Feyi Fawehinmi: Governance by nastiness

A few days ago, it was the minister of state for agriculture, Heineken Lokpobiri:

The Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, has said that Nigeria spends about $22bn a year on importation of food.

Lokpobiri made this known on Saturday at a town hall meeting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.

He said the development had led to the astronomical rise in price of rice and other commodities, stressing that if Nigerians failed to produce some of the items being imported, before December the price of rice would skyrocket to N40,000 a bag.
He said there was a projection that by 2050, Nigeria’s population would be 450 million, wondering what would happen then if the people could not feed themselves now.

Lokpobiri said, “For your information, we spend about $22bn a year importing food into Nigeria. We know how many more dollars … and that is why you see the price of rice going up.

“Price of rice was N12,000 some months ago, but it is now about N26,000 and if we don’t start producing, by December it could be N40,000″.

Then it was Audu Ogbeh, the agriculture minister himself:

He said that the consumption of rice in the country was rising and that a lot of people were not aware that the rice had some degree of arsenic.

The minister said that consuming rice in large quantity on a regular basis was a bit of health risk, adding that substituting it with potato would be welcomed development.

“The volume of importation of virtually everything into this country is too much”.

“The demand for dollars in this country as at today is 2.5 billion a week; this is the quantum of dollars Nigerians are asking for to import things”.

“Since 1986, we began this habit of importing everything and doing virtually nothing at home to sustain ourselves; now, we do not have the dollars and people are very hungry”.

“This day was coming anyway, no matter who was in power; we have the most ridiculous method of devaluing our currency; every week, we auction the dollar and naira goes up”.

“We sat and were hoping that by devaluation, we are going to arrive at Eldorado; if we continue like this, it will be a thousand naira to a dollar,’’ he said.

Let’s think through the basics here.

  • Nigeria is going through a forex crisis, that much is clear. Anything imported, like rice, is bound to get more expensive as a result. And indeed, the rice that was N9k in December 2015 is now approaching N30k today.
  • We can all agree that in a poor country such as Nigeria, there is absolutely no way on earth people are eating the same amount of rice they were eating at N9k last year at almost N30k today. The price of so many other things like fuel has gone up so there is real pressure on people’s incomes.
  • But there’s more. Last year when CBN released its infamous list of 41 ‘banned’ items, rice was number one on the list. Surely, this could have achieved nothing other than to increase the price of rice as it pushed rice importers to the black market for forex.
  • On top of all that, importation of rice into Nigeria is heavily tariffed. Bringing in brown rice, for example, attracts up to 70% tariffs. Again, this only serves to raise the price of rice imported into Nigeria.
  • A 50kg bag of rice is 100 Yuan in China (N5,000). In Thailand, 1 metric tonne of parboiled rice is currently $403. If we use an exchange rate of N400 to $1, this works out at around N8,000 per 50kg bag. Even if you fly it by business class to Nigeria, the price should not be the current N26,000 or more that it is.

***

We can be generous and say that half of the cause of rice prices skyrocketing was caused by the devaluation of the naira and the other half by government policies. The reason for this, allegedly, is that Nigeria should be growing its own rice and save forex in the process. Fine, you can say that’s a reasonable goal for any country, at least on paper.

But at this point, there is only one thing the government can do — help Nigerians by finding any means it can to bring down the cost of rice to ease some suffering. Clearly, local rice production can’t meet up to demand and is nowhere near competitive in price yet.

As I said earlier, you don’t need a PhD in economics to know that Nigerians must surely have reduced consumption of an item that has nearly trebled in price in less than a year. You complain that Nigerians consume too much imported rice? Fine, you have managed to raise the price to the point where the thing is now unaffordable for millions of poor people. Well done, you have won.

But the goal of this was not to make rice too expensive to eat. It was to switch from imported to local rice. Where is the local rice? Ok, it’s on the way. Maybe when it finally arrives, prices will reduce so that people can eat.

How then did we get to this point where a week cannot go by without the agric ministers talking down to Nigerians and blaming them for their own hunger? You’ve already used different policies to make the item more expensive than it should be. You have not delivered on your side of the bargain by making local rice cheaper or more available. So what’s the story here? Except the argument is that eating rice at all is now a crime, what’s up with blaming the victim?

         ***

The government is not powerless to ease the pain caused by high prices of a popular staple. It has chosen not to do so. In fact, the same Audu Ogbeh was recently telling Nigerians that the hunger will last longer than expected.

A recession is never a pleasant thing. In a country like Nigeria, it is painful. Just by standing still, people’s standard of living is being cut in half. Is this really the right time to increase the amount of nastiness in the polity?

From ‘Change Begins With You’ to constantly blaming Nigerians for their ‘taste’ for foreign goods and importing ‘too much’ — is it really necessary to conduct governance by nastiness in this way?

I hope the APC government knows that it will face Nigerians again for another mandate in 2019? Yes, there are other ways you can win elections in Nigeria other than through votes. But still, it won’t be easy to switch from blaming Nigerians to asking them for votes when that time comes.

If suffering for greater glory is part of APC’s plan for Nigerians, that’s fine. But there’s really no need to rub it in.


Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

This op-ed was first published HERE

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