The scene was repulsive. It was the unveiling of the so-called one million bags of rice paddy stacked as pyramids in Abuja, driven by the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). They tagged it “a celebration of rice revolution” by the Buhari government. For me, the organisers were simply taunting the masses of the people of this country that struggle to buy this staple food called rice. In fact, many can no longer afford it.
A 50kg bag of local rice sells for between N25,000 and N32,000, depending on the part of the country you are in. This is the same rice that was selling for N7000 for 50kg when Buhari assumed office about seven years ago. Our local rice is now beyond the reach of the masses, yet, Buhari is celebrating a grumpy rice revolution; a revolution that has compounded the woes of the masses of this country. Why should a bag of local rice be selling for between N25,000 and N32,000, in a country where the minimum wage is N30,000 monthly. In this country, many now go to bed without food and wake up not sure of breakfast. Millions have lost their jobs in the Buhari years and many are still losing jobs due to a mismanaged economy. How do you want these people to buy local rice at this inflated price?
It was a celebration of deceit when the rice pyramid was unveiled by the President last Tuesday. In the last six years, public funds of about N200 billion had been provided to RIFAN members and Rice Millers Association of Nigeria as loans at a concessionary rate of about 9% to deliver rice to Nigerians cheaply. The loans’ interest rate was further brought down to 5%, when COVID-19 came. All that Nigerians got in return from the shylock RIFAN and millers was expensive local rice. They are maximizing profit, while operating with public funds.
There is nothing wrong with subsidising food production. It is common in developed countries and this has helped them to provide food cheaply to citizens. But the reverse is the case in Nigeria. The billions of Naira spent on subsidising rice production has failed to bring down the price of the product. Citizens are not feeling the subsidy enjoyed by the farmers and millers.
What about the story by the CBN of a 95 per cent reduction in rice importation? Lies, damned lies. Conservatively, about 60% of rice consumed in this country today is still imported. CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele and his boys need to visit Nigeria communities bordering other West African countries like Badagry, Sango Otta, Idi Iroko, Ilaro, Ilela, and many parts of Yewa land, to experience the volume of foreign rice entering this country daily. They should also take a quick dash to major rice markets in Lagos and compare the quantity of imported rice on the stands with local rice.
The hint I got yesterday was that the CBN is now pressurising RIFAN and rice millers to process and sell rice at a discounted price. “Our collaboration with the millers association rests on the agreement that they will sell at a discounted price to Nigerians,” said a CBN official last week. Let’s hope that this will work. The masses of this country are in anguish.