By Suzzy Tolofari
The Comptroller-General of Customs, retired Col. Hameed Ali, says the service has lost 70 officers to smugglers this year.
Ali said this when members of Rice Millers Association of Nigeria visited on Wednesday in Abuja.
He said the biggest problem Nigeria Customs Service had was the issue of smuggling.
According to him, rice smuggling is counterproductive to health, adding that the life span of rice is two years.
He said most of the smugglers re-bagged the rice and changed their life span to three to five years.
“The borders are porous and they are long.
“All the smugglers and rice millers are targeting December, and I can assure you that we have alerted all our men and also working with police, military and para-military to make sure that smuggling is reduced to the barest minimum.
“All we need from you is information, because it is key to what we do; we cannot achieve much without correct information.
“You (Millers) have said that you have identified some routes; all we need is the correct information about this route to track these smugglers,’’Ali said.
“I was in Benin Republic few months back to speak with Benin customs and identify areas of collaboration and see what can be done to make sure that the trade between us does not jeopardise Nigeria’s economy.
“ The Benin economy is dependent on Nigeria and the only thriving business there is the port.
Ali urged rice millers to work effectively with customs to complement the area of information.
“Customs will deploy every possible means to fight because most of these smugglers are highly technically organised.
“Some are within us; some part of us because some of them have dual dealings; they work as farmers and at the same time smuggled rice; we are narrowing down on this people and surely the law will take its course.
He said the issue of buying off farm produce before they were harvested should be stopped.
“We know that our farmers are looking for money, so immediately someone offers good money they sell but there is danger to it.
Ali urged the millers to create awareness, educate farmers on the right channel of getting their commodities sold to the right millers.
“At your own level, you can create an association that will link up with these farmers so that they know the genuine industrialists who are going to buy these products from them.
“This will help stop people from coming to buy these products before they are being harvested. If this is done, it will encourage farmers and will be providing this great nation the opportunity to grow our industry.’’
According to him, customs has increased the tempo of raiding not only to warehouses but also to market with regard to rice.
He said that recently some warehouses were sealed in Ibadan, adding that machines used to re-bag rice were also seized.
Ali asked millers to advertise their products and carry out aggressive marketing to help boost production.
The Chairman of the association, Alhaji Ibrahim Abubakar, said with the efforts of the current administration, rice production in the country had doubled.
He said more than 25 major farmers were into rice production.
Abubarkar said the aim of the visit was to discuss issues of rice smuggling and provide strategic ways to solve the problem.
He commended the efforts of customs in reducing rice smuggling, adding that what the millers had achieved within his era was something that had never been recorded in the last 10 years.
According to him, Nigeria is heading towards self-sufficiency in rice, adding that in the next three years the issue of rice insufficiency will be history.
“One of the things we need to do as millers is to alert the customs on our experiences as regard to rice smuggling.
“This rice is not coming into the country from one angle; but from almost all our borders in the north, especially from Daura in Kastina, Jigawa, Ilorin, Ibadan and from the creeks in the south-south.
“This is affecting not only us but the whole rice value chain,’’Abubakar said.