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Rice smugglers are patriotic


A couple of weeks ago, the Rice Processors Association of Nigeria (RIPAN) – which we shall hereafter refer to as the “Rice Cabal” – issued their latest lamentation in the newspapers. According to these ‘patriots’, over 1 million metric tonnes of rice have been smuggled into Nigeria in the last 3 months alone. These – to quote President Trump – ‘very fine people’ say this level of smuggling is killing their investments and it is killing jobs and causing, surprise and loss of foreign exchange.

I have tried to cry for the Rice Cabal but even when I blink very fast and hold an onion near my eyes, the tears simply refuse to come. But when I think of the smugglers bringing in bags of rice into the country, my heart leaps for joy and I break into a big smile.

Over the last 4 years, we have watched as rice has gone from something you eat for nourishment to a full blown political crop. The Buhari government has decided that rice is the thing that will take Nigeria to the next level of development and as such has thrown everything at it to make it so. The CBN first of all banned the sale of forex for rice importation. Then the same CBN gave billions of naira in cheap loans to rice farmers which turned out to be no more than gifts as the vast majority of them simply didn’t pay back (even though some of them married new wives with their new fortune). Then of course there are the eye-watering tariffs on the importation of rice. Don’t forget the psychological warfare the government has been waging on behalf of rice with wild propaganda such as the ridiculously false claim that unemployment had shot up in Thailand because Nigeria stopped importing rice from there.

The absolute worst of all is the way the Nigerian Customs have been killing so many Nigerians in the name of chasing rice smugglers. You might think the people killed are smugglers who exchanged gunfire with Customs. But when you read deeper into the stories you find that they are often just people who were standing around when Customs started shooting. I doubt anyone in government has addressed the killings let alone even promise an investigation into them. And the killings continue – in February, Customs officers shot 5 people dead in Katsina. Of course the dead were labelled ‘rice smugglers’. Nigeria is now a country where not only can you lose your life, your death will be justified if you’re deemed a smuggler of a political crop like rice.

Finally, to add insult to injury, Nigerians are expected to pay far more for this ‘patriotic’ local rice in a government backed wealth transfer from poor Nigerians to favoured farmers. Yet all of this is not enough. Every few weeks, the Rice Cabal assembles the press and delivers their latest jeremiad about how all this support is just not good enough. There is always one thing stopping poor Nigerians from buying their expensive rice. One is almost fooled into thinking that it is somewhere in the constitution that Nigerians are mandated to hand over their hard earned income to these people.

The Rice Cabal can cry me a river. Thank God for the patriotic smugglers who are disrupting the conspiracy against ordinary Nigerians by the government and their cabal co-conspirators. It is a scary thought to imagine what might happen if these guys had their way and Nigerians were left with no choice but to buy rice from them. Whatever else one thinks; there is no way such a reduction in choice will deliver anything other than poverty. As with many other sectors where the government puts its leprous hands, policy is quickly captured by producer interests who are where policymaking more often than not ends.

Thank God for the smugglers who are stepping into the breach and doing their level best to supply what consumers actually want to them. You might say that the smugglers are only trying to make money themselves but it has been more than 200 years since Adam Smith pointed out that the butcher pursuing his own self interest is a concomitant of us receiving nutrition and energy from eating meat.

When next the government and the Rice Cabal gather to scold Nigerians about their penchant for ‘foreign rice’ and how the economy is being ‘sabotaged’ because Nigerians, like other normal human beings anywhere else in the world, are trying to get as much as rice as they can with their available income, serious questions ought to be asked of them. How much support is enough? What have they delivered to Nigerians with all the support they have received? How much more needs to be extracted from Nigerians before they are satisfied?

But the most important question of all is this – who is looking after the interests of the consumers who are actually paying for these government policies? Until then – Sai Smugglers!

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