The Lagos State Government says the incessant seizure and auctioning of locally produced coconuts by the Nigeria Customs Services (NCS) in Agbara area has hindered its production by farmers.
Ms Abisola Olusanya, Special Adviser to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State on Agriculture, made this known in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos.
Olusanya spoke while reacting to the recent seizure of 1,450 bags of locally produced coconuts from Badagry by the customs officials.
“This type of action by customs can act as a disincentive to farmers in the value chain.
“Lagos State Government is not against border closure by the Federal Government,” she said.
Olusanya said the situation, had, however, created fear among the farmers and producers in the areas, and had made the level of production to dwindle.
The governor’s aide said that she had been receiving reports on how people harvest their coconuts and they did not take them to the markets again for fear of seizure.
According to her, people are now afraid to buy coconuts as a result of the incident.
She said that the estimated price of the seized coconuts, according to the association, was N25 million.
“At the end of the day, farmers are not getting the money; the person in the value chain downstream is also not getting the supply to produce.
“So, automatically it has affected the livelihood of those people in the area because fear has gripped the people.
“You can pay for coconuts, expecting it to be delivered and you may not get the supply because it may be seized.
“When people put money down to purchase coconuts and they are seized, that is money gone down the drain.
“People will rather prefer to put their money on something else during the festive season.
“We are talking about a value chain of about N35 billion annually; obviously, the sector has dwindled in the space of three months.
“We want to appeal that customs should investigate any seizure of coconuts first before putting them up for auction in the state,” she said.
According to her, we know that coconut in Lagos State is the main cash crop of the state, it is very critical; the state government has invested so much on it.
“Lagos State produces 70 per cent of coconuts being consumed in Nigeria. Badagry is the enclave of coconuts, and this is known to all.
“We recently held coconuts summit to encourage investors and investment into the value chain and we are the only state in the country to have a government parastatal specifically for coconuts,” she said.
Olusanya said the state government had on Nov. 28 convened a stakeholders’ meeting to identify and resolve the issue, adding that the customs officials snubbed the invitation.
NAN recalls that on Oct. 27, two trucks and a pickup van, loaded with 1,450 bags of locally-sourced coconuts, on transit to industrial coconut processor customers, were seized by the customs officials at the Agbara Checkpoint.
The two trucks and the pickup van were allegedly taken to Ikeja Zone ‘A’ Zonal Office of the customs.
Olusanya said: “We are worried about the seizure of locally produced coconuts and the immediate auctioning, without prior notice or investigation by the customs.
“We are not condemning NCS, but we want to understand the reason for their action which is why we invited them to the stakeholders’ meeting on Nov. 28.
“But, to just seize coconuts and auction them off immediately is not the best action.
“One will begin to assume that there is another agenda to it, of which in my opinion, is not the right way to go about it.
“We believe the customs ought to have investigated the source of the coconuts before placing them on immediate auction.
“They (customs) did not reach out to the Lagos State Coconuts Development Authority and the state Ministry of Agriculture.”
She said that some of the recommendations at the end of the stakeholders’ meeting included the establishment of a dedicated branded vans for transportation of coconuts produced in Lagos.
According to her, other recommendations are to make coconut producers work hand-in-hand with the LCDAs and local government chairmen, Agriculture Department, Nigeria Customs Services and police to ascertain that the coconuts are produced in Lagos.
“We want people to have information from the source to the market or wherever it is going to, we want everything to be in the loop.
“We want to bridge the gap from source to the market, and we want every process to be known to the relevant authority.
“Also, to carry out enumeration of markets and marketers to let us know who are the producers and marketers and who the logistic providers are, we want everybody to be traceable.
“If every value actor in the chain is known, it is will be easier to close the loop.
“So, when you see someone that is strange, we can quickly say we don’t know where this is coming from.
“In that way, the loop is also closed and the issue with smuggled coconuts will not recur,” she added.
Speaking on compensation to the affected people, the special adviser said that the state government was not considering the issue for now.
“We are not looking at compensation for now because it is a dicey situation.
“How do we compensate? Do we compensate directly as the Lagos State Government or do we get Nigeria Customs to ensure that compensation is paid to those farmers?
“I don’t want to promise anything on behalf of Mr Governor that we will compensate them for the loss when we have not really sat down to enumerate what the value loss across the value chain are.
“In the next few days, we are actually looking at empowering a few of our actors in that value chain because Mr Governor just recently approved some funds for us to use in empowering these value chain actors.
“It might not be compensation directly for the loss, but just to show that in Lagos State, we are actually pushing coconuts production to the forefront,” she said.
Olusanya said the intervention of Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu would be sought since the NCS did not honour the first meeting.
She said the ministry would convene another stakeholders’ meeting to discuss possible ways of avoiding a recurrence of the incident.
Olusanya said that all the stakeholders, including the Nigeria Customs Services, would again be invited to discuss the way out.