By Henry Umoru & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA – THE Senate,yesterday, summoned the Controller General of Nigeria Customs Service,Col. Hameed Ali,to appear before it to explain why he did not only ordered the removal of rice from import restriction list but also approved its importation through land borders.
The Senate said Ali would appear before its Ad- hoc Committee on Import Duty Waivers, on a yet to be determined date, to explain reasons behind his action, which it noted to be beyond him since the order restricting rice importation through land borders was a presidential one , issued in 2011.
The action of the Red Chamber was sequel to a motion sponsored by Senator Muhammad Adamu Aliero,APC,Kebbi Central,and supported by 28 other senators, which was debated upon during plenary.
In the motion titled: “The Danger Posed by the Removal of Rice from Import Restriction List and the Re- Introduction of Import Duty Payment at Land Borders”, Senator Aliero said lifting the ban place on rice import through land borders by the Custom boss would be counter-productive to the gains already made from the ban placed on the commodity within the last four years.
According to him, the latest action on rice importation from the custom boss looks suspicious as the ban on rice importation through land borders in the first place, was due to customs woeful failure to man the borders , let alone collecting the needed import duty from rice importers aside other detrimental effects it has on local producers.
He added that the ban on rice imports through land borders has to a very great extent, reduced cross border smuggling which he noted , would be escalated if the Custom boss recent policy statement is not reversed.
” Allowing rice importation to proceed through land borders without checks is detrimental to local producers. This motion is about saving foreign exchange forNigeria, is about protecting our local ricer producers from being run out of business again, is about protecting the 15 rice mills already built for local production , is about preventing the already provided enabling environment for the teeming unemployed youths to go into rice farming , from being destroyed etc,”he said.
Contributing to the debate,the Senate Deputy Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah, APC, Kebbi South;Deputy Minority Leader, Emmanuel Bwacha ,PDP, Taraba South, senators Shehu Sanni, APC, Kaduna Central; James Manager,PDP, Delta South, and Foster Ogola ,PDP, Bayelsa West ,all supported the motion by condemning the policy reversal on rice importation.
In their different submissions they said rice importation was bad to the nation’s economic growth.
“Rice importation is not good for our economy. We cannot afford to continue enriching rice farmers in Thailand, India, China etc, and impoverishing our own farmers .
“There is existence of a rice mafia in Nigeria . We must stop falling into their antics. It is high time in the interest of our economy , we sacrifice our appetite for rice consumption until we encourage our local producers to meet up with our local demands,”he said.
But some other senators like Kabiru Marafa, APC, Zamfara Central, and Ali Wakil, APC, Bauchi South, opposed the motion on the grounds that with or without ban, smugglers will always bring rice into the country through land borders , thus, the need for the ban to be lifted and import duty collected.
According to Marafa, ‘ the motion us not well intentioned to the masses of Nigeria but to the money bags who have huge resources to bring in rice through the sea ports and after , sell it at exorbitant prices .
“What the Custom CG is saying through the latest policy , is that instead of smuggling rice into the country free of charge, they should be brought in through the land borders and pay the needed import duty”.
The committee is expected to submit report of its slated encounter with the Customs boss to the Senate in two weeks time.
In his remark, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who presided over the plenary, stressed the importance of the motion and commended Aliero for bringing it on the floor of the Senate.
“We need to give the CG a chance to explain why the decion was taken and also for the investors to know that a well sought out process before reversal as far as investment is concerned.
“Farming takes a long time as far as agriculture is concered. We must know why. It is clear that importation of rice through this neighbouring countries in most cases is an attempt to try bypass the government.
“This is because neighbouring countries do not eat the same type of rice we eat,”he said.
Meanwhile, most of the lawmakers opposed the motion stating that the motion will make the bourgeois richer.
Although Kabir Marafa representing Zamfara central was one of the lawmakers to oppose the motion, he commended his colleague for bringing the motion.
He also said that the banning will create jobs for the youth but at the same time, its not well intentioned the country.
Dino Melaye representing Kogi West senatorial district also objected the bill.He asked that the CG customs must be summoned.
“We must listen to the Controller General because we have to hear his side of the story to tell the senate why he took the decisions he took'” he said.
On his part, Senator James Manager, said that rice importation was not good for Nigerians either from air, land or sea.
“We cannot rush into making decisions like that,”he added.