Buhari under fire over ban on forex for food importation

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President Muhammadu Buhari has come under fire for directing the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to ban on forex for food importation.

On their part, a Nigerian knowledge institution, Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), called on President Muhammadu Buhari to rescind his directive to the Central Bank of Nigerian, CBN, to stop issuing forex for food importation into Nigeria, warning that such restriction would increase the rate of suffering among majority of Nigerians.

Buhari had, on Tuesday, warned the apex bank to stop providing foreign exchange for importation of food produced locally in the country.

The President maintained that the foreign reserve will be conserved and utilized strictly for the diversification of the economy, and not for encouraging more dependence on foreign food import bills.

CSJ’s director, Eze Onyekpere, in a statement is fraught with danger and appears to be an illegal directive for a number of reasons.

The statement reads: “The first issue is on the legality of the directive. By S.1 (3) of the Central Bank of Nigeria Act 2007, it is provided that:

“In order to facilitate the achievement of its mandate under this Act and the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act, and in line with the objective of promoting stability and continuity in economic management, the Bank shall be an independent body in the discharge of its functions.

“There are no provisions in the CBN Act or any other existing law empowering the President to run or give directives on foreign exchange management or any other component of monetary policy. This directive erodes the independence and autonomy of the CBN and presents Nigeria in the image of the Idi Amin fable, when he gave directives to the governor of the Ugandan Central Bank to print more currencies when told that the country was running out of money. This directive is therefore an illegal directive which the Governor and Board of the CBN will obey at their own peril.

“The second issue is that policies such as this, assuming it came from the CBN would have required a phased and gradualist approach in determining the point at which foreign exchange allocations for food imports will be reduced. This would have involved a multi sectoral engagement of farmers, food processors, the banking industry, transport and electricity sectors, etc., with clear demonstrable milestones of achievements to indicate the attainment of food security. This directive is rather a knee jerk reaction to the euphoria of sycophants who tell the President that his agricultural policies are working. And very unfortunately, there is no evidence to support this assertion in terms of more quantity, quality and cheaper foods available to Nigerians.

“It is imperative to clarify that we support every effort at increasing local food production and reducing Nigeria’s dependence on imported food products. But in the drive to attain the required level of self-sufficiency, we must not expose Nigerians to undue hardship. This brings us to the third issue, which is that Nigeria is far from attaining food security and has not even started the race for food sovereignty.

“Stopping the allocation of foreign exchange for the importation of needed food items will only increase their price since there will still be demand for the goods. Unless there is a ban on the importation of these food items, importers will still be free to source for foreign exchange from alternative sources to import them. Increase in the price of food at a time of grave economic crisis, increasing poverty and misery can only deepen the already fragile and precarious living conditions of the average Nigerian. Even an outright ban will be a misnormer in the circumstances.

“In accordance with Nigeria’s constitutional and treaty obligations, to take steps, especially economic and technical, to the maximum of available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the right to adequate food, accessibility of food is imperative for the population. By General Comment No.12 of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on the Right to Adequate Food, accessibility includes two dimensions, the economic and physical accessibility.

“Economic accessibility implies that personal or household financial costs associated with the acquisition of food for an adequate diet should be at a level that the attainment and satisfaction of other basic needs are not threatened or compromised. On the other hand, physical accessibility implies that adequate food must be accessible to everyone, including the physically vulnerable individuals such as infants and young children, elderly people, the physically disabled, the terminally ill and persons with persistent medical problems, including the mentally ill.

“With the price of basic staples like rice and garri tripled since 2015 and Nigeria becoming the poverty capital of the world, it is clear that the majority of Nigerians neither enjoy economic or physical accessibility to adequate food. It appears Mr. President is cocooned in the lush gardens and mansions of Aso Rock and being surrounded by persons who are not minded to tell him the truth about the suffering in the land, he has lost touch with reality.”

Also, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Thursday, alleged that President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive to ban Forex for importation of food was ill-timed and, completely against the wellbeing of most Nigerians.

It also alleged that Buhari enjoys the comfort, luxury, sufficiency and safety of the Government House and was barely aware of the sufferings of majority of the citizens of the country.

PDP spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan said this in a statement in Abuja.

Part of the statement reads, “The PDP states that this directive will worsen food scarcity, exacerbate the already harsh economic situation and the general depression, frustration, resentment and despair in our country under President Buhari’s watch.

“It is indeed appalling that instead of bringing solutions to the depreciating living conditions in our nation, President Buhari is rather imposing more suffering by ordering the removal of subsidy on food even when it is manifestly clear that he had failed on all fronts to achieve any level of food security despite the huge resources available to his administration.

“The party says by the directive, the Buhari Presidency and the All Progressives Congress (APC) have again demonstrated their insensitivity towards millions of Nigerians who are already suffering acute hunger and starvation due to severe food shortage and high prices brought by President Buhari’s misrule.

“The PDP wants to believe that while Mr. President enjoys the comfort, luxury, sufficiency and safety of the government house, he is barely aware of the sufferings of Nigerians”.

Ologbondiyan added that Nigerians do not, in any way, deserve such suffering being allegedly foisted on them by such directive on food.

Also, he claimed that such a situation will only breed further despondency among the citizens, heighten security challenges and put more pressure on compatriots in the face of suffering allegedly occasioned by APC misrule resorting to suicide and slavery mission as options.

PDP, therefore, urged Buhari to cut the billions of naira being allegedly wasted on luxuries in his Presidency and free the funds for the welfare of the masses.

It also asked Buhari to recover the over N14 trillion allegedly siphoned by APC interests under his administration including the stolen N9 trillion detailed in the leaked NNPC memo and channel the resources towards food security for Nigerians.

The opposition party believes that the controversial government directive was a disservice to Nigerians and urged Buhari to rescind the ban before it inflicts more damage on the polity.

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