By Godwin Oritse
Against the backdrop of the Nigerian government’s policy on domestication of the rice industry and the war against its illegal importation, sea ports of West African countries are still receiving large quantities of the commodity, apparently for onward shipment to Nigeria through land borders.
Consequently the commodity still tops the smuggling chart and seized items by the recent records of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, with a total of 124,407 bags of rice seized in the first half of 2018, H1’18.
Statistical data made available to Vanguard Maritime Report, showed that the NCS recorded a total of 2,354 seizure incidences with the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone ‘A’ of the Service recording the highest number of 558 seizure incidences in H1’18.
The smuggling-seizure data also indicated that while 34,139 bags of rice was intercepted in Zone ‘A’, 8,915 bags were seized in Zone ‘D’, and Zones ‘C’ and ‘B’ recorded 7,501 and 941 bags respectively.
While Kaduna-Katsina command recorded seizure of 4,085 bags of rice, a total of 2,917 bags of rice was seized by the Oyo-Osun command, and 2,833 bags of rice was seized by Sokoto-Kebbi-Zamfara command.
Western Marine recorded a total seizure of 1,443 bags of rice, while Niger-Kwara-Kogi seized 1,133 bags of rice.
All other commands recorded less than a thousand bags of rice seizures.
Instructively the most popular ports, Apapa and Tin Can Island, did not record any rice seizure, indicating that the illegal shipments avoided Nigeria’s sea ports.
Other big seizures of banned items coming into Nigeria through sea ports of neighbouring countries have poultry products in second position after rice, with a total of 11,319 cartons of chicken and turkey seized and destroyed during the period.
While 8,011 of cartons of poultry were seized in Zone ‘A’, while Zone ‘C’ recorded 1,088 cartons seized, but there was no seizure recorded of the item in Zones ‘B’ and ‘D’.
The third position in smuggled items is occupied by vehicle. But the item came in through neighbouring countries’ sea ports as well as Nigeria’s major sea ports.
For vehicle seizures, all the four zones recorded incidences as zone ‘A’ again recorded the highest number of 132, while zones ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ recorded 128, 35 and 13 respectively.
The seizure report also noted that 135 suspected smugglers were arrested within the period.
While no suspect was arrested in Zones ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’, 98 suspected smugglers were taken in zone ‘A’, the rest were arrested in other customs commands across the country.
For revenue generation, Zone ‘A’ raked in the highest amount of revenue at a total of N3.9billion representing the Duty Payable Value and import Duty inflows.
While N2.8billion was recorded as value of the goods, the import duty was put at N991.4million.
While N982.2million was raked from Zone ‘C’, Zones ‘B’ and ‘D’ recorded N457.4million each as revenue during the period.
At the command level, all the 27 customs commands recorded the seizure of one item or the other.
For the nation’s premier port in Apapa customs command, no seizure of any kind was recorded but Seme, Idiroko-Ogun, Oyo-Osun, Delta-Edo commands recorded seizures of various items.
For the Murtala Mohammed Airport customs command, 18 seizures were recorded, two suspects arrested.
The command however raked in a total of N13.6million from seized items.
Reacting to the development, the Public Relations Officer of the Seme border Command of the NCS, Mr. Nurudeen Saidu, told Vanguard Maritime Report that apart from being a staple food for Nigerians, rice is the most profitable for smugglers as there are also always ready buyers for smuggled rice.
“Rice is the most profitable for smugglers, which is why smugglers will always engage in the smuggling of the commodity” he said.
Similarly, the National President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, NCMDLCA, Mr. Lucky Amiwero, also told Vanguard Maritime Report, that the smuggling of foreign rice will continue to thrive because they are cheaper and more available than the locally produced rice.
Amiwero suggested that the government needs to go beyond its policy on rice by way of intervening with subsidy on the local rice production and making it more available.
He said: “The volume of locally produced rice cannot meet the demand of Nigerians; the local is also more expensive than the foreign one”.