Abuja — The federal government has adopted certain strict measures to check against smuggling of rice into the country.
Minister of Agriculture Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, who gave the hint yesterday, said the federal government is seeking ways to ensure that the Memorandum of Understanding (M0U) Nigeria signed with its neighbouring countries to check smuggling is implemented.
Speaking shortly after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, Ogbeh said the federal government has read the riot act to smugglers, saying it will no longer tolerate their activities.
He said, "The other issue was the question of smuggling. In Mr. President's speech to the National Assembly yesterday, he gave very strong warning about smugglers who bring in unauthorised commodities through the unauthorised borders into the country.
"We have to deal with that because, while we are making a great deal of progress in our grains productions, smugglers are busy compromising the success we have achieved.
"Between September 2015 and now, rice importation through the ports has dropped from 644,131 tones to 20,000 tonnes in September this year. This means that by the early part of next year, we can literally say that we are close to total self-sufficiency in rice.
"On the other hand, to the West of Nigeria, rice importation has increased to 1.33m tones at the Republic of Benin. They don't eat parboiled rice but the white rice. So, every grain of rice landing there is heading for Nigeria through illegal smuggling.
"Some of it also comes in through Niger Republic. These are issues we have to deal with because we are creating jobs through our local rice production. There are 12.2 million rice farmers in the country now.
Asked on specific actions the government is taking to tackle smuggling, the minister recalled that there was MoU between Nigeria and Republic of Benin entered into when former President Obasanjo was in office.
He noted that the two countries will work together in ensuring that each other's interest is not compromised.
According to him, while the MoU has not been implemented fully, federal government is going to take it up.
Ogbeh added that already, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has been working with the committee which he heads and he is working with the Minister of Finance, Comptroller General of Customs and the ministry of Agriculture.
He also disclosed that FEC has given approval for the development of foundation seeds for maize to the Institute of Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria.
He pointed out that one of the challenges is that because Nigeria does not have the right variety of seeds, the yield per hector is very poor, even as he noted that the country has the lowest in the world.
"So, that research is going on and the fund is N155 million for 30 tonnes of foundation to multiply to 230 tonnes of improved seeds which will be given to seed companies to multiply", he added.
The minister also gave reasons why Nigeria is yet to achieve self-sufficiency in rice and why the price of rice has not crashed as earlier projected.
He explained: "I was in the largest mill in the country in Kano two days ago. They were selling rice for N15,000 per 50kg. You know your country very well; there are middlemen who do all kinds of things and I told the millers to increase the number of their distributors because there is no point saying it is N15,000 in their factory when out there, somebody is hoarding.
"The same thing happened to maize. Some people filled their warehouses with maize and shut the place so that the prices were so high that poultry farmers could not get access to maize in the market. So, people went to import, crash the prices and they started complaining. There is nowhere rice is selling for N20,000.
Also, the federal government has approved the sum of N5 billion naira for the third quarter soil control acceleration for the different geopolitical zones in the country.
This was disclosed by the special adviser media to the president on media and publicity, Femi Adesina, after the Federal Executive Council meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa.
He was joined at the briefing by the Minister of agriculture, Audu Ogbeh and Minister of State, Aviation, Hadi Sirika.
Adesina said, "Let me start by saying that the third quarter soil controlled acceleration has been approved for the different geopolitical places in the country. This will be in Kano, Sokoto South local government, Ondo, Osun, Enugu and Bayelsa States. The total for the Soil Erosion Controlled accelerated project is N5.567, 314,541.76 only.
In his briefing, Sirika said as part of efforts to connect every Nigerian engaged in trade and commerce to business, FEC approved bilateral air services agreements between Nigeria and the State of Canada.
He said this would open businesses, connect culture, trade and commerce between Canada and Nigeria.