FG to ban rice importation next 2 years

Federal government Wednesday said it has plans to stop the importation of rice in the next two years, however stating that the policy would not be enforced until it has developed local industries to produce maximally for local consumption.

The plan was communicated to State House Correspondents by Zamfara State Governor and Chairman of Nigerian Governors Forum, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari after a joint meeting with the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, the Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele and permanent secretaries of federal ministries at the presidential villa, Abuja.

Yari stated that with the emerging political will power of the present government and the availability of arable land, Nigeria can sustain itself with rice production.

He regretted that so much money had gone into rice importation which he said could be produced locally.

“The meeting was on the new policy on agriculture and food sustainability. We discussed how we can boost rice production in Nigeria and start thinking about how we are going to put policy in place on how rice importation will be banned in the country.

“We have the potential. We have the human resources. We have the arable land to grow rice. In the next two years, we will not need to bring rice from outside Nigeria. We are going to ban it.

“It is only in Nigeria, a country of millions of people, that there is no food security. We discussed the policy with the relevant permanent secretaries and CBN governor.

“The policy is going to be in place and we gave our commitment that we are ready to support the government policy in ensuring that Nigeria becomes self-sufficient in food production in the next two years.

“Nigeria is currently a major importer of rice. Now, the political will is in place to stop it. We in about nine states are going to be seriously engaged in massive rice production.

“We are hoping that in the next two years, rice importation into Nigeria will be banned. We are committed and the political will is in place”, Governir Yari said.

Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria spends a daunting N1 billion a year on rice imports, Former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and confirmed, earning its place as the second highest importer of rice in the world.

“By the time you go to sleep tonight, we would have spent one billion naira buying rice, importing rice. Don’t we have rice on this land?!” the minister, Dr. Akinwumi Adeshina demanded.

“This kind of expenditure pattern cannot be sustained by Nigerian,” the minister said adding that “we are eating beyond our means” and continuing in that manner will not empower job creation in the country.

He made the revelation in Minna, the Niger State Capital, during a ministerial retreat for the Ministry of Agriculture.

While the grain is widely consumed by many homes in the oil-rich country, about 80 per cent of the consumed product is not produced locally.

HOW WAS THIS HANDLED IN THE PAST?

In his presentation of the 2012 budget to the joint session of the National Assembly earlier this month, President Goodluck Jonathan revealed that his administration will be taking some strong measures to curb the importation of rice and other grain in an effort to kick start the nation’s sleeping agricultural department.

However, this did not seem to yield the desired result . Not because the principle of the policy wasn’t sound, but the government’s political will was called into question. The government seemed to self sabotage. Take this case from May this year as published by Daily Trust…

The Stallion Group, which is owned by the controversial businessmen Vaswani Brothers, have been fighting since late last year to evade paying N17 billion in import duty slapped on them by the Nigeria Customs Service [NCS] for exceeding their 2014 rice import quota.

Former Minister of State for Finance Ambassador Bashir Yuguda conveyed Jonathan’s approval of the new 2015 quotas to NCS in a dated May 28, 2015. Yuguda said the approval “was based on the recommendation of the inter-ministerial committee set up to review the policy.” The inter-ministerial committee itself was hastily set up by former Vice President Mohammed Namadi Sambo in mid-May following strong lobby by the Vaswanis to evade payment of the higher duty rate slapped on them by the Customs for exceeding their rice import quota under the dual tariff regime.

The committee met under Sambo’s chairmanship on May 14. Those who attended included then Finance Minister Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, then Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment Olusegun Aganga, then Minister of National Planning Dr. Abubakar Sulaiman, Bureau for Public Enterprises’ director general Benjamin Dikki and permanent secretary in the Agriculture Ministry Arch. S. T. Echono. Within a matter of days this committee adopted a new “national rice supply gap” of 782,000 metric tonnes. It then proceeded to allocate new quotas to 16 “existing millers with expanding operations” and four “new investors” in rice milling. The former group included Mascot Agro, a new company said to have been hurriedly registered by Stallion Group as a new rice importer since their main company Popular Foods was already enmeshed in a struggle with the Customs. NCS even shut the company’s warehouses over non-payment of the excess duty but were ordered by the presidency to reopen them pending the resolution of the case. Mascot Agro got a new quota of 100,000 tonnes under the preferential tariff regime.

The new, hurriedly done 2015 quota allocations were conveyed by then Vice President Sambo to Jonathan in a letter dated May 26, this year. Jonathan approved it the next day and his approval was conveyed to Sambo in a letter dated May 27, 2015. It was signed by Matt Aikhionbare, Senior Special Assistant to the President, Admin. Sambo then sent it to Yuguda who ordered the Customs Service to comply in a letter dated May 28, the administration’s last full day in office.

With this last minute “parting gift”, an authoritative National Assembly source told Daily Trust that Stallion Group will now use the additional quotas granted to Mascot Agro to evade payment of billions of naira in Customs duty even though the imports were illegally made in the first place. The source also said this massive import by Stallion Group far above its quota has already created a glut of parboiled rice in the local market and has totally defeated the aims of the National Rice Development Policy which is to encourage the import of husky brown rice that requires local milling.

The source said the relevant National Assembly committee will draw President Muhammadu Buhari’s attention to the hurriedly done quotas which merely helped Stallion Group to dodge paying duties.

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