THE presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, has faulted the federal government’s claim that Nigeria has reduced its dependence on foreign rice imports, saying that it is false.
Relying on a recent United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) World Markets and Trade Report, the former Vice President observed that Nigeria now imports more foreign rice than it did under the previous administration.
A statement emanating from his campaign organization in Abuja on Tuesday noted that on several occasions, the Muhammadu Buhari administration had bragged that its biggest achievement is reducing Nigeria’s dependence on foreign rice.
The statement added: “Recently, President Buhari himself made this boast when he said to British Prime Minister, Theresa May on April 16, 2018, as follows: ‘We have cut rice importation by about 90%, made lots of savings of foreign exchange, and generated employment. People had rushed to the cities to get oil money, at the expense of farming. But luckily, they are now going back to the farms. Even professionals are going back to the land. We are making steady progress on the road to food security.’
“This claim was also made by the minister of agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, who on May 2, 2018, said as follows: ‘Unemployment in Thailand was one of the lowest in the world, 1.2 per cent, it has gone up to four per cent because seven giant rice mills have shut down because Nigeria’s import has fallen by 95 per cent on rice alone.’
“However, recently released data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) World Markets and Trade Report has proven these claims by President Muhammadu Buhari and his government to be false.
“According to the World Markets and Trade Report of the USDA, which is a public document, Nigeria imported three million metric tonnes of rice in 2018, which is 400,000 metric tonnes more than the quantity of the product imported in 2017.”
The statement further said: “It does not end there. The report shows that there has actually been a steep drop in commercial rice production from its 2015 peak under the previous Peoples Democratic Party administration.
According to the report ‘Nigeria had consistently milled 3,780,000 metric tonnes annually – a drop from 3,941,000 metric tonnes recorded in 2015.’”
The Atiku Presidential Campaign Organisation, therefore, appealed to President Buhari and his government to be truthful to the Nigerian public, rather than claim progress they have not made, because no matter how far and fast falsehood has travelled, it must eventually be overtaken by the truth.
The statement affirmed that the former Vice President “will always be honest and transparent with the Nigerian people as he carries all citizens along in his mission to Get Nigeria Working Again.”
The federal government has however denied the USDA report, describing it as false and misleading.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who addressed State House correspondents in Abuja on Tuesday, said the facts on ground go against the claim by the United States.
He said: “I’m sure many of you read the report of United States Department of Agriculture World Markets and Trade Report that falsely claimed that Nigeria Nigeria imported three million metric tonnes of rice in 2018, which is 400,000 metric tonnes more than the quantity of the product imported in 2017.
“And also that local production was on the decline and that these facts fly in the face of government’s claim of what it achieved in the area of rice production.
“I want to say categorically that the story is false. Predictably, the Atiku Media Organisation, this afternoon latched onto the story, we are not surprised.
“I want to say categorically that that story is fake and that Atiku Media Organisation also goofed.
“Immediately that story broke out, I contacted Central Bank of Nigeria and Comptroller General of Customs, I had meetings with the Rice Producers Association and also with the Millers and they all confirmed that that story is not true.
“For starters, you can’t import rice without a Form M being approved. You can’t import rice without Letter of Credit.
So, we challenge the US Department of Agriculture World Markets and Trade Report to provide evidence that Form M was opened to bring in 400,000 metric tonnes over and above that of last year and that Letter of Credit was open for these.
“Two, the records are very clear as to the importation of rice. You don’t have to take my words but go to Thailand Rice Miller and the figures are there.
“In 2014, 1.2 million metric tonnes of rice was exported to Nigeria, in 2015, 644 metric tonnes of rice was exported to Nigeria, by 2015 it went down to 5,000 metric tonnes. These are not my figures, these are figures from the Thailand Rice Association.
“And the claim that local rice production is on the decline is again absolutely false.
“Yesterday (Monday), when I spoke to the millers, all of them said, please just come to Kano, come to my factory you are going to see two kilometres length of trailers waiting to discharge paddy rice.
“So, I want to say categorically again without fear of contradiction that the Anchor Borrowers Rice Programme is working.
“Nigeria has been able to reduce by 90 per cent the $1.65 billion it was paying on rice importation, the number of integrated rice processing Mills increased from 13 to 25.
“Those are the majors and that between the smaller ones and the big ones, today the capacity is 4.9 metric tonnes of rice. That is why we are confident that in a year plus we are going to meet the six million metric tonnes of rice production which is our local consumption.
“The facts are there and I challenge anybody to the contrary.”
On whether the smuggled rice could not have played a part in the report, the Minister said: “Good question. You see, you cannot claim that smuggled rice is part of rice imported into the country.
“Yes, we do know we have a challenge with smuggled rice but we have taken steps to ensure that this menace is contained.”