Massive smuggling of rice across the western border is responsible for its partial closure, President Muhammadu Buhari said on Wednesday.
The President added that he would meet with presidents of neighbouring Benin and Niger on how to stop smuggling.
The closure is also to allow Nigeria’s security forces develop a strategy on how to halt the dangerous trend with its negative impact on the government’s economic programme.
This was the first time the reason for the closure of the Seme border near Badagry in Lagos State, was given since the commencement of exercise, ‘Ex-Swift Response, jointly conducted by the Customs, Immigration, police and military personnel and coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser.
It is meant to last 28 days.
The partial closure is simultaneously ongoing in Nigeria’s border in three other geo-political zones.
President Buhari gave the reasons during an audience with Beninois leader Patrice Talon on the margins of the Seventh Tokyo International Conference for African Development (TICAD7), in Yokohama, Japan.
President’s spokesman Femi Adesina, in a statement said President Buhari expressed great concern over rice smuggling.
The president said the activities of the smugglers threatened the self-sufficiency already attained due to his administration’s agricultural policies.
“Now that our people in the rural areas are going back to their farms, and the country has saved huge sums of money which would otherwise have been expended on importing rice using our scarce foreign reserves.
“We cannot allow smuggling of the product at such alarming proportions to continue,” he said.
Responding to the concerns raised by President Talon on the magnitude of suffering caused by the closure, President Buhari said he had taken note and would reconsider reopening it in the not too distant future.
He explained that a meeting with his counterparts from Benin and Niger Republics would soon be called to determine strict and comprehensive measures to curtail the level of smuggling across their borders.
The volume of rice import from Thailand in 2015 by Nigeria was 1.8 metric tons.
It came down to zero metric tons in 2017 when the Federal Government banned the importation of the staple food item to boost local production.
The action triggered a phenomenal rise in the importation of the product in neighbouring Benin Republic and Cameroon.
As a result of the smuggling and acts of sabotage by some unpatriotic elements within the security agencies, the tons of rice imported by the neighbouring countries found their way into local markets in Nigeria.
The development is threatening the gains achieved by the Buhari administration in local rice production.
To promote the consumption of locally-produced food items, the President recently ordered the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to block importers of food items from accessing any of the government windows for foreign exchange (forex).
President Talon said he called on the Nigerian President as a result of the severe impact the closure of the Nigerian border was having on his people.