AYO AJOGE and ADELOWO OLADIPO report on the rice situation in the country noting that several issues have to be resolved before Nigerians can truly say that they are deriving the best bargain and quality from the food they love so much.
WHEN it was announced in August that Nigerian borders were going to be closed to check smuggling of goods into the country, many people thought it was going to be a temporary measure. But after more than a month of the closure, the Federal Government announced that it was going to be a long term measure, thus denting any hope that rice smugglers might have been nursing about getting back to business soonest.
In fact, to show that security forces were serious about securing the nation’s borders, one Tasiu Muhammad, 22, a resident of Babura Local Government Area of Jigawa State and allegedly an informant of smugglers was reportedly shot dead a few days back at Unguwar Gawo, about five kilometres from Bubara town, the council’s headquarters.
As security forces maintained their foothold at the borders, rice, a major staple food loved by Nigerians of which a huge chunk normally comes into the country from borders with Republic of Benin was getting costlier every day. Even the prices of local variants, popular in states like Kebbi, Ekiti, Ogun and Ebonyi, are skyrocketing by the day.
According to Sunday Tribune investigations, several of the brands currently available in the market today are of poor quality, in spite of their higher costs.
Mr Isiaq Ademola, a rice seller, in an interview with Sunday Tribune confirmed that rice scarcity is real. According to him, unlike before, he sometimes pays to get fresh supplies which do not come until after two or three weeks.
“I can pay for two or three weeks sometimes and I won’t get my goods from my suppliers and when I decide to travel to get it myself it was often difficult to get. Since the government now wants to promote our local rice, they should also make it available for us. We have different brands of rice which used to go for N17,000, but because they are better than others, our suppliers increased the price to N20,000 making it difficult for our customers buy and we are not getting any foreign rice anymore,” he lamented.
Mrs Ronke Okunade, a food seller said she has never bought a bag of rice at the rate of N25,000, but that is the reality today. Even then, it is difficult to come by.
“Even if we are able to get some bags (foreign rice) police stop us and ask us to take them to where we got the rice and if we should do so they would impound the entire stock. The local rice is too soft; it is just like Tuwo and blackish. My customers don’t like it.
“When I discovered that I was losing customers gradually I had to get the expensive foreign rice so as to make sales but I was not able to cook the quantity I was cooking which was 10 measures, instead of the four I now cook which doesn’t get exhausted. I then thought of selling yam and beans with the rice; some people will get yam with beans worth N100 with one ponmo and drink two sachets of water and they are good to go for the day,” she lamented.
Alhaja Karimo Azeez, a wholesale foodstuffs dealer also complained bitterly about the rising cost of rice. According to her, local rice doesn’t look well polished like imported rice while the volume in a bag of local rice is not up to that of the imported rice. She attributed that to one of the reasons the local rice is costly today.
“I think the only way forward concerning the rice issue is that government should reduce the price. Producers should flood the market with enough supply and equip local farmers in order to keep them updated,” she said.
An undergraduate student and lover of rice, Toluwalase Olabode is of the opinion that the government had good intention for the country by stopping smuggling across the borders but it has led to increase in price which is counter-productive. He also complained that local rice is dirty and stony, so there is no reason for its rising cost.
“Another problem is that I feel people have grown too accustomed to foreign rice. While introducing the local rice government should consider everybody’s pocket and make it affordable,” he said.
Mercy Alawe, a graduate, believes government should have ensured that the country was self sufficient in rice production before shutting the borders.
“In this type of economy, closing the borders is not the right option because it is going to affect us. Before they thought of closing the borders they should have increased local rice production but our local rice is not healthy for us because of the stones in it which can cause appendicitis.
For instance I went shopping last week and on getting there, I found out that a measurement of rice was N700 while the local rice was N800. The most annoying thing is that one has to pick this rice because it is full of dirt which is not supposed to be. Before stopping importation of a commodity, there should be an alternative,” she lamented.
Sunday Tribune spoke with rice farmers in some rice producing states to air their views on the issue. Alhaji Idris Abini, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria chairman in Niger State, blamed unpatriotic Nigerians for the present crisis, saying they lack of faith in the ability of locally-produced commodities in the country to sell itself without being couched and packaged as foreign goods.
“For instance, some Nigerians would buy our locally produced rice in large quantity, take it to Cotonou in Republic of Benin and bag it in foreign bags. But presently, when your rice is taken to either the Republic of Benin or Niger Republic to be bagged and presented as foreign rice by some unscrupulous Nigerians and that rice is not allowed into the country now, what do you think would be the implication. Is it a plus or minus to us as a country?” he lamented.
Alhaji Abini also berated Nigerians who had invested so much into rice importation and would do all they could to bring in their imported rice even if they had to bribe Customs officers with huge amounts of money.
A survey carried out by Sunday Tribune at Birnin-Kebbi Central market, Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State including some top supermarkets in the city showed that rice is not as costly there like some other states. A bag of 50kg rice went for N15,000 as against N14,000 before the closure of land borders across the country.
Three major rice processing and milling companies – Labana Rice Limited, Wacott Rice Nigeria Limited. and Lolo Rice Limited control the rice market there. Local rice species goes for between N10,000 and N11,000 per bag of 80kg.
The state chairman of RIFAN, the body of rice farmers, who is also a rice farmer, Alhaji Muhammad Sahabi Augie also believes that the motive behind Federal Government’s decision to close land borders was genuine, adding that the closure will in no small way boost the morale of rice farmers in the country in the long run.
Alhaji Augie, however, condemned activities of smugglers who indulge in smuggling in foreign rice through the land borders without paying duties, a scenario he said, had brought about low price of the commodity at the expense of the locally processed rice.
“Processed and milled rice in Nigeria stands to be sold cheaper if the borders remain closed and Nigerians themselves help government to shun foreign rice and patronise local rice which has more nutritional value.
“With the wet season planting about to be harvested, more rice will be produced across the country which will invariably bring prices down and many households in the country will be able to afford them,” he said.
The General Manager of LABANA Rice Ltd., Abdullahi Idris Zuru in an interaction with Sunday Tribune stated that rice processors across the country had met in Kano and they all agreed to cooperate with the Federal Government to maintain stable and acceptable prices across board.
He added that the farmers unanimously agreed that a price not above N15,000 per bag be fixed. According to him, no rice processor in the country processes fewer than 15 million metric tons of rice daily, noting that President Muhammadu Buhari was assured that rice millers in the country can make the county to be self sufficient in rice production.
Zuru said government gave subsidy to farmers who in turn subsidised distributors who are expected to subsidise the end consumers. Unfortunately, the distributors resorted to hording the product to the detriment of processors thereby making much profit from rice than the processors themselves.
“I cannot speak for other processors but as far as we in LABANA are concerns our price is fixed for N15,000 per bag of rice and this is how it is in our open market. We therefore call on the Federal Government and the Central Bank to help us set up a monitoring unit that will curb the excesses of these middle men,” he said.
—Additional stories by TOLULOPE OGUNYINKA, PHILLIP THOMAS and SUBOMI AKINTUNDE.