Agricultural sector has a pre-eminent role in boosting Nigeria’s economy. The Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (retd), noted this when he led a team of senior officers of his command on a visit to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, in Abuja at the week end.
Ali, who pledged the continued work of Customs “to protect this country” and to ensure that the Minister’s passion succeeds, also explained that “our major contribution is to ensure that we can reduce to the barest minimum the importation of rice” so that the rice that is grown here is sold.
According to Ali, curbing the “Importation of things like poultry, prohibited from our own country as illicit items is our primary mandate and we going to continue to do it diligently to ensure that our own economy improves and we are able to feed not only ourselves, but the whole of Africa and the whole world.”
“Let me underscore the importance of your ministry, Ali said, acknowledging that “one of the very innovative steps” the minister took was “to sensitise government officials on the importance of agriculture.” He thanked Winnie Ochinyabo “for championing the cause of this sensitisation. We’ve had a very good session with her at the Customs’ headquarters. I sincerely appreciate that move sir and I thank you most profoundly for that.”
According to Ali, “the privilege we have had to listen to what has happened has generated the interest of virtually everybody that was there to now look towards agriculture. That same opportunity should be given to our own people that are outside Abuja.” He therefore requested for visits to Customs officers at their zonal offices.
Reflecting on the increasing passion for agriculture by officers of the Customs services, Ali acknowledged that, on “the little that we have been able to talk to them when they came for the meeting, everybody has expressed interest.” He drew attention to the increasing number of hitherto poor farmers who paid for hajj operation.
The Minister, in response, affirmed that, as a country, Nigeria “made some serious mistakes for nearly thirty years, becoming a nation of importers. No country ever became strong by being totally import-dependent. And no country is strong without being able to feed itself.” He expressed solidarity with the Customs men, saying they “are taking the risk of protecting our border,” and, in the process, many of them “get killed by ruthless smugglers.”
“I congratulate you for what you’ve helped us do with rice between September 2015 and now. The report from the Thai rice exporters association, not our own report, says that rice export to Nigeria has dropped from 644,000 tons to 20,000 tons officially,” the Minister said, attributing much of this reduction in rice imports and smuggling to the efforts of the Customs officials. “So let me thank you and your men because it’s a very dangerous job trying to stop these people. They are strong and they carry weapons of all kinds.”
Ogbeh commended the way the Customs men “are invading warehouse now, seizing the things,” urging them to, “please continue” as Nigeria has a record 12.2 million people growing rice now, according to RIFAN, the Rice Farmers’ Association. He advised the Customs officials to “get involved, as Schedule Five of the Nigerian constitution allows you to farm. He promised that “we will be around to help you because agriculture should really become a national culture and it should never ever again disappear.