The Federal Government on Tuesday flawed the United States Department of Agriculture World Markets and Trade Report on the volume of Nigeria’s rice imports this year and the local production capacity, saying the report lacks all evidential proofs.

The Department had reported that 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. It also stated that the country’s local rice production dropped from 2016 to 2018 compared to 2015.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, while reacting to the published report, said that there was no iota of truth in the publication which, he said, was orchestrated by political motive.

The minister said: “I want to say categorical that that story is false. Predictably, the Atiku Media Organisation, this afternoon (Tuesday) 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 were open for these.

“Two, the records are very clear as to the importation of rice, you don’t have tontake 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 kilometers 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 percent 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”, the minister stressed.

Mohammed explained that while the volume of smuggled rice cannot be practically proved, he said that while government recognised that smuggling of commodities still remained a challenge steps were being taken to ensure that these menace is contained.

He recalled that a tripartite committee between the Republic Benin and Nigeria comprising of the two ministers of finance and agriculture and Comptroller General of Customs of both countries had been set up to critically identify how the challenge could be addressed and make appropriate recommendations to the government.

The minister clarified further: “We have been able to reach an agreement with the Benin Republic President to allow Nigeria Customs officials to be present at the Cotonou Port. And you know that only a week ago Mr. President jointly commissioned the border building within Benin Republic. These are all attempts made to contain smuggling.

“When we say Nigeria imported it is different from x-amount of rice is being smuggled because when you import you open Letter of Credit and we are saying it is absolutely untrue. Again to say local rice production has gone down is absolutely untrue.

“We have grown rice farmers from five million to 12 million, those facts are out there. We have created prosperity for rice farmers. We have about 32 or 34 states that produce rice, you can ask them. So you see, this kind of information is not only misleading but it is capable of generating a lot of misunderstanding. So I say with all emphasis at my command that that story is part of the fake news we are fighting”, Mohammed added.

He expressed confidence that within the next one year Nigeria would be producing the six million metric tonnes of rice being consumed locally.