The Presidency denied on Sunday that the Federal Government had placed restrictions or an outright ban on importation of food items into the country.
In a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu, the Presidency said President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent disclosure that the Central Bank of Nigeria had been asked to stop providing foreign exchange to food importers did not imply a ban on food importation by the government.
Shehu explained that importers could still source FOREX from non-governmental financial institutions and pay the relevant custom duties to the government.
The Presidency was reacting to a recent article published by the Financial Times, titled, “Muhammadu Buhari sparks dismay over policy shift on food imports.”
It was published on August 15.
Responding to the publication as ‘Letter to the Editor’, the Presidency stated,
“Your article, ‘Muhammadu Buhari sparks dismay over policy shift on food imports (15 August), suggests the Nigerian Government is restricting the import of agricultural products into the country.
“This is simply incorrect. To be absolutely clear, there is no ban – or restriction – on the importation of food items whatsoever.
“President Buhari has consistently worked towards strengthening Nigeria’s own industrial and agricultural base. A recent decision sees the Central Bank maintain its reserves to put to use helping growth of domestic industry in 41 product sectors rather than provide FOREX for the import of those products from overseas.
“Should importers of these items wish to source their FOREX from non-government financial institutions (and pay customs duty on those imports – increasing tax-take, something the FT has berated Nigeria for not achieving on many occasions) they are freely able to do so.
“Diversification of FOREX provision towards the private sector and away from top-heavy government control, a diversification of Nigeria’s industrial base, and an increase in tax receipts, are all policies one might expect the Financial Times to support.
“Yet for reasons not quite clear, the author and this newspaper seem to believe the president’s administration seeks to control everything – and yet do so via policies that relinquish government control.
“We look forward to the next instalment of Mr (Neil) Munshi’s bizarre and puzzling article series.”
In its own article earlier, the Financial Times wrote that Buhari’s directive to the CBN could send food prices “skyrocketing.”
A part of the publication read,
“Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is coming under fire after calling for the central bank to stop providing the foreign currency needed to pay the country’s vast food import bill.
“Mr Buhari this week ‘directed’ the central bank to cease providing dollars and other currencies to importers as part of his efforts to spur domestic agricultural production and attain ‘full food security’ for Africa’s most populous nation.
“But he drew withering criticism from economists and analysts who said the move threatened to send food prices skyrocketing and brought the central bank’s independence into question.
“Since 2015, the central bank has enforced a controversial policy that denies foreign currency for dozens of imported products from cement to toothpicks to rice, but Mr Buhari’s call would represent a vast expansion of the prohibition.”