Economic Hardships: FG, Moves To Reduce High Cost Of Energy, Import Duty  To Crash Foodstuff, Cement   And Other Consumable Items Prices,

By Stephen Ubanna

 Worried by the outcry of Nigerians over the increasing cost of foodstuff and building materials, particular, Cement in the country due to the free floating of the naira in the country’s Autonomous Foreign Exchange Market, AFEM, to the North American country of the United States, US, dollars, and other major world currencies, the Nigerian government appears to have move moved  to reduce the high cost of energy  and  duties on imported food items, wheat, spare parts, raw materials,  machineries and other items  to make them affordable.

The Economic Community of West African   States, ECOWA, French speaking member countries were said to have taken advantage of the devaluation of the naira to strengthen the CFA, that now exchanges for 1000 to N2, 200.00 at AFEM, thus making it possible for the Beninois and Nigerien Traders, particular, to troop into the Nigerian markets in the northern part of the country  through the several  unapproved routes to buy the country’s cheap agricultural, local and foreign manufactured goods imported into the country.

Dave Umahi, an Engr. And a former governor of Eboyi, south east Nigeria, and minister of Works may have spoken the mind of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who incidentally was a former governor of Lagos state, when he stated that the government is exploring ways of reducing the high cost of energy and . import duties . This because both  energy and improved forex supply to import raw materials and spare parts  are  crucial for cement production    to crash the prices of food stuff and building materials across the country.  He was particular about the reduction of the price of cement which have forestalled many building and road projects across the country.

Engr. Umahi : Minister Of Works gives hints of government’s plans to reduce energy cost and import duty

The former Eboyi state governor had said that the decision to reduce duties on machinery, raw materials, wheat and other food items imported into the country through the nation’s seaport and Land borde areas and airports was reached at a recent meeting between government Representatives and Cement Manufacturers which includes Dangote Industries, BUA, Larfarge amongst others in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.  

  Given the agreement at the meeting, Umahi , Doris Uzoka –Aniete, minister of   Industry, Trade and Investment  and Representatives of  the country’s three major cement companies ,Dangote, BUA and Lafarge were  said to have signed a Communique  to show that the government  is aware of the difficulties of the Companies operating in Nigeria, particular the Cement companies  such as the high cost of energy  to power the plants  and skyrocketing import duties  on spareparts , poor road infrastructure , foreign exchange crisis and the cross-border smuggling of cement and other food items to the neighbouring Benin Republic, Niger and Cameroon.

 This may have informed why the Industry, Trade and Investment minister, had said that she will strengthen discussions with Nuhu Ribadu, a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police and now National Security Adviser, NSA, to President Tinubu and Bashir Adewale Adeniyi, MFR, Comptroller General of Nigerian Customs Service, NCS to devise strategies for stopping the smuggling challenge   across the country.

The  Nigerian government may have shown its commitment to reduce energy cost and high cost of production  as the CBN has released  a new  foreign exchange rate for clearing of imported cargoes at the Nigerian seaports and Land border Areas which has been adopted by the service.  The latest foreign exchange adjustment which was said to have been captured  on the Federal government’s single window  trade portal  shows  that importers  will now pay N,555,081.00 to the US  one dollar  at AFEM as duty to take delivery of the cargoes.

Wale Adeniyi: CG, Customs

But Muda Yusuf,  the CEO, of the Centre for the  Promotion  of Private Enterprise, CPPE, do not believe that the CBN , has done enough to give the importers with their clearing agents a breather   as he wants the ape Bank  ‘’to peg  the Customs duty rate at N1000.00 to the US  one dollar  to ease the current economic hardships in the country  and stop cross –border smuggling.   The CPPE  CEO, had said that having a stable foreign exchange rate  for Customs duty  at the nation’s seaports and Land border Areas across the country  would address  the more significant issues  causing the economic hardships in the country .

Note that  the cost of cargo clearance  at the country’s seaports and border Areas has increased  by  more than 40% in the last two months, precisely between February and March, 2024.The fallout was increased cross-border smuggling of foodstuff, cement and other prohibited items to neighbouring West African Countries and Central African country of Cameroon to earn VFA, which is currently stronger than the struggling naira at the AFEM.

The cement Manufacturers may have shown that they are reay to work with the government to crash cement prices as they were said to have unanimously agreed to bring down the prices of the product to between N,000.00 and N8,000.00 per 50Kg bag depending the Location across the 36 states of the Federation and the FCT.

 Vice President Kashim Shettima, who was a former governor of the north Eastern state of Borno  had said that there  are  32  illegal  smuggling routes  around Ilela, a border Community between Nigeria and Nigerien  where trucks loaded with maize  and cement.  

Signs that the over 3,000 smugglers  who operate at the Ilela border axis are no longer finding it funny to facilitate the free passage of their smuggled goods became more pronounced with  the border closure with Niger  by the Authority of the Heads of State and Government  last  August.

This is evident as Lines of hundreds of trucks of the daredevil smugglers stretch back many kilometers close to Benin’s northern border with Niger. These had resulted in their cargo wasting and their drivers going broke  after weeks of being stranded   at he closed border because of the suspension  of Commercial and Financial  transactions with the West African country.  

Until the border closure, Nigeria used to be Niger’s main trading partner, believed to have exported $193 million worth of goods, particular, tobacco, maize, cement, cattle and fruit to the country. This is in addition, according to the United Nations to the supply of electricity to the country.

Ibrahim Lawal, a Professor and former Director, Nigerian Policy for Strategic Studies, Kuru, Jos, Plateau state, had said that the economic hardship Nigerians are currently facing under the Tinubu’s Administration is the direct result of former President Muhammadu Buhari’s disregard for the World Bank’s  recommendation to end  the subsidy  between 2015 and 2023.

Notwithstanding the pain caused Nigerian s with the removal of fuel subsidy by the present Administration,  Olayemi Michael  Cardoso,  governor of Central of Nigeria, CBN, had said that reason why the country over the last seven months had experienced forex crisis to fund the AFEM was because of invalid foreign outstanding claims . The CBN governor had said that out of the $7 billion backlog of unfulfilled US dollars discovered following an audit by the CBN, Consultant, $2.4 billion was found to be invalid foreign outstanding claims   .

 He had told those that cares to listen   that the claimants to the unfulfilled payments in US dollars in some instances were unable to provide the required import documentation for the claims and in some cases the entities the entities did not exist, meaning that these claims which had been ‘’pressuring the naira and unsettling the country’s foreign exchange market for a while’’ has been saved and pumped back to the AFEM, to meet the demand of Corporate Organisations.

As the CBN Monetary Police  Committee, MPC, which had adjusted   the asymmetric  corridor   around the MPR basis points , to +100/700 from +100/300 from 32.5% ratio to 45%, raised the Cash Reserve Ratio,  and still retain  the country’s liquidity Cash Ratio, at 30%  as well as seeks to mop  up  naira liquidity , many believe that  ‘’it will reduce  the naira  cash  chasing scarce  US  dollars  at the AFEM  and thus help  to stabilize  the local currency , described as  one f the world’s worst performing currencies this 2024.  

They asserted that the recent foreign exchange measures initiated by the CBN, will ultimately lead to the restoration of prices and foreign exchange rate stability. Sani Abdullahi, minister of State Agriulture and Food Security , who may have spoken the mind of President  Tinubu, had said that ‘’the economic policies that had had been rolled by the government between May 29, 2023 and now would soon start  yielding results’’.   Bwala Daniel, a Chieftain of the Opposition PDP, who had analyzed the present government tough economic policies over the last seven months, had asked Nigerian s’’ to support Tinubu in this difficult time and throw their weight behind the Administration to succeed’’.  He noted that this time of hunger and problems in the country is not time for politicians’’ to be talking of party and defection but to join forces with the government to find solutions to the myriads of the country’s economic challenges.     

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