Recently, the CBN issued fresh regulations that approves not more than $5,000 foreign exchange to be sourced from the Bureau de Change (BDC) for school fees, medical services, others, as a way of checking incessant abuse of the FOREX market. In addition, embargoes were placed on the importation of some items.
But, like most policies, it is having a ripple effect. Nigeria is reputable for being an import dependent economy with as little as toothpicks being imported into the country, this new policy have sent the prices of food items through the roof. BABAJIDE OKEOWO reports for www.perfectbrandsng.com
Inside the pots and on most tables across the country, rice, frozen food items like turkey, chicken, gizzards, sausage, shrimps and prawns form the content of most Nigerian meals with the sustenance of most homes dependent on these imported meats and grains.
Now, at the first hint of the dollar squeeze and restriction over importation of most of the food items, many homes are lamenting that the new forex policy has caused panic inflation that is pricing the meats and rice out of their reach.
Investigation by this reporter revealed that the restriction has sent the prices of the items up by more than 35 percent in major markets in the city of Lagos from late July to date … and the prices are still rising.
Trust the Nigerian opportunistic system, barely hours after the FG announcement, the Nigerian Customs and Immigration personnel which had been having field days seizing and confiscating such imports smuggled across the border started a fresh campaign, such that local traders coming in with few cartons of frozen foods or just few bags of rice falling victims.
David Adesanya, one of the major frozen foods dealers at Ikorodu main market mourns that the decision to ban these food items is a negative one that is having adverse effect on Nigerians. He told www.perfectbrandsng.com that the hardship importers of the stuffs go through to bring the products into the country was a nightmare before now.
“The major challenge we face is with Custom officials; most times they seize the goods at will and don’t return them to us; sometimes we are compelled by them to pay almost the same price as the seized goods before we get them.
“Now, with this new policy, the problem has quadrupled, causing scarcity of the products and as you know, when there is scarcity, there is bound to be a rise in prices,” he said.
The price hike is so uniform in all the markets, with insignificant variation that you would think the whole traders in the city had held a meeting to peg the prices.
Mrs. Comfort Okorocha, a housewife who had spent hours in the market but unable to buy much, lamented the sharp increase in what she called ‘essential food items’ her family needs to survive.
“The house keeping money my husband gives to me was barely manageable before; now this new policy of a thing has worsen the situation for me. How am I going to manage? My husband has stretched himself to give us what he gets and it would be unreasonable to press him for more.
“The prices of all the food items I buy for the upkeep of the family have almost double in some cases. What kind of change is this?” Comfort queried.
A cross section of traders who spoke with this reporter lamented that the ban may lead to food crisis in Nigeria; saying that most traders that import the banned items have had their goods worth millions of naira confiscated by custom officials.
One major raw foodstuffs merchant at Mile 12 market, Obinna Chibuike disclosed that since the federal government publicly announced the ban on importation of certain food items into the country, the traders were forced to jerk the prices so as to cover up for expenses incurred from custom officials and transportation.
“I can tell you that since the federal government disclosed their intention to ban importation of food items, importers were forced to increase the prices of such commodities so that they can recover expenses incurred from Custom men while bringing the items into the country,” said he.
Our investigation also revealed that the new policy has caused the quantity of frozen food items like turkey, fish, shrimps, gizzard and prawns that dealers used to import to drop drastically, further causing a price hike.
Two major hubs of frozen foods, Orile and Suru-Alaba markets sold one carton of the products at a uniform price of N10,000 up from N7,500 (for turkey) and N9,500 up from N7,000 for chicken.
One kilogram of turkey that sold for N750 now sells for N1, 000 while chicken sells for N900 up from N700 in the same market as you read this.
The cold stores dotted along Oshodi Expressway had only two cold stores with limited stock of the items.
MD/CEO of Topman Progress Resources, the big time raw foodstuffs merchant who lost about N1.5 million to the Idimu inferno last June threw some light into the networking syndicate of rice importers and what they (the buyers) are facing in the light of the new policy.
“The price of Thailand brand of parboiled rice for example, has shot up since the forex restriction announcement. Most importers are not selling the stock they have at hand; they are hoarding it in the hope that the pressure will force a further increase in price and the strategy is working for them. Every passing day they add money to the cost of a bag of rice of 50kg bag.”
A big time bulk buyer, Onomor recently booked and paid for four trailer loads of 600 bags each but had a surprise waiting when he went to take delivery:
“I had paid for four trailer loads at the rate of N7, 200 per bag; but when I went to collect, news of the forex restriction and ban on some items came. Because of that the company released only one trailer load at the price I had paid; the remaining three I was forced to pay N500 extra on each bag before they released them to me.
“Now, if you calculate N500 x 600 bags x 3 trailer loads, you will understand what we’re going through. Of course the increase is much; I couldn’t pay at once but before they had the chance to increase again I raised money quickly and collected the remaining three. Just yesterday, I wanted to buy two more trailer loads but they could only give me one.”
While some shops sell a 50kg bag for upwards of N12, 000, Onomor still stems his price at N8, 900 per bag, and for a humane reason:
“Because of the long term customer relationship I have with my suppliers, I can still sell at N8, 900 per bag. Some people are selling higher than that.”
Future of rice importation
“Difficult to say because things can change anytime, but one thing is that as far as food is concerned, there can be no stable price, and once it goes up, it takes a very long struggle to come down again. Now the sudden increase and the cost goes to the retail buyer … the common, ordinary man and woman who buys in cups or in small kgs.”
“Food is not like clothes or cars,” Onomor said; “It is a consumable that is essential and compulsory for the rich and the poor. People must eat every day whether you’re on the sick bed or healthy.
“So no matter the cost, people will buy but I am afraid what will happen if this situation is allowed to continue. My worry is in the area of crime: to minimise crime, food must not be priced out of peoples’ reach, because a hungry man is not only an angry man, he or she is unpredictable. People will device one crooked way or the other to survive; that is my fear.”
It is a wicked policy…Segun Adewale
A leading politician in Lagos state Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Segun Adewale has nothing but harsh words for the policy. According to him, President Buhari is taking the country back to 1984.
Hear him “Most of the policies formulated so far are not too good. How on earth can you put a limit or restriction to dollar? I am sure that whoever came up with that policy must be from the north that is against Jonathan. I know that a lot of money must have changed hands during the elections, billions of dollars. But, you can’t punish everyone because of a few people. Take for instance, I run an international organization, I have partners all over the world, I make money in dollars, I have to take money to the bank and transfer in dollars, how do I do that? I can’t carry cash to the airport or else I will be arrested for money laundering. It is a sad thing that we are moving backward towards 1984 again when we have to start queuing for everything,” he said.
Irrespective of whatever anyone thinks, the common man is groaning under the hardship occasioned by this new policy.