Osinbajo Blows Hot, Warns Neighbouring Countries

Laolu Akande, Abuja: Let me again thank you all for your attendance at this Quarterly Business Forum on agriculture, agribusiness, and the agro allied value chain. I think we are at a special moment in our journey to food security, and to becoming a power of sorts, especially of processed agricultural products in particular.

We are in a special moment because the Federal Government has shown commitment towards agriculture and entire value chain. We have seen enthusiasm of all the players, including the small farmers all across the country.

Getting feedback concerning issues that have been raised, there is cheaper credit, and the President directed that we set up a small committee to look at the issue of intervention funds in agriculture. It is clear, that we are not able to bring down interest rates overnight, the way out is by some kind of intervention agreement.

I chair a committee to look at how to monitor and use intervention funds. We will ensure that the funds go to the right people and also monitor the use of the funds. We are also refining the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, and other intervention schemes that we have.

Listening to questions concerning lower tariffs, we must pay higher tariffs, these sorts of things are inevitable. What we are trying to do is not increase tariffs for now, but how we can ensure we clean up the entire value chain. I’m sure you are aware of the Payment Assurance Guarantee which we put in place for over N700billion to ensure gas is paid for and for liquidity in the whole value chain.

Today, we will be meeting with the World Bank on a scheme they have been working with us on to fund the entire value chain, and ensure we transit smoothly from where we are, to a much more market-determined policy for electricity. This will involve a fair amount of subsidy and help the Federal Government and World Bank are working together on that. There is no way of sustaining the current subsidies long term, but we want to ensure the process is smooth.

Dealing with the gridlock in Apapa port, the first thing to recognize is that the port is meant to be a 34 million metric tonnes capacity port. Now it is doing 80million metric tonnes, so it is obviously a port far too small for the size of business it is doing.

We have met with all of the important stakeholders, asides from those who do their business there like Flourmills, Dangote and BUA. We have also met with the Navy, Police, NPA, Lagos State Government, all federal agencies working in the ports and port concessionaires.

At our last meeting, we worked on a number of initiatives and agreed on a number of things that have to be done. I went personally to see for myself what was going on in the port area. There is a major problem there, but everyone has agreed on what to do and there is a plan which we are executing. Nothing would happen overnight, but we have a good plan that will make it work.

We have taken a number of decisions; empty containers are to be relocated to holding bays, shipping companies would no longer be allowed to operate holding bays within the port, tank farms would not to be permitted within the Apapa area and process licensing access to trailer parks by NPA to commence. A task force has been set up to manage traffic within the Apapa and Tin Can Island environs.

The PEBEC team has been monitoring what’s going on and we are watching closely to solve the problem. As you can imagine, it is a long running problem and the roads in that neighborhood are extremely bad but we are trying to fix them.

We agreed that Dangote Group will carry out palliative works and reconstruction of some major sections of the Apapa road, which is expected to be completed by June 2018. Procurement processes have also been concluded for construction of Liverpool road to Tin Can, to Mile 2, Oworonshoki up to the toll gate. The Honeywell Group has committed to construct a trailer park, they have started and will complete it very shortly. BUA Group agreed to do the works around the Tin Can Island road. We have it in hand, and we are watching and following up on it.

On excise duty, I have read the PWC study, which goes in one particular direction. And being a professor and having read several studies, I know how studies can generally represent the point of view that you prefer. We will consult the study, and make sure that this does not hamper business and raise costs in any way to discourage production.

On poultry, we go back to the problem around smuggling and what to do when supply does not meet demand. There is a huge demand for poultry and despite local production, people are still buying imported poultry. Just as we did, with tomatoe paste industry, we must work something out with poultry.

In developing the policy for the tomatoe industry, we were quite sure of what it would take to bring local production to the point where cost don’t go high because we are banning imports. We have got a fair balance and soon all will see the policy as a good one. With poultry, it is a similar situation, it is something we must work on and the Honourable Minister of Agriculture will work on that, so that we can get some sort of balance.

Smuggling is a serious threat to our economy, and Mr. President has asked me to head a team to work out what needs to be done. We are making the point to our neighbors, that smuggling is an existential threat, we can’t permit the level of smuggling going on.

Last year, there was over 500,000 metric tonnes of rice around Christmas, which the Minister of Agriculture told us about and how it came in through one of our neighbours, but we blocked it.

Now, three shiploads of rice have left Thailand, 120,000 metric tonnes, going to this same neighbour of ours who have very large warehouses where they store this rice. It is very clear that this rice is for us because our neighbours don’t consume parboiled rice, they consume the white broken rice. It is clear that our neighbours do excellent business, with allowing rice to come into Nigeria and other products including poultry

I think it is important for us as a country, to make the point clear, that we are not going to accept that. We are all within the same economic zone and work together, so we go in a friendly and polite manner as possible, to ensure that this practice stops.

For those who are familiar with it, the duty in some of these neighboring countries, especially for rice, is deliberately set lower than ours, it is about a fourth of ours. We have increased duty tax so as to discourage importation but they would naturally drop duty to encourage import and then it would come to Nigeria.

I think we are at a point where we are making a fair amount of progress with the land issues also with the State Governors. It is not a problem we can solve overnight. For titling of land, banks find it difficult to accept lands just as it is, banks won’t accept the lands without titles, one of the issues we are working with State Governments is to ensure titles are done effectively and effectively as quickly as possible. Lagos, Kano and Rivers are working very well with us.

We have an Ease of Doing Business initiative for the sub-nationals, and at the moment, a road show is going on, trying to encourage State Governments to work with us. There is no national policy on land titling.

With respect to land clearing, we have heard from BOI and Minister of Agriculture on how we need to assist States, particularly the Southwest, to ensure that we support land clearing.

I have noted the suggestions that have been on a standing -consultative forum on agriculture and agri-business. This will be extremely useful and we should do. How we should go about it will be left with the Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment to work those out.

So let me again express my gratitude to your all for you time and for all of what you have done to make the Nigerian economy work well. All of us know how difficult it has been, but I am encouraged by the efforts which individuals, associations and groups are making to improve things, our circumstances and our situation as an economy.

We are all firmly of the view that this country can do a lot more than what it is doing if we get the infrastructure and incentives right. This country can be one of the major agriculture and agric-business centres in the world. I am sure if we work together we can achieve all of that.

Fundamental to our economic policy is private sector leadership, and we have emphasized that time and time again. We have tried to establish several public – private sector platforms including this one, the quarterly business forum. The constant engagement in my view is the way to go.

If we continuously engage and interact this way, we will resolve most of the problems that stand in the way of our becoming the great economy that our country surely has the potential to be.

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