By Lawal Dahiru
In an effort to tackle contraband foodstuff and spur domestic agricultural industry, the Nigerian Government may have gone tough on import restrictions, yet, massive smuggling of foreign rice still remains a thriving and booming trade in Nigeria, investigations by Economic Confidential have revealed.
According to exclusive intel obtained, about 10 Vessels of not less than an estimated 142,488 metric tons of rice from India and Thailand are currently headed to Benin and are expected to arrive not later than January 31st 2021, after which most of the goods will find their way through various smuggling routes into Nigeria.
The market for these goods, mostly across the North are numerous.
At Kano’s Singa Market, Ado Bayero road, a popular market that deals in selling food items tons of locally produced and processed rice such as Mafa, Tiamin, Optimum, Majestic among others are immediately visible in 25 – 50kg sizes, but behind this display are warehouses containing foodstuff and essential commodities most of which are mostly smuggled foreign rice sometimes packaged in bags that portrays them as homegrown.
After the majority of the rice dealers claimed there was no foreign rice at all in the market, it didn’t take Economic Confidential too long to stumble on a middleman who was ready to deal especially at the prospect of selling 50bags of foreign rice.
“What! This is huge, even the boss that will supply you will first open his eyes when he hears the quantity you need. We can’t sheep it all at once but gradually in tens.” Bashiru explained.
In a bid to ascertain the level of availability of these rice at various levels, Economic Confidential visited various food shops across the Metropolis and can confirm that most of these rice are readily available on demand.
A Middleman in the rice dealing business who simply identified himself as ‘Prime Minister’ told Economic Confidential that local rice are much more available as foriegn rice in the market these days but reopening the border may affect this balance.
While identifying largest producers of rice is the state to include Tudun wada, Kura and Gezawa, he noted that, “The price of rice has changed over the week as a result of reopening of borders (as goods tend to be cheaper when there is international trade) and reduction in the value of our currency.
On October 14, 2019 Nigeria ordered full closure of all its borders with Benin, as well as those with all other countries, in order to restrict the market for smuggled goods and allow imports into the country to come through seaports, where customs duties can be imposed more easily than at land borders.
On 16th December 2020 president Muhammadu Buhari directed the opening of the land border at Seme, Illela, Maigatari, and Mfun.
Presidential spokesperson Garba Shehu said that the ‘message had sunk in’ to neighbouring countries used as a base for smuggling into Nigeria.
According to Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed, President Muhammadu Buhari’s instructions on “the ban on importation of rice, poultry and other products still subsists and will be implemented by border patrol teams.”
However, findings by Economic Confidential revealed that with or without the subsisting ban, illegal rice trade booms.
Smugglers bringing in rice from Benin appeared to be making a killing. The biggest contraband route was between Cotonou, Benin’s biggest city, and Nigeria’s commercial hub Lagos, which is just a few hours’ drive away, however other routes across the North are notorious for the game.
For example, smuggled rice find its way through the Kongolam Border in Daura Axis of Katsina State through Daura, Down to Kwanar Sandamu, Fargo, Achilafia, Dambatta, Kazaure, Kwanar Dumawa before making it’s way to Kano after evading a check point.
Another connecting route to Achilafia which links to Kano is through the Koza axis through Kwasarowa and Kalgo linking to Daura/Zango Road down to Tasher Dabo and Katsayal.
Also, from the Mai’Adua axis of Katsina State, smuggled contraband will run through Dogon Hawa, Shargalle, Dutsi, Yandoma, Gidan Mutum Daya before finally landing in Kano.
In an interview with a rice farmer, Ibrahim Nasir, in Kura when asked effect of the impact of closing the border and now reopening, he had the following to say:
“Closing the border is a thing of joy for us because job opportunities came for the people of this community. A lot of hooligans or idle youths became engaged in one activity or the other within the rice value chain. Also, on the same note businessmen from the southern part of the country purchase rice in large quantity from us as a result of the border closure.”
He said the reopening of the borders has reduced patronage of local rice by traders from Southern Nigeria.
The insatiable demand for rice:
Nigeria is only allowing in foreign rice through its ports – where since 2013 it has imposed a tax of 70%. The move is intended not only to raise revenue but also to encourage the local production of rice.
But smugglers have been taking advantage of the fact that it is cheaper to import rice to Nigeria’s neighbours. According to the Nigerian maritime site Ships and Ports , in 2014 Benin lowered its tariffs on rice imports from 35% to 7% while Cameroon erased it completely from 10%.
Neighbouring Benin then recorded an astronomical rise in imports from Thailand, the world’s second-largest producer.
At its height, each of Benin’s 11.5 million citizens would have had to consume at least 150kg (330lb) of rice from Thailand alone.
So it seems pretty clear that the rice was making its way into Nigeria to meet the shortfall in local production for a country of almost 200 million people.
And Nigerians’ appetite for rice is almost insatiable in a country where the grain is a staple.