By Ginika Okoye
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, has described as “mischief” the report credited to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) alleging that Nigeria imported about three million tonnes of rice in 2018.
According to him, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has not issued any Letter of Credit (LC) for importation of rice in 2018.
Ogbeh made the assertion in Otukpo, Benue State, on the sidelines of the distribution of rice and feed milling machines to farmers in Oja Community of the state on Sunday.
The minister, who was reacting to a report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which alleged that Nigeria imported about three million tonnes of rice in 2018, described it as a ‘mischief’.
The minister said that although smuggling was being perpetrated at the borders, there had not been any officially approved importation of rice into the country this year.
He, however, challenged the USDA to prove the authenticity of the claim by providing the details of the company that had imported rice, details of the paid duty at the port and clearance.
“After that report I went to the CBN and I met with the governor on Monday and asked him how many Letters of Credit (LC) they have opened this year for rice importation and he said `not one’ and you can ask the CBN governor.
“Some of these reports with all due respect are meant to demoralise our people here.
“Smugglers are smuggling rice, we fight them, we seize them.
“Official importation of rice is as low as it ever was except they can tell us which company imported rice, paid the duty at the port, who cleared it.
“If they don’t, let them give us more details of what they found.
“With all due respect, I don’t like some of the comments of some of our foreign firms. Everything we do is wrong and Nigerians absorb that message.
“If they are talking of smugglers through the ports in Cotonou, that is a different story, even though I am not sure that about three million tonnes was imported.
“How do they sit out there and know what is happening in our ports. It is incredible,’’ he queried.
The minister said that the government had cut down on rice importation by 90 per cent.
According to him, Kano has 1,240 rice mills, Kebbi has three giant ones and so is Jigawa, Ebonyi, Anambra and other states.
On working with rice farmers and millers to slash the price of locally produced rice, Ogbeh said that the CBN would give low interest loans to them to help reduce the price.