By Stephen Ubanna
Godwin Emiefiele, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, is a happy man. This is because his plan to place more food items and NPK fertilizer on the forex prohibition list had won the heart of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Emiefele may have made up his mind in 2018, that more food items and NPK fertilizer must be placed on the forex prohibition list while on a tour of the Dangote gigantic Refinery and Fertilizer projects at the Lekki Free Trade Zone, in Lagos state.
He had told those that cares to listen that there was no going back on the policy to place more food items and NPK fertilizer on the forex prohibition list as the completion of the Dangote’s $2 billion dollars plant , described as one of the biggest in the African Continent and the $9 billion refiner is nearing Completion.
It is interesting to note that in December 2018, the apex bank had placed the NPK fertilizer, on the list of imported goods that may no longer be eligible for forex allocation at the official market but that was how far it could go. `
Investigations by The Value News shows that between 2015 and now, the country had spent billions of dollars to import food items and NPK fertilizer including Petroleum Products, from Asia, Europe, and the North American country of the United Stated States, US, and South Africa. Take for instance, in 2018, the country was said to have spent $175.15 million on Fertilizer imports, alone.
The United Nations COMTRADE database report on International trade shows that the country’s fertilizer imports data, historical chart and statistics, was last updated in September of 2020, which was very revealing. The country was said to have spent about $1.3 billion on Cereals import which include maize in 2019 alone.
This may have informed why the Katsina state born Nigerian President quickly endorsed the CBN, proposal to stop more food items and NPK fertilizer importers from sourcing their forex from the bank official market .
An aggrieved Buhari who may have seen reason to cue into the CBN decision to ban more food items and NPK fertilizer importers from accessing the forex market. He had said that the importers use the scarce forex sourced from the official forex market to bring into the country ‘’compromised food items ‘’.
Appealing to the NPK fertilizer and food importers to source their forex from the unofficial market, he challenged them ‘’to use their money to compete with the local Fertilizer NPK producers.
In 2018, the Leadership of the Fertilizer Producers an Suppliers of Nigeria, FESPSAN, had commended the CBN initiative for placing a ban on the importation of Foreign NPK fertilizer ,saying that it would make the country to become self-sufficient in the production of NPK fertilizer.
Until the CBN, took the bold fertilizer initiative, the Association, according to insider sources had been pressurising Emefiele, the CBN, governor to push for an outright ban for the importation of Foreign NPK fertilizer in order to help the Nigeria young blending NPK fertilizer industry grow. Their argument was that the ban on importation of Foreign NPK fertilizer, would attract more local investment in establishing NPK Fertilizer blending plants in the country and thus, cage the smugglers.
Given the interest of the CBN, on the the Dangote multi-million dollars projects, Emiefele was said to have master-minded the donation of N75 billion by the apx bank, to support the business mogol Refinery project and N50 billion to support the fertilizer plant .
In taking the decision to edorse the CBN, proposal i, banning more food items and NPK fertilizer importers from accessing the official forex market,, the Nigerian President had explained that it would’’ save the country’s scarce forex reserves in order to empower the local producers of the NPK fertilizer .
He noted that on assumption of office on May 29, 2015, there were only three working fertilizer blending plants across the country but the number of such plants had increased to 33 as at September, 2020, barely one year, into his second Term in Office.
It is instructive to note that the Complaints of the local farmers over the years had been that the locally produced NPK fertilizer could not compete with the South African blended fertilizer and other imported NPK fertilizer because of the low quality. This may have forced the government to Launch the National Fertilizer Quality Control Act 2019, expected to help the local fertilizer blending plants to produce quality NPK fertilizer.
In spite of the launching of the fertilizer initiative and the CBN, decision to place the product on the prohibition list, in 2018, smugglers, may have devised strategies to bring the product into the country to beat the CBN and Customs to it in order to meet the demand of their numerous Customers scattered all over the country because of the alleged insufficient local production of the local NPK fertilizer.
Joseph Atta, a Deputy Comptroller of Customs and the Service Spokesperson, may have shocked Nigerians, when he gave an insight to the continuous smuggling of the NPK fertilizer into the country. Attah had confirmed that within the first one year of the border closure with the neighbouring West African countries of Benin Republic, Niger and the Central African country of Cameroon, the Border Drill, alone, which was a fallout of the border closure had intercepted and seized 9, 600 bags of NPK fertilizer.
The seizure of the thousands bags of the smuggled NPK fertilizer from Benin, Niger and Cameroon, may not have stopped the smugglers from engaging in the nefarious trade. This is evident going by the thousands of the NPK fertilizer that had been seized in recent time in different parts of the country, by the Border Drill, and the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, across the country and other Customs formations.
Recall that Mohammed Sabo Nanono, minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, who could not hide his feelings at the launching of the Fertilizer initiative Act had said that ‘’it would safeguard and protect the interest of the entire value chain players in fertilizer production like the manufacturers, producers, blenders, importers, distributors and the farmers’’.
The minister had also said that’’ the Act would provide the enabling environment for the fertilizer blending plants to grow as well as protect other investments in the nation’s Agricultural sector’’.
He was emphatic that it would stop the smuggling of the product but that had remained to be seen as the smugglers had broken all the known security networks across the country to bring the Foreign NPK fertilizer into the country.
This is where Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, who many believe is very tough and his anti-smuggling officers may have to tighten up security in the country’s borders, paticular, in the north to stop the NPK fertilizer smugglers.
Worried that the smuggling of the farming inputs had been attributed to the high cost of the locally blended fertilizer products compared to the imported NPK Fertilizer, the Daura retired Army General and Politician, who has vowed to make Nigeria self- sufficient in food production, has ordered the blenders of the NPK fertilizer in the country ‘’to take their products straight to the state governments for distribution to the farmers’’. He may have taken the decision in order t”o beat the cartel of transporters who are undermining the efforts of the NPK fertilizer blenders to deliver the products to the end users at reasonable costs’’.
This may have informed why Hajia Zainab Ahmed, minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning could boldly say that the government ‘’would facilitate the cultivation of 20,000 to 100,000 hectares of new farmlands in every state of the Federation as well back the take-off of agro-processing plant facilities to create millions of job opportunities for the teaming unemployed Youths in the country’’.
She may have gladdened the heart of the Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises, MSMEs, Entrepreneurs, who had been on the sponsorship of the Tony Elumelu Foundation , named after Tony Elumelu, the founder and Chairman, United Bank For Africa, UBA plc , a Pan African Bank, when she said that ‘’the government will support their investment in order to help keep their employees and boost local manufacturing of goods’’.
Recall that the Nigerian President had broken the cheering news of the government going to support the MSMEs, when he said’’ that there are a lots of young people willing to go into agriculture’’ , stating that ‘’the government have a lot to do to support the young local farmers in order to tackle the country’s food insecurity and high unemployment level.
Nanono, the minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, had assured the young MSMEs, Entrepreneur farmers, in 2019, that they have no need to worry about their investment in NPK fertilizer plants and the Agricultural sector because of the devastating effect on the economy by the Wuhan Town in the Hebei Province of the Asian country of China emerged coronavirus, popular COVID 19 as the government is on top of the situation to make things easy for the investors.
The minister had said that the MSMEs Entrepreneurs in the nation’s Agricultural sector are sure ‘’every Kobo spent on buying fertilizer for their farms’ because of the measures put on ground by the government.” This i as good news for the young farmers who were said to have intensified their investment in Agriculture to cue into the government Agricultural policy of making the country self-sufficient in food production.
While NPK fertilizer importers are yet to come to terms with the government policy, in June 2015, the CBN, on the orders of the President had issued a circular , containing the list of41 imported goods and services that were banned from accessing the fore market. The figure was said to have increased with the inclusion of maize and other items in the recent time .