Abuja — In a move to protect local production, the federal government has directed the closure of the nation's land border over incessant smuggling of foreign rice into Nigeria.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, told participants at a youth leadership clinic, organised by the Guardians of the Nations International (GOTNI) in Abuja, Monday that the decision to shut the border was to consolidate on the gains by government, which had reduced rice importation from South East Asia by more than 95 per cent in the past two years, and had seen the number of local rice farmers grow from five million to 30 million.
Although, Ogbeh did not specifically mention the border areas to be closed, his reference to the western frontiers of the country in the West African region, clearly indicated he might be referring to the Republic of Benin.
The minister bemoaned the attitude of the neighbouring country, which he said was adversely affecting Nigeria's economy in spite of the strong ties between both countries, adding that the border would be shut in a matter of days.
Ogbeh said the federal government would not fold its arms and watch as the upscale in rice cultivation in Kebbi, Kano, Anambra, Ebonyi, Nasarawa, Jigawa and Kogi through the CBN's Anchor Borrower Programme is allowed to be sabotaged by smuggling.
He said: "Smuggling is our problem. As we speak, a neighbour of ours is importing more rice than China is importing. They do not eat parboiled rice, they eat white rice, they use their ports to try and damage our economy.
"I am telling you now because in a few days, you will hear the border has been shut, we are going to shut it to protect you, us and protect our economy. You will start seeing all sorts of negative things on the internet. Let me tell you why we need to shut the border, I grow rice, I was the first Nigerian to mill rice free of stones, if you plant rice in certain parcels of land, some poisonous materials gets into the rice.
"There are three kinds of water in their natural state; there is fresh water from the river, salt water from the sea, blackish water. If you go to the Delta in many countries, in South East Asia where they grow the rice, if you plant rice in the same place like four to six years continuously, the quantum of arsenic begins to increase and arsenic causes cancer and that is what they are dumping for us.
"Some people say they prefer Thai rice because they are very sophisticated, welcome to poison. We just have to handwork you to prosperity otherwise, this country will not grow. My wish for you is to have a better time than we had."
GOTNI is a non-profit youth organisation with a passion to nurture young people under the age of 40 into leadership position.
The President of GOTNI, Dr. Linus Okorie, said the leadership clinic was organised to expose young people to practical leadership principle for life success.