The Senate Committee on Industry has said it would mobilise action aimed at checkmating the smugglers of rice in the country.
The Senate, which made the promise while receiving members of the Rice Millers, Processors Association of Nigeria (RiMIDAN) in Abuja recently, frowned at a situation whereby genuine millers would be making huge investments in the economy, generating employment and supporting the country's economic growth only for the smugglers to jeopardise it.
Senate President, David Mark, said RiMIDAN actually deserves the support of the relevant agencies of the Federal Government in its efforts to ensure food availability and that one way of doing this is to stop the smugglers who are spoiling business for the genuine millers.
Their action, he said, is also harming the policies of the federal government as it regards food availability and job creation.
He said the Senate would, as part of its contributions and in the carriage of its functions, collaborate with relevant agencies of government to ensure that the smugglers are stopped from ruining the rice business and by extension the economy.
The Senate's promise is coming amidst increasing concerns by the RiMIDAN over the activities of the smugglers.
The association said at a recent media briefing that its members offers direct employment to no less than 4 million people nationwide, in addition to value addition to the economy.
RiMIDAN also contributes up to 84 per cent of the 1.8 million metric tonnes of rice produced in the country, with its members' investments in plants, machinery and equipment as at mid 2012 reaching over N200 billion, but all these are now under threat.
Citing the result of independent investigations at the borders, it says an estimated 30,000 metric tonnes of rice is smuggled every month into country and when calculated, these would amount to about N1.7 billion in lost revenue.
Investigations show that the smugglers have been capitalising on porous Nigerian borders to flood the country with rice, while the genuine importers are paying as much as 50 per cent duty.
The chairman of the association, Mr. Tunji Owoeye, said though they had complained repeatedly in the past, but the problem had persisted. He said government statistics show that yearly consumption or rice in the country is about 5.5 million tonnes of which local production is about 1.8 million tonnes, thus necessitating importation to bridge the shortfall.
"Unfortunately", he added, "50 per cent of these imports are smuggled into the country. This is why the nation cringes under the effect of any negative or adverse development that affects the agricultural sector".
According to him, the total loss of revenue to the unwholesome activity for the period commencing January to date is over N32 billion.
He added: "The truth is that the unscrupulous elements behind this unwholesome business are not only unrelenting, but are daily intensifying and refining their activities, thereby undermining government's policies and programmes directed at boosting local food production. It is disheartening to note that these persons connive with some bad elements in our security services to perpetuate their illicit acts. As an association and also as stakeholders in the Nigerian economy, this is of great concern to us".
While acknowledging the federal government for its initiatives in boosting agriculture, which has also encouraged a lot of genuine investors to pump money into the sector, he however expressed the association's worry that much of such investments appear threatened by the activities of the smugglers.
He said what the smugglers are capitalising on is the porous land borders especially the flank linking the country with Benin Republic, adding that RIMIDAN was ready to partner the Federal Government to ensure that the availability of rice at reasonable prices in the country.
"This will receive a big boost once the borders are effectively policed. It would be a big incentive for us as local farmers to produce more, and subsequently meet the local demand for rice. Our call is for the Federal government to strengthen its mechanism for policing the land borders especially the Seme Border flank as well as other related areas where much of these acts are being perpetrated".