Recent directive by the Senate to the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to return to their owners seized consignments of foreign rice smuggled into the country constitutes a tacit support by the lawmakers of smugglers undermining the effort to develop local rice sector, the Rice Processors Association of Nigeria(RIPAN) has said.
The consignments of the smuggled commodity, the group said on Thursday, were stored in various warehouses in Ibadan and other parts of the country.
But, the Director-General of RIPAN, Andy Ekwelem who spoke to newsmen in Abuja said members of the group were shocked to learn about the order by the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions on May 4, 2020 to Customs to rescind its action and return the impouned consignments of rice to their owners.
“This ugly development is a gradual reversal of the gains recorded so far in combating the scourge of rice smuggling in the country, which the Federal Government has committed so much resources to achieve,” Ekwelem said.
At the hearing session by the committee over the matter, the Senate concluded that the Nigeria Custom Services erred by raiding the market in Ibadan and confiscated smuggled Rice packed in the various Shops.
But RIPAN, through its Director General, Andy Ekwelem, condemned the directive by the Senate.
“We were shocked and disappointed by the directive by the Senate. We wish to state unequivocally that the instruction given to the Nigeria Custom Service counteracts the resolve by both the Nigerian government and good people of this country to grow local capacity in the rice sector in order to be in control of the country’s food security,” Wkwelem said.
He noted that over the years the Nigerian Customs has always borne the blame over the growing incidence of smuggling of food items, especially rice into the country.
“This instruction by the Senate is nothing but a tacit support to smuggling and its perpetrators. It leaves much to be desired. Also, to a very large extent, it paints a picture of being insensitive to the plight of the Nigerian investors”, Ekwelem said.
He said members of RIPAN and indeed all actors in the entire Rice value chain remain patriotic individuals who hearken to the invitation by the Federal Government for private sector to invest in the rice processing sector in particular and the rice value chain in general.
All the investors that responded to the government invitation, he said, invested trillions of Naira and are currently providing millions of direct and indirect employments to the teeming Nigeria labour force.
“It is worrisome that the legislators whose responsibility it is to protect the investors are the ones unwittingly undoing the efforts.
“Today, RIPAN is shocked to learn that after the Nigeria Customs raid on some markets across the country, the Senate directed the Nigeria Customs to return impounded smuggled Rice to their owners.
The association expressed disappointment that now the Nigeria Custom Service is waking up to its duties and responsibilities creditably, by wielding the big stick against rice smugglers, they are being iantagonized and reprimanded by no other organ of government than the Nigerian Senate.
He said there was no greater disincentive for the investors in the Nigerian Economy than the directive by Senate.
“It is most disheartening, saddening and unfortunate that the hallow chamber of the National Assembly appears to give support, encouragement and protection to smugglers to continue to ruin the country’s economy.
By this instruction, Ekwelem said Nigerians should know the Senate was inadvertently demoralizing the officers and men of the Nigeria Custom Service, while at the same time emboldening the smugglers and other economic saboteurs to continue to wreck the country’s economy.
“The instruction/directives from the Senate to the Nigeria Customs Services portends dire consequences for both the Nigerian economy and her people, especially current and potential investors and youths.
“It is capable of sending shock waves that can lead to the collapse of the industry. When investors realise that their investments are not protected by adequate legislation, they will have no option than withdraw their funds from the economy”, he said