LAST week the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development announced that with Yuletide approaching, the smuggling of rice, fish and poultry is increasing. Apart from these, any knowledgeable observer also knows that other prohibited essential food items such as vegetable oil, tomato puree, sugar and pasta among others, are also being brought in illegally by importers.
All these are food items which the Federal Government put on the prohibition list as a means of encouraging producers of local alternatives in order to create wealth and increase employment in an economy that is still struggling with the after effects of recession.
The alarm raised by the Ministry implies that the Federal Government of Nigeria is powerless in the face of what obviously amounts to economic sabotage. A few weeks ago, the Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN) was lamenting that N2 billion worth of chicken produced in Nigeria is wasting away while smuggled poultry products thrive.
The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) apparently has no clue regarding how to stem the rising tide of contraband entering the country, thus savaging our efforts at sustainable food security. The Comptroller-General, Hameed Ali, recently grumbled aloud about the loss of five staff of the Service this year while on duty.
We sincerely sympathise with the Service and the families of the deceased over the tragic loss of lives. It is a sad reality that the task of preventing smuggling is very perilous task all over the world. This is why the government equips officers and men of the Customs with arms and ammunition and paramilitary training.
The Customs is an important pillar in the quest to diversify our oil-based economy through increasing non-oil revenue and reducing the illegal dumping of foreign-made goods in Nigeria. It is a major revenue agency of the nation. The Federal Government must ensure that the Customs is better positioned to contain smuggling. Its officers must be better equipped, regularly retrained and adequately motivated to meet the national objectives of their profession.
We need to do something drastic about our porous borders. There is simply no way we can implement the prohibition of certain imported products while the 1,497 illegal routes still exist in our international borders. Each time we shut the door on some imported items we simply create a field day for smuggling. It also increases corruption in the Customs.
Any country that cannot exert effective control over its borders will always be prone to all sorts of foreign threats, such as dumping of unwanted foreign-made goods, immigration of illegal aliens, infiltration of the country by terrorists, diversion of locally manufactured agricultural goods and subversion of the economic policies of the nation.