By Richard Adeniyi
Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, has explained how importers are wrecking the Nigerian economy.
Ogbeh said importers were the greatest wreckers of Nigeria’s efforts to promote patronage of locally produced products.
Speaking in Abuja recently when he appeared before the National Assembly Joint Committee on Agriculture to defend the ministry’s budget, Ogbeh said that international merchants such as importers of such products as toothpick, sugar, vegetables, and pencils were frustrating government’s efforts at ensuring that Nigerians bought made in Nigeria goods.
“We are a nation of importers. Toothpick every year costs us 18 million dollars, tomato paste costs us 400 million dollars.
“Meanwhile, a basket of tomatoes is less than N2,000. The farmers are losing money because the processors do not have enough funds to set up factories.
“Two factories have started off. I am sure by the end of next year we can comfortably tell the importers of tomato paste to stop.
“Unfortunately, when you do you make enemies; even the importation of rice that we are trying to reduce is creating for us enemies, heavy enemies, people, who can kill if they have the opportunity because you are spoiling their business.
“Nobody should take this lightly. These guys have hijacked the economy of this country.
“They have taken it hostage and they have no intention of giving up. This regime is unpopular in part because it is trying to cut down imports and transfer the wealth to another thing.
“I know what I am saying because I have been in this business for 41 years. We import sugar, handkerchief, toothpaste, even pencils.
“I read in the newspapers recently that the Champagne Ambassador in Nigeria said Nigerians love life. We are the biggest consumers of champagne on planet earth. More than the French who made it. It will take a strong government to cure Nigeria of this problem,” he said.
He said it was unfortunate that some Nigerians, who had developed so much appetite for foreign goods, were finding it difficult to begin to patronise locally produced goods.
“There is made in Nigeria rice in super markets across the country, but I have no sympathy for those who insist that it must be foreign rice.
“I have no cure for their disease. If they prefer foreign rice I cannot stop them,” he said.
He said it was unfortunate that some reasons given crave for foreign produce was borne out of the need to show class and not because the products were better than locally produced goods.
The minister said that the country could pride itself as one of the largest producers of rice and yam in Africa.
He promised that the Federal Government would begin to consider the possibility of exploring cocoa and other cash crops.
On implication of farmers, herders clash on the amount of products produced in the country, Ogbeh said it had so much effect on the quantity of food crops churned out by farmers.
He expressed concern that efforts by the ministry to find lasting solution to the problem had been frustrated by key players in various states.
He pointed out that the ministry invited governors of the 36 states of the federation to a roundtable, only 16 states responded.
The minister said the country could pride itself as one of African countries that is the largest producer of rice and yam.
The Co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Sen. Abdullahi Adamu, called for concerted effort to restore the glory of the agricultural sector, which was once the country’s mainstay.