Closing Nigeria's land border to solve the rice smuggling problem is dumb economics from the Buhari administration.
In Ogbeh’s words: “Our other problem is smuggling. As we speak, a neighbor of ours is importing more rice than China is importing.
“They do not eat parboiled rice, they eat white rice, they use their ports to try and damage our economy.
“I am telling you now because in a few days, you will hear the border has been shut, we are going to shut it to protect you, us and protect our economy.
“You will start seeing all sorts of negative things on the internet”.
Ogbeh also said imported rice is poisonous.
“Some people say they prefer Thai rice because they are very sophisticated, welcome to poison,’’ Ogbeh said.
Yet again, the federal government’s solution to an age-long problem is simplistic, bizarre and utterly ridiculous. But no one should be in the least bit surprised.
I was among the audience at a hotel in Lagos in 2014--days after then candidate Buhari won the APC presidential ticket. During the question and answer session with the APC flagbearer which was moderated by Tolu Ogunlesi, Buhari told the story of how he closed the nation’s land border in the ‘80s as military leader and ordered the nation’s central bank to print new currency notes, in order to stop looters from returning home with their loot.
If the rice/land border prescription for an economic problem has a de javu ring to it, that’s because it is de javu.
The illicit business that is smuggling will only receive a shot in the arm if you barricade what is apparently a porous border manned by corrupt Customs and immigration officials. That’s only commonsense.
According to the Director General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mr. Muda Lawal, to stop smuggling of rice, the government only has to ramp up local production of the staple because the problem is a demand and supply one.
“Sometimes, you solve a problem not just by physically blocking the road and borders but through policies.
“If you are going to close the border entirely for a product that is just about 2% of the nation’s GDP, what happens to 98% of the GDP?” Lawal asked.
Lawal adds that; “We have to be more strategic when dealing with economic issues. This is a very simplistic way of dealing with the challenge of smuggling. Smuggling is a symptom of a problem and when you begin to fight a symptom, you cannot solve the problem. You need to identify the cause of the problem.
“Although, there have been some efforts (by the federal government) to support the production of rice, we are still very far from what the demand is. There’s a demand gap of close to 2.5 to 3 million metric tonnes of rice locally".
Command and Control economics never solved a problem. It's like the old joke about the carpenter for whom every problem can be solved with a hammer. Once again, we are putting the cart before the horse.
The problem before us is simply driven by market forces. If the federal government claims Nigeria has achieved 95 percent rice sufficiency, it doesn’t need to worry about imported rice because locally produced, cheaper rice will flood every market in the nation and make imported rice undesirable.
The problem is that local rice is still a luxury in Nigeria, it isn’t found in every stall and is more expensive than its imported variety.
I am a fan of local rice, especially as I hail from a family of rice farmers. All we ate back then in rural Cross River was locally produced rice with its stones and sands. In Lagos, I can’t find my beloved pebbled rice to buy and have to wait till December when someone makes the journey to the village. Locally produced rice is tastier and more nutritious, but it isn’t sold in the neighbourhood market. Why won’t I purchase the imported variety when I feel like a meal of rice and stew or jollof?
The solution is to ramp up local production of local rice, improve its quality and packaging and make sure it becomes a viable alternative in the rice stalls. Trying to close a border in order to solve the problem of smuggling rice, makes absolutely no economic sense. Scratch that. It makes no sense whatsoever.