Senate to probe alleged N117b rice import scam
ALTHOUGH the dust raised by move to recover some N30 billion lost to the rice import waiver granted by the last administration is yet to settle, the attention of the country’s Senate is being attracted by another allegation of high level fraud in the business.
The Senate, it was learnt might set up an ad-hoc committee when it resumes early next month to investigate the rice smuggling allegation believed to have made the country lose huge sums of money amounting to N117 billion.
A motion to that effect, according to sources in the National Assembly, is already being processed to be moved on the first week of resumption from the new year break.
Some highly entrenched interests known in the rice industry are alleged to have sabotaged a rice policy initiated by President Goodluck Jonathan to boost local rice production just to sustain their business interests.
The allegation was that companies who had no investment in the rice value chain were granted quota, which they in turn sold to other importers.
Meanwhile, one of the firms mentioned in the rice deals has denied any complicity.
Chairman of the firm, Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar Maifata said:
“The truth and the fact of this matter is that Umza International Milling Plant has a current milling capacity of 72,000MT per annum and the company is currently in the process of further increasing the milling capacity to about 120,000 metric tons per annum.
Our partnership with Rice Farmers Association in Kebbi State is another area where Umza Farms has proven its investments in rice value chain where we are currently working with farmers especially from Suru Local Council in the cultivation of paddy.
“Umza International Farms has also secured the approval from Niger State Government for 11,000 hectares of land in Agaie Local Council of the state for its backward integration programme.”
He said the record of his company on the importation of rice is very straight and well documented with both the Nigerian Customs Service and other relevant organisations.
It is also very important that we state at this juncture that Umza Farms has only imported rice in occasions where the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development had genuine fears about the capacity of the local millers to meet the local rice consumption/demand and had encouraged the local rice millers to import rice in order to bridge the gap between what is locally produced and what is consumed.
Outside these occasions where Umza Farms is duly licensed to import rice for national interest, Umza Farms has not and never imported rice as part of its core business plan. Umza Farms is strictly a local rice milling plant and would never dabble into rice importation as its ordinary business.
“ It’s so unimaginable to think that Umza Farms could be waging a war against its own business going by the falsehood perpetrated by Premium Times when it maliciously and literally stated in the said online publication that Umza Farms is involved in rice smuggling,” Maifata who is also the National President of Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN) said.
The Senate leadership, last month, urged the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), to immediately take steps to ensure that the N30 billion lost to waiver on rice importation by the last administration was recovered.
President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, who gave this advice during an interactive session between the Senate leadership and the CBN management, led by the Governor of the apex bank, Godwin Emefiele, lamented that money that was supposed to get into government’s coffers was allowed to get wasted in the name of waivers.
Saraki said: “On the issue of the waivers on taxes and duties especially on rice which is about N30billion that were granted to certain companies, this money must be paid back to the Federal Government.”
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