Sokoto — The consumers and producers of rice in Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara States have disagreed on the decision of the federal government to close all land borders in the country, citing its negative and positive impact.
The consumers claimed that the prices of rice had risen by 40.66 per cent, lamenting that the federal government took the decision without measures in place to cushion the effects of unprecedented increase in rice prices.
However, the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) faulted the claims of the consumers, insisting that the decision of the federal government would protect rice producers and boost rice production in the country.
They expressed divergent views about the impact of the border closure in separate interviews with THISDAY with the consumers claiming that the border closure had brought them under the burden of high food prices.
In August, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered closed Nigeria's land border with Benin, preventing the import of goods. The decision had significantly affected trade in foodstuffs, especially rice, which had already been affected by various past import restrictions.
On October 14, Buhari had ordered closed all of Nigeria's borders with Benin, as well as those with all other countries, for the same reasons. With the market for smuggled food now restricted, domestic food prices--already high--have gone up and the economy of neighboring Benin--a staging area for smuggling into Nigeria--has been devastated.
Buhari had defended the decision of the federal government to close the land borders nationwide, justifying it as parts of his administration's effort "to tackle smuggling and associated corruption, but also to spur the domestic agricultural industry.
However, in interviews with THISDAY at the weekend, the consumers berated the federal government for inflicting pain on them for hastily closing all the land borders with its neighbouring countries without putting measures in place to cushion the effects
One of the consumers, Alhaji Shehu Abdullahi, who spoke with THISDAY in Sokoto, said that the decision should have been taken in phase "to mitigate the cursory effect of price increase. As you can see the federal government acted in a hurry. And its decision is dictatorial."
A retailer of basic foodstuffs in Sokoto, Mr. Stephen Ademola lamented that some scrupulous element "have taken the advantage of the border closure by exorbitantly increased the price of staple food especially rice."
He added that the federal government should have put machineries in place such as taskforce to control the price of food commodities before taken the decision.
Ademola urged the federal government to set up a committee to regulate price of food commodities and that customs should stop intimidating those doing legitimate business along the border towns, saying trading "is their source of livelihood."
In different markets in three border councils in Sokoto, two in Zamfara and five in Katsina, THISDAY checks revealed that rice prices had risen from N12,000 or N13,000 in July to N17,000 or N18,000 in October.
THISDAY checks also showed that local rice, which cost N12,000 in August, had become more expensive with its prices ranging from N15,000 to N16,000, depending on the brand.
By implication, the prices of foreign rice have risen by 41.6 percent between August and October while that of local rice increased by average 25 percent in cases and 33.33 percent in other cases.
Some residents, who resident in border communities in Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara, claimed that the border closure "has crippled their businesses, thereby affecting their livelihood and means of survival."
Isa, Sabon Birnin, Illela, Tangaza and Gudu LGAs in Sokoto State, border Niger Republic; Shinkafi and Zurmi LGAs in Zamfara State as well as Daura and Jibia LGAs in Katsina State share border with Niger Republic.
The residents in these local government areas claimed that the operations of the customs service had caused disruption to their legitimate businesses over what they described as unfounded claims.
For Rice Farmers Association Of Nigeria (RIFAN), the border closure is a good omen for the country citing its potential to protect local rice producers, boost rice production and generate more jobs and revenues for the governments.
However, the Chairman of Sokoto RIFAN, Alhaji Salihu Ibrahim claimed that rice production in the country "is enough to meet the demand of consumers."
Apart from feeding over 200 million citizens, Ibrahim claimed that the border closure "will create employment for our teeming youths. For some years now, we the rice farmers have been yearning and aspired that government should stop importing rice.
"The arbitrary importation affects our productions. The price of local rice in the country before now is not viable. So, it discourages farmers," he said.
Besides appreciation of rice prices, Ibrahim claimed that the quality of rice produced in the country "is better than that of foreign. Our rice has no preservatives. Our rice is natural. It is hygienic without any implication for human health.
"Some of neighbouring countries have made Nigeria a dumping ground even products that have expired they ship it here for us to consume," he lamented.
Ibrahim, therefore, urged the people "to be patient as the association will collaborate with the federal government for high production that will reduce the price.
"What we want from government is farm inputs so that we will go into commercial production. When this is done, the market will determine the price not the producer again," Sokoto RIFAN's chairman said.
Ibrahim explained that those countries that used Nigeria as dumping ground violated ECOWAS trade agreement by collecting taxes on these commodities, but shipped these products freely into the country.
He stated that the border closure "has started yielding results as some local entrepreneurs have now set up an enterprises for the production of rice locally these create employment opportunities for our youths.
"There are some brands such as Bull, Naija rice and Lake, among others, which were not in the market before but now made to complement the foreign rice that was band he said."
In response to THISDAY inquiries at the weekend, the Nigeria Custom Service, Sokoto Area Command, claimed that it only prohibited influx of illegal commodities into the country through land borders.
The Public Relation Officer, Sokoto Area Command, noted that the customs service had no business with those doing legal business.
He maintained that though the revenue accrued to the command drop drastically but have no option than to obey order from the above.