By OLUSESAN LAOYE
More Nigerians are coping with increasing rate of poverty and unemployment in spite of the promise by the present government to diversify the economy and provide one million jobs. The regime had banned several imported items to boost local production but it appears that other factors seem to undercut its policies.
When President Muhammadu Buhari came into office in 2015, he promised Nigerians that he would alleviate their sufferings and reduce poverty level to the barest minimum and improve productivity in the manufacturing sectors of the country’s economy.
One other major promise he made was that Nigeria would focus on agriculture as a means of diversifying from oil as the only source of revenue to Nigeria. This was laudable and received as a welcome development in the country.
It was commended by farmers, manufacturers and members of the public who felt it was a policy that would help in so many ways.
The farmers felt they would be benefitted, the manufacturers believed that to a large extent, they will no longer depend on importation of raw materials for the production of their goods, while the masses were happy that there would be sufficiency in food for consumption.
To back up this policy, the government placed restrictions on the importation of some products which could be produced in large quantities for both export and domestic consumption.
Thus, the ban on the importations of 42 items which include rice, pork, beef, refined vegetable oil, sugar, cocoa butter and cakes spaghetti/noodles and beverages. The government, to also protect the pharmaceutical industry, banned some pharmaceutical products, and medical equipment from being imported into Nigeria.
With the way all these were done, Nigerians were euphoric that their sufferings would end but, unfortunately for them, the restrictions of these essential items has brought more hardship and poverty that could not be imagined.
All these items to be produced locally that prevented their importation have been a mirage. In the past six years, it has been living in hell for Nigerians as the ban as not only made products scarce and expensive as inflation rate soars. The import ban as a matter of fact has reduced the amount and increased the price of the controlled goods.
It was believed that the justification for this is usually that, with the over protection of these forbidden items, the local manufacturers would be able to increase output and create more employments.
But this has not been so in the last six years. What has made this tall dream impossible was the fact that the list of the prohibited items was too long and the circumstances at home, has made it hard for those who are being protected to meet the high demand at home.
As such, this has encouraged smuggling, and the government hiding under this cover to grant licenses to import with huge profits. Also, absence of needed infrastructure, such as power, taxes and security have worsened situation.
This means that those selling the banned products do it with high and inflated rates. The effect of this also translates to the fact that there would be high cost of living.
Restriction of the long list items according to experts, help to create a special class of people who make good money from smuggling’ of goods that are sold at skyrocket prices, which at the end of the day, makes millions of the people to live below poverty line.
The argument also was that if the list of prohibited items has not been long, government could have been making more money as the only thing to do is to increase the import tariff, for those who want to import those goods.
It was also argued that since the present government of President Buhari has continued to ban goods and blocking requests for foreign currency, in a bid to boost local production of these restricted items, Nigerians haven’t felt the impact, especially in the area of staple food which concerns every home.
The statistics by the bureau of statistics indicated that amount of importation increased between 2015 and 2017 from $ 2.4bn 2015 to $4.1b in 2017. Also in 2018 the Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele said that the annual food import bill was $1.9bn down from $7.9 in 2015.
It would also be recalled that when Chief Audu Ogbe was the Minister of Agriculture, he said that Nigeria spent $22bn importing food every year, which made the government to place restrictions on goods, particularly food items, which could be produced locally.
What is however baffling, was the fact that these three figures were contradictory and a reflection of lack of proper coordination among government agencies providing data for planning.
It was argued that lack of proper data and statistics have been the major problems confronting Nigerians and her policy makers and this has always been a hindrance to proper planning in terms of finance and provision of infrastructure.
But right now, despite the good intentions of government, it is now at the receiving end because what are being produced locally in all the affected sectors have not been able to meet the high demand for them, especially in agricultural products such as rice which is the major staple food in Nigeria.
It was said that the ban should have been in a gradual process, rather than the approach of government, which has now caused chaos and poverty. Right now, Nigeria is in crisis because of lack of planning says Engineer Muibi a farmer in Oyo State.
Engineer Muibi pointed out that what should have been done if planned properly was not to put a total ban on long list of items which are essential for local consumption “when we have not been able to produce enough to meet our demand at home. The government’s fire brigade approach in handling things has affected the standard of living of Nigerians and has brought poverty to an unimaginable level.”
This he said, has resulted into where Nigerians found itself now with banditry, kidnapping Yahoo-yahoo, and other vices going on by the people to make money.
Also a poultry farmer Mr. Idowu Omolaja who was met at the Obasanjo hatchery at the Oluyole Estate, in Ibadan said that the policy has affected them because birds, eggs as well as hatching eggs are part of the banned items.
“We have not been able to meet the demands of the people and the high cost of fees has greatly affected us and that is why things are expensive all over the country.”
He too, believed that government should have ensured that the banned items were produced in large quantities over time when Nigerians would have even been sure of the locally produced products that would make them self sufficient, saying that “by then level of importation would have been naturally very low.”
He was also of the opinion that Nigeria is going through heavy food scarcity because the atmosphere is no longer conducive for farming with the invasion of the herders and their cows, eating up crops all over the places.
In his own comment, a local manufacturer of the locust bean powder spice in Ibadan, Mr. Dare Shomefun told BusinessHallmark that manufacturers are facing a lot in Nigeria because of the situation and unhealthy condition they are subjected to for operations.
He pointed out that rather than benefiting and using the advantage of ban of the various items, manufacturers are worst of because cost of production is still very high.
“The issue of power, finance and even dishonesty among employees who out of poverty and lack of contentment steal your product makes thing difficult for manufacturers and even the farmers, who apart from all these factors, still face the invasion of the Fulani herdsmen who destroy their farms.”
Mr. Shomefun said that the issue of banned products has led to government agencies’ misbehaving, with specific reference to recent raids of the customs in some markets in Ibadan and other parts of the country.
“Their actions have led to an abuse of power and criminality because I just can’t imagine the customs officials taking laws into to their hands to break into shop looking for imported rice which passed through the borders without Customs seeing them.
It will be recalled that the issue of the customs breaking into shops at night to cart away rice believed to be smuggled, has been generating serious controversies, which had been reported to the Presidency and the Senate. Some of the affected traders have even gone to court to challenge the action of the customs officials.
The issue has even degenerated to war of words between the Senator Kola Balogun representing the Oyo South Senatorial District who tabled the matter before the Senate. While Senator Balogun condemned the action, the Customs claimed that they acted on the powers conferred on them by the law and asked the upper legislative chamber not to dabble into their affairs.
According to the Customs spokespersons Joseph Attah and Timi Bamodi, the Customs acted under section 147 of the customs Act.