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FG moves against rice waiver beneficiaries

In from Ali Smart …

The federal government has vowed to go after importers who enjoyed waivers to import rice but went ahead to exceed the quota granted them.

Speaking in Abuja Tuesday at a stakeholders’ meeting with officials of Paddy Rice Producing states and Rice Value Chain Investors, the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Mr. Godwin Emefiele said they have resolved “to go after rice importers who defaulted in the payment of customs duty after bringing in excess quotas of the product into the country at concessionary rates.”

This is even as the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has sealed up the warehouses and premises of four major rice importers for their alleged refusal to pay outstanding duty totaling N23 billion.

The affected defaulting importers are Stallion/Popular Foods/Masco Agro, the Olam Farms, the Ebony Agro and the Conti Agro (Milan).

The indictment of the four importers followed their alleged refusal to pay outstanding duty liability based on the 2014 rice quota for importers that exceeded the allocated quota as at June 23, 2015.

Emefiele said he would take the matter with President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure that the money is paid. According to Emefiele, “by exceeding their import quota, these rice importers have flooded the Nigerian market with rice that are sold below what is produced locally thus making consumers to ignore the locally produced ones.”

Emefiele appealed to erring rice importers to “go and pay, you are taking a big risk and don’t wait for the big stick to be wielded on you. Just go and pay.”

He assured the rice producers that the bank would work closely with the Nigerian Customs Service to address the issue of smuggling.

Earlier Emefiele had disclosed that $2.41 billion was spent by Nigeria to import rice into the country between January 2012 and May this year. To this end, he foreclosed on any reversal of the ban on forex for importation of certain items stressing that “those who are nursing the thought that the bank’s decision on forex ban for importation of rice, fish and other items would be reversed should forget such as the bank has no plans to do so.”

He lamented that the massive importation of rice “had resulted in huge unsold stock of paddy rice cultivated by our farmers and low operating capacities of many integrated rice mills in Nigeria.”

To support local production of rice, Emefiele said the CBN in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development have agreed to come up with a comprehensive financing model to support rice millers and other investors in the sector.

The need to intervene in the sector with the funding and other packages Emefiele said “was borne from the fact that the country can never achieve its true potentials by importing everything it can produce locally.”

To this end, the CBN, he said, would make funds available to rice farmers through some of its funding program such as the Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme and the N220 billion Micro Small and Medium Enterprises Development fund.

This fund he said “would be made available to the rice farmers through the Microfinance Banks at an interest rate of nine percent” but he urged farmers to report to the CBN any Microfinance bank that charges interests above the stipulated rate.

Read also: Senate seeks refund of GEJ’s N30bn waiver on rice

The CBN governor appealed to state governments “to provide lands for the farmers on a large scale and we will work with them to clear some of these impediments.

“We are at a stage where we must feed ourselves and all hands must be on deck to ensure this works.”

Meanwhile, Public Relations Officer (PRO), NCS Headquarters, Alhaji Adewale Adeniyi while giving an insight into the activities of the affected importers, disclosed that Olam was in default to the tune of N4, 998,125,665.86 as a result of having exceeded its authorised allotted rice import quota by 149, 469.51 metric tonnes.

On the other hand, the Stallion group was owing N17, 187, 245, 022.96 for importing in excess 529, 517. 33 metric tons beyond allotted quota; the Ebony Agro allegedly owed N328, 201,440 after exceeding allotted quota by 10,070 metric tons while the Conti Agro Milan owed N1,089,907,273.62, for exceeding import quota by 61,178.19 metric tons of rice.

The PRO said in addition to sealing the warehouses and premises of the affected importers to serve as a deterrence to others, the NCS would no longer allow them discharge their imports in any of the nation’s seaports.

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