By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA – THE Federal Government Tuesday debunked the report by the United States Department of Agriculture World Markets and Trade that Nigeria imported three million metric tonnes of rice in 2018.
The government also said that the Atiku Campaign Organization goofed by relying on what he described as a fake report from the US Department of Agriculture.
The US report had said that the import figure is 400,000 metric tonnes higher than the quantity of the product that was imported in 2017.
The report also stated that Nigeria’s local rice production dropped from 2016 to 2018 compared to the situation in 2015.
The report ran contrary to several claims by the Nigerian government that local rice production had increased while importation had dropped by up to 90 per cent.
The report, which was released in October, showed that since 2016, Nigeria had consistently milled 3,780,000 metric tonnes annually which is a reduction from 3,941,000 metric tonnes recorded in 2015.
Briefing State House correspondents, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said he had contacted the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigeria Customs Service, the Minister of Agriculture and rice millers on the authenticity of the report and that they all dismissed the report as untrue.
According to him, whereas 1.2 million metric tonnes of rice was exported to Nigeria in 2014, the figure declined to 644,000 in 2015 and went further downward to 25,000 in 2016.
Hebsaid, “I am sure many of you read the report of United States Department of Agriculture World Markets and Trade Report that falsely claimed that Nigeria Nigeria imported three million metric tonnes of rice in 2018, which is 400,000 metric tonnes more than the quantity of the product imported in 2017.
“And also that local production was on the decline and that these facts fly in the face of government’s claim of what it achieved in the area of rice production.
“I want to say categorical that that story is false. Predictably, the Atiku Media Organisation, this afternoon latched onto the story, we are not surprised.
“I want to say categorically that that story is fake and that Atiku Media Organisation also goofed.
“Immediately that story broke out, I contacted Central Bank of Nigeria and Comptroller General of Customs, I had meetings with the Rice Producers Association and also with the Millers and they all confirmed that that story is not true.
“For starters, you can’t import rice without a Form M being approved. You can’t import rice without Letter of Credit. So we challenge the US Department of Agriculture World Markets and Trade Report to provide evidence that Form M was opened to bring in 400,000 metric tonnes over and above that of last year and that Letter of Credit were open for these.
“Two, the records are very clear as to the importation of rice, you don’t have to take my words but go to Thailand Rice Miller and the figures are there. In 2014, 1.2 million metric tonnes of rice was exported to Nigeria, in 2015, 644 metric tonnes of rice was exported to Nigeria, by 2015 it went down to 5,000 metric tonnes. These are not my figures, these are figures from the Thailand Rice Association.
“And the claim that local rice production is on the decline is again absolutely false. Yesterday (Monday), when I spoke to the millers, all of them said, please just come to Kano, come to my factory you are going to see two kilometers length of trailers waiting to discharge paddy rice.
“So I want to say category again without fear of contradiction that the Anchor Borrowers Rice Programme is working. Nigeria has been able to reduce by 90 percent the $1.65 billion it was paying on rice importation, the number of integrated rice processing Mills increased from 13 to 25, those are the majors and that between the smaller ones and the big ones, today the capacity is 4.9 metric tonnes of rice.
“That is why we are confident that in a year plus we are going to meet the six million metric tonnes of rice production which is our local consumption.
“The facts are there and I challenge anybody to the contrary.
“When asked on how he factor the amount of rice being smuggled into the country into these two arguments, he said, “You see, you cannot claim that smuggled rice is part of rice imported into the country. Yes, we do know we have a challenge with smuggled rice but we have taken steps to ensure that these menace is contained.
“You remember that we set up tripartite community between the Republic Benin and Nigeria comprising of the two ministers of finance and agriculture and Comptroller General of Customs of both countries.
“Two, we have been able to reach an agreement with the Benin Republic President to allow Nigeria Customs officials to be present at the Cotonou Port. And you know that only a week ago Mr. President jointly commissioned the border building within Benin Republic. These are all attempts made to contain smuggling.
“Again to say local rice production has gone down is absolutely untrue.
“We have grown rice farmers from five million to 12 million, those facts are out there. We have created prosperity for rice farmers. We have about 32 or 34 states that produce rice, you can ask them.
“So you see, this kind of information is not only misleading but it is capable of generating a lot of misunderstanding. So I say with all emphasis at my command that that story is part of the fake news we are fighting.”
On whether the Nigeria government will engage the US government to present the facts, the Minister replied, “That will be at another level, what we are doing here is to educate Nigerians and let them know that that story is false. Whatever steps government is going to take, I have a responsibility as the minister of information and culture of this great country to tell you what government has achieved and if anybody tries to demarket the government to put the facts straight.
“I am not surprised that the Atiku Media Organisation latched unto this story and unfortunately they goofed because what they ought to have done, when I was in their position as an opposition was to check with Central Bank, with Customs, rice farmers association and the millers. And I have contacted all of them and what I am telling you is what I am telling you.”