The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has reacted to the recent directive by the Senate that the service should return the rice it seized and carted away at the Bodija and Oja Oba markets in Ibadan to their owners.
Recall that the Senate Committee on Ethics and Public Petitions had mandated the NCS to ensure that the seized goods and money were returned to the affected traders within two weeks and their shops unlocked.
Members of the Senate committee had expressed reservations that the action of the Customs was a breach of the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) and the Executive Order signed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2007, which empowers the agency to only impound smuggled goods within a 40 kilometer radius to the border.
However, reacting to the directives, the Customs National Public Relations Officer, Deputy Comptroller Joseph Attah, told our correspondent that the seized rice will only be returned to the owners if they is evidence that they are not foreign rice.
He said, “There is no such directive, we went to the Senate yesterday, and it was agreed that if the owners of the rice can bring their receipt and once it is proven to be Nigeria rice, it should be released to them, we’ve had similar situation in Ilorin and those who have their receipt got their rice, but as at the time I am talking to you now, we have not seen anyone come forward to produce their receipt, there is no Senator that will say smuggled items should be release”.
Meanwhile the Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN) has opposed the directives given by a Senate Committee to Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to return the seized rice to the traders in Ibadan.
RIFAN Director-General, Mr Andy Ekwelem, expressed the association’s opposition to the directive at a news conference in Abuja.
Ekwelem said that the directive by the Senate committee would embolden smugglers, while serving as a disincentive to officers of the customs service, as well as the Federal Government’s efforts at food security.
“RIPAN is shocked and disappointed by that directive as it counteracts the resolve of the Nigerian government and its citizens to grow our local capacity in the rice sub-sector, to achieve food security.
“Over the past years, the NCS has been blamed for the persistent smuggling of food items, especially rice.
“This directive is tacit support for smuggling and it leaves much to be desired. It also paints a picture of insensitivity to the plight of the Nigerian investor,’’ he said.
Ekwelem reiterated that RIPAN and other stakeholders in the rice value chain had made trillions of naira investments in the sector, and created millions of jobs, which were now being threatened by the senate’s intervention.
He urged the Nigerian legislature to encourage such investments and job creation initiatives, rather than frustrate the efforts.
“Since 2015, The Federal Government, through its various agencies, like the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Agriculture Ministry, has expended huge sums of money trying to grow local capacity in the rice sub-sector.
“Now that smugglers are being protected, encouraged and emboldened, these efforts are at dire risk,’’ he said.
The director-general said that smuggling had been the major challenge confronting both governments’ investments as well as private sector effort in the rice sub-sector.
He added that the senate’s directive was capable of sending shockwaves that could result in the collapse of the sector.
He gave assurance that the association would take steps, and also collaborates with rice farmers to ensure that Nigerian rice was more affordable to ordinary Nigerians.