Okechukwu Nnodim and Sami Olatunji
The Nigeria Customs Service seized a total of N3.02bn worth of smuggled rice between May 2022 and May 2023, findings by The PUNCH, on Tuesday, showed.
Data obtained from the service through its National Public Relations Officer, who is a Chief Superintendent of Customs, Abdullahi Maiwada, indicated that a total of 206,835 bags of rice were seized within the period under review.
This came as rice farmers decried the incessant cases of smuggling of the commodity, as they urged the NCS and the Federal Government to step up the fight against smugglers.
Data from the NCS showed that a total of 1,745 seizures were made by service during the 13-month review period.
The PUNCH also learnt that the import duty on these seizures was N1.7bn, while the Duty-Paid Value was N4.74bn.
It was observed that the most seizures were done in June 2022, with about 266 seizures of 13,775 bags of smuggled rice worth N260.54m.
However, the highest number of seized bags was recorded in September 2022, with 118 seizures of 96,312 bags of rice worth N295.88m.
Also, the highest value of seizures was N420.84m recorded in February 2023, which comprised 172 seizures of 12,239 bags.
The PUNCH also learnt that 344 suspected smugglers were arrested, comprising 291 suspects arrested between January and December 2022 and 53 arrested between January and May 2023.
Reacting to the development, Maiwada said, “We have our data and there is no country in the world that has stopped the activities of smugglers or smuggling 100 per cent. We also know how vast and porous the border lines are, and we know the number of human resources we have, even though more are coming.
“Some are currently undergoing training and will be coming in the next few months. We also have facilities that are coming in. So we are doing everything possible to make sure that we curtail smuggling to the barest minimum.
“We are supporting what we are telling you now with data. This is the number we have seized, the quantity, value, duty and the duty-paid value as seen in the last column. We have the number of seizures of rice recorded in each month, the number of bags seized, which will be 50kg, we have the value and others, in the last one year.”
Customs must be proactive, says AFAN
The President, All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Kabir Ibrahim, said the NCS must be proactive in manning Nigeria’s borders, stressing that the activities of rice smugglers had been affecting local production adversely.
“The smuggling of rice into Nigeria is counter-productive to indigenous production and this is not good for Nigerian farmers. Our institutions at the borders must rise up to the occasion.
“The Nigeria Customs Service must be proactive. It must step up its game in managing Nigeria’s borders. We know they’ve been making seizures and arrests, but they must step this up.
“Can you smuggle such items easily into these neighbouring countries? We are losing money due to these activities and it must be checked. The amount lost as a result of rice smuggling into Nigeria is enormous, I can’t put a figure to it now, but it is huge,” he stated.
4.6 million farmers
The communiqué from the Monetary Policy Committee meeting in March 2023, stated that about N12.64bn was released under the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme between January and February 2023, bringing the total disbursement to N1.09tn covering over 4.6 million farmers.
It read in part, “The committee reviewed the performance of the bank’s various interventions aimed at stimulating production and productivity across the real sector. Between January and February 2023, the bank disbursed N12.65bn to three agricultural projects under the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme.
“This brings the cumulative disbursement under the programme to N1.09tn to over 4.6 million smallholder farmers cultivating or rearing 21 agricultural commodities on an approved 6.02 million hectares of farmland across the country.”
In March this year, the International Monetary Fund disclosed that only 24 per cent of loans disbursed under the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme of the Central Bank of Nigeria had been repaid.
This disclosure was contained in the IMF’s Selected Issues paper on Nigeria, which was prepared by a staff team of the fund as background documentation for the periodic consultation with the country.
It was noted that the document was based on the information available as of the time it was completed on January 12, 2023.
According to the IMF, agricultural credit in the country had not significantly boosted production even though there was the challenge of targeting the right recipients for the credit.
It stated, “The weak effect of agricultural credit on production growth could be associated with difficulties in targeting the correct recipients.”
The IMF noted that though the CBN allowed farmers to pay in kind or cash under the ABP, repayments had been very low.
The document read, “For the Anchor Borrowing Programme, repayment is also low at 24 per cent, especially since repayment can be made in kind, thereby limiting the tenor of the loans to one year.
“Part of the problem is that the incentive structure for repayment is weak, the recipient loans are not always well targeted and occasionally the funding is used for other purchases (e.g., new agricultural input trading companies to elicit trading rents).”
It was also noted that the Anchor Borrowers Programme, established in 2016, initially set aside N40bn to support farmers by offering single-digit interest rate loans.
The CBN, however, faulted the IMF’s claim, saying that N503bn representing 52.39 per cent had been repaid by farmers under the ABP as of February 2023.
This was made known by the Director, Corporate Communications Department, AbdulMumin Isa, in a statement responding to the IMF report.
He also said the apex bank remained committed to its developmental mandate of stimulating access to finance for the real sector, adding that the ABP had supported about 4.57 million smallholder farmers who cultivated over 6.02 million hectares of 21 commodities across the country.
Some of the commodities, according to Isa, include rice, wheat, cowpea, millet, maize, cotton, fish, soya bean, poultry, cassava, groundnut, ginger, sorghum, oil palm, cocoa, sesame, tomato, castor seed, yellow pepper, onions, and cattle/dairy.
Last year, the CBN said it would deploy the Global Standing Instruction against loan defaulters under the Anchor Borrower Programme.
The GSI is a policy that allows banks to debit the accounts of loan holders in their banks to settle defaults.
A CBN Senior Manager, Development Finance Office, Port-Harcourt, Celsus Agla, had said this during a strategic meeting with maize farmers and stakeholders from the South-South and South-East geopolitical zone in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State.
Agla said the method of getting the loans would compel farmers who had accessed loans under the programme to invalidate their indebtedness to the bank after repeated appeals to them appeared to have fallen on deaf ears.
However, the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, in December 2022, said most beneficiaries of the billions of naira released by the CBN under its Anchor Borrowers’ Programme were not Nigerian farmers.
Although the CBN kicked against this claim, AFAN argued that the apex bank was finding it tough to recover the loans because the funds were disbursed to individuals who were not into farming and not captured in the database of the association.
The National Secretary, AFAN, Yunusa Yabwa, said, “Our members have benefitted from the programme, but most people who benefited from the ABP are not Nigerian farmers. I must confess that to you.
“That is why you see today that the CBN, NIRSAL, commercial banks, who were the channels for the distribution of this fund, are complaining that these beneficiaries are not repaying the loans.”