to effectively monitoring borders against smuggling, without improvements in power and other infrastructure, domestic productions would remain too expensive and create huge market for smugglers, and more holes in the economy.