The minister of agriculture and rural development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, recently announced the intention of the federal government to shut down the land border between Nigeria and a neigbouring country to stop the smuggling of foreign rice into the country.
Although the minister did not mention the particular country and border, he said that shutting the borders had become necessary to encourage local production and sustain the nation’s economy. According to him, a neighbouring country was bent on destroying the economy of the country and discouraging local production of rice, hence the need to close the border.
Massive smuggling of rice, a staple in the country, especially at a time when domestic production of the crop is increasing, has been highly criticised by many.
The attraction to this menace seems to be that Nigerians spend a fortune on rice consumption annually. According to available statistics, in 2015, Nigerians spent not less than N1billion daily on rice consumption.
It is our considered opinion that the government needs to do all within its powers to stop the activities of smugglers considering the magnitude of the losses they are inflicting on the nation’s economy.
Quoting a World Bank report, the minister disclosed that Nigeria loses about $5billion to smuggling every year. Also quoting the same World Bank report, the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff stated that the country loses about N1.45trillion annually to the activities of smugglers through the Seme border.
The devastating effects of this on the nation’s economy can only be imagined.
The customs and immigration officers have been fighting the menace through roadblocks and patrol efforts, yet smuggling has been a thriving illegal business in the country. It is a business run by a well-connected and wealthy cartel that seems to be untouchable. Smuggling thousands of tonnes of rice requires sufficient funds that cannot be provided by commoners.
Another reason that encourages smuggling in Nigeria is the absence of deterrence and the huge market for smuggled goods. It is sad that many of the smuggled products are cheaper because perpetrators do not have to pay duties and other charges.
To deal with this scourge, the security approach requires that the relevant security agencies conduct a full enquiry to identify the financiers of the business in Nigeria and bring them to justice. Fighting smuggling requires a systematic approach along with the necessary political will. The time to arrest this menace is now before it crushes our economy.
Checking the menace of smuggling has become imperative in view of the current rice revolution in many states across the country and the strategic interventions which some federal government agencies had initiated.
If adequate measures are not taken to stop the smugglers, their activities would ultimately undermine the gains anticipated in the expected bumper rice harvests in the country, through creating a glut of the product. Although rice importation through the land borders was banned since April 2016, rice smugglers are still engaged in the unwholesome act.
According to experts, smuggling hurts the economy in a number of ways. It is an act of tax evasion through which the government is deprived of the much-needed revenue to provide social services and undertake development projects especially for an economy that is vulnerable to external revenue shocks.
Smuggled goods distort market prices since they are often cheaper than the ones supplied to markets through legal routes, thereby exposing genuine traders to unfair competition. As a corollary, it undermines the local industry not least because smuggling under-cuts prices of goods manufactured in Nigeria, thus crowding out the market for local products. The undesirable outcome is the collapse of local industries accompanied by loss of jobs and high rate of unemployment. There is equally the low productivity associated with health and safety hazards on the part of consumers who patronise substandard, expired and fake products.
As a newspaper we believe it is high time the government rose up to the challenge of putting in place effective measures for the patrol of the nation’s borders to deal decisively with this menace.
Nigeria also needs to take definite, radical measures against neighbouring countries aiding and abetting this illegality, including economic sanctions.