The Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN) has opposed the directives given by a Senate Committee to Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to return the seized smuggled rice to the traders in Ibadan.
RIFAN Director-General, Mr Andy Ekwelem, expressed the association’s opposition to the directive at a news conference on Thursday in Abuja.
Officers of the NCS recently invaded Oja Oba Market in Ibadan and carted away truckloads of foreign rice.
A similar operation had earlier happened at Bodija Market, where men of the service also impounded some bags of rice.
The Public Relations Officer of NCS, Federal Operation Unit, Zone A, Mr Theophilus Duniya, said that the raid was to effect the Federal Government’s ban on importation of foreign rice.
But the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges, on Tuesday, directed the NCS to return the impounded bags of rice to the traders.
Ekwelem said that the directive by the Senate committee would embolden the smugglers while serving as a disincentive to officers of the customs service, as well as the Federal Government’s efforts at food security.
“RIPAN is shocked and disappointed by that directive as it counteracts the resolve of the Nigerian government and its citizens to grow our local capacity in the rice sub-sector, to achieve food security.
“Over the past years, the NCS has been blamed for the persistent smuggling of food items, especially rice.
“This directive is tacit support for smuggling and it leaves much to be desired. It also paints a picture of insensitivity to the plight of the Nigerian investor,’’ he said.
Ekwelem reiterated that RIPAN and other stakeholders in the rice value chain had made trillions of naira investments in the sector, and created millions of jobs, which were now being threatened by the senate’s intervention.
He urged the Nigerian legislature to encourage such investments and job creation initiatives, rather than frustrate the efforts.
“Since 2015, The Federal Government, through its various agencies, like the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Agriculture Ministry, has expended huge sums of money trying to grow local capacity in the rice sub-sector.
“Now that smugglers are being protected, encouraged and emboldened, these efforts are at dire risk,’’ he said.
The director-general said that smuggling had been the major challenge confronting both governments’ investments as well as private sector effort in the rice sub-sector.
He added that the senate’s directive was capable of sending shockwaves that could result in the collapse of the sector.
He gave assurance that the association would take steps, and also collaborate with rice farmers to ensure that Nigerian rice was more affordable to ordinary Nigerians.