The Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri has decried the abuse of the Economic Community of West African States protocol, which allows neighbouring states to bring in rice into Nigeria.
Punch reports that Lokpobiri said this while receiving the new country manager of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, Ms Ndine Gbossa, in Abuja, on Thursday.
According to a statement signed by George Oji, the Special Adviser (Media) to the Minister of State, Lokpobiri said:“The challenge we have with our neighbours is that because of the extant ECOWAS protocol, people will dump their rice products in the region and re-bag them and bring them into Nigeria. The reason is that under the ECOWAS protocol, any goods produced within the sub-region can have free access to any market within the region.
“Based on that, those from Thailand would go to Benin Republic with their parboiled rice and then re-bag them as though they were produced in Benin Republic and then smuggled them into Nigeria thereby denying the people of Benin the opportunity to grow rice and then benefit from the Nigerian market. Because of that, we have engaged the government of Benin Republic, up to the presidential level.”
He added, “The President had to invite the President of Benin Republic to engage him because we are neighbours; let’s see how we can work together and curb this issue of smuggling.”
Meanwhile, the minister of state noted that Nigeria used to spend $5 million on the importation of rice every day, but that through new policy programmes by his ministry and the intervention of partners like IFAD, the figure has drastically reduced.
The IFAD representatives in her remarks disclosed that the Executive Board of the fund recently approved additional financing for Nigeria in the Value Chain Development programme to the value of $89 million, which brought the total investment in this programme to $228 million, for supporting rice and cassava production. This, she stated was in addition to another $60 million for supporting the Niger Delta Youth known as the Alive for Niger Delta fund.
She stated that Nigeria remains a very important partner of IFAD and has also attracted the highest investment in Africa, noting that, “Altogether, we have investment in Nigeria that is worth half a billion dollars. Nigeria is one of the biggest investment countries for IFAD, so it is a very important country.