Experts fault Buhari over forex restriction on food imports …Raise fears over looming food scarcity
Importers, freight agents under the aegis of National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents NCMDLCA have faulted President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent directive to the Central Bank of Nigeria CBN to stop providing foreign Exchange for food imports.
Available statistics show that the country spent a total of N236.33 billion on agricultural imports in the first quarter of 2019, which represents 6.4 per cent of her total imports over the three –month period.
In a statement issued on Tuesday by presidential spokesman Garba Shehu, the president said the directive was to ensure a steady improvement in agricultural production and attainment of full food security for the country
National president of the association, Lucky Amiwero, who reacted to the unilateral directive of the president, said that Nigeria has yet to build the necessary capacity that would ensure adequate food production for the country’s 190million population.
He said that the directive is even more worrisome given that it came at a time the president has not been able to put a cabinet in place more than six months after he was reelected and three months, insisting that such directive should have come from the Federal Minister of Finance after due consultation with experts and relevant stakeholders.
“This is not how to run a government. The president cannot just sit in his room and give directives to the CBN to stop providing forex for the importation. Such a policy should be thought through and carefully interrogated and not just through executive fiat.
“This is an economic issue not political, if the country should introduce such a policy, the main aim should be to protect the primary industry and not to conserve foreign exchange and so the Minister of Finance, not the governor of the CBN should be in a better position to interrogate such policy”, he argued.
He cited sections 12, 36 and 57 of the Customs and Excise Management Act, which empower the Minister of Finance to handle issues relating to fiscal policies of the government, while the CBN concentrates on monetary policies and foreign exchange.
On claims by the president that Nigeria has achieved food security, Amiwero said: “The government would only succeed in creating food shortage, which would negatively affect the already impoverished common man because the country lacks the infrastructure and has not built the required capacity to achieve food security for now. There are still doubts over the country’s capacity for rice production.
“One would have thought that the president would encourage the production of food items where the country has comparative advantage and even when government needs to discourage the importation of certain items, the right procedures must be followed and not spontaneous as in this case”.
The president had while hosting governors of the ruling All Progressives Congress APC to an Eid-el-kabir lunch at his country home in Daura, said the foreign reserve will be conserved and used for the diversification of the economy, and not for encouraging more dependence on foreign food import bills.
“Don’t give a cent to anybody to import food into the country,’’ he said.
The president also said some states such as Kebbi, Ogun, Lagos, Jigawa, Ebonyi and Kano had already taken advantage of the government’s policy on agriculture with huge returns in rice farming, urging more states to plug into the ongoing revolution to feed the nation.
“We have achieved food security, and for physical security we are not doing badly,’’ he said.
Buhari said he was delighted that young Nigerians, including graduates, have started exploring agri-business and entrepreneurship, with many posting testimonies of good returns on their investments.
“The incoming ministers will be taught and guided to ensure they meet the targets of the APC-led government for the people, with regular monitoring of their performances and scaling up of targets by the office of the secretary to the government of the federation”, the president had also said.