The Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association and the Centre for Social Justice say the directive by president Muhammadu Buhari to the Central Bank of Nigeria to withdraw foreign exchange for importation of food is coming at a wrong time.
They made their views known on Wednesday in separate statements.
The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, on the other hand, called for a clarification on the food items to be restricted from foreign exchange allocation.
The president had on Tuesday told the apex bank not to give a cent to anybody to import food into the country, saying by so doing, there will be steady improvement in agricultural production and attainment of full food security.
The president said some states like Kebbi, Ogun, Lagos, Jigawa, Ebonyi and Kano had already taken advantage of the federal government’s policy on agriculture with huge returns in rice farming.
However, the NECA in its statement said though the initiative was laudable, the country could not afford such policy now as it had yet to attain self-sufficiency in food production.
Timothy Olawale, the director-general, NECA, who spoke for the association, said that a wholesale immediate withdrawal of forex for food importation without giving a buffer period for businesses to adjust might have serious consequences on the economy.
He said, “We commend the president and indeed federal government for its numerous efforts at ensuring food sufficiency in Nigeria and protecting local farmers.
“We note most especially the agricultural promotion policy championed by the federal government through the federal ministry of agriculture and rural development since 2016.
“Though the recent thrust towards withdrawal of forex for imported foods is laudable and welcome, the timing, however, calls for concern.”
Olawale noted that the argument of conserving foreign exchange through the withdrawal or ban of forex for food importation was not tenable.
He advised that rather than a blanket withdrawal of forex on food and milk importation, a gradual withdrawal with a buffer period of not less than five years should be given.
Similarly, CSJ, in a statement by Eze Onyekpere, its lead director, said the presidential directive was illegal.
The group said that the directive was based on a false premise, as there was no evidence to show that the Federal Government’s agricultural programmes had led to self-sufficiency in food production in the country.
Reacting to the directive on Wednesday, Muda Yusuf, the director general, LCCI, asked for details on what constitute food in the context of the presidential directive.
Yusuf said, “First, there is a need to get more details and clarifications on what exactly constitutes food items in the context of the presidential directive. The harmonised system codes of the items affected need to be indicated.
“It is hoped that these details would be made available in subsequent releases by the CBN. This is essential for proper analysis of the possible impact on investment, welfare of citizens and the economy.
“We need to worry about the implications of policy pronouncements for investors’ confidence and the general sentiments of investors.
“Unemployment level in the country has reached a disturbing level of over 23 per cent, and rising. Youth unemployment is even much more. Yet the panacea for dealing with the scourge of unemployment and poverty is investment.”
He added that if policy and regulatory risks continued to escalate as currently being experienced, the chances of stimulating investment, whether domestic or foreign, would remain dim.