The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on Friday vigorously explained its planned restriction of foreign exchange (FOREX) allocation for the importation of milk into the country in the midst of a public outcry by some interest groups.
The CBN said ”there is neither a plan nor a decision to ban the importation of milk into the country,” an act it said it had no legal power to take.
The clarification followed last Tuesday’s announcement by the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, that there was no going back on its planned policy to restrict FOREX allocation to importers of milk.
At the end of the Monetary Policy Committee meeting for July, the official said the CBN was determined to go ahead with the policy to help conserve between $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion the country spends on the importation of milk every year.
Concerned interest groups
Since the announcement, interest groups have been reacting to the planned policy.
If the policy comes to stay, milk will become the 44th item to be added by the CBN to the list of commodities whose importation will be restricted from accessing FOREX at the official rate.
In their reactions, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) and the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) said they were not consulted.
This is contrary to the claim by the CBN governor that the apex bank held several meetings with some milk importing companies, particularly representatives of Friesland Campina WAMCO Nigeria PLC, one of Nigeria’s oldest importers of milk, on the issue.
Also, the Director-General of MAN, Segun Ajayi-Kadir, said the decision might lead to the downsizing of their staff.
He said the proposed policy will also cut down on the contribution of the manufacturing sector of the economy to the country’s gross domestic product.
Mr Ajayi-Kadir described the CBN’s decision as unilaterally taken ”without due consultation with the operators in the dairy industry”.
“It is a fact that backward integration is the way to grow an economy, but there is a need to be strategic and deliberate about the way to implement the measure,” the MAN DG told The Sunnewspaper.
Besides, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) dismissed the proposed plan as a “non-starter”.
The National Secretary of the group, Baba Ngelzarma, in a statement reported by Daily Post on Friday also criticized the planned policy.
Mr Ngelzarma said any policy that does not take into consideration the efforts of the National Livestock Transformation Plan to develop the high quantity and quality beef and dairy products in the country are “doomed to fail.”
We are apolitical – CBN
However, the CBN in its statement said it was not interested in playing politics with the proposed policy.
Rather, it said, Nigeria and the welfare of all Nigerians had always come first in all its policy considerations.
“Being an apolitical organisation, we (CBN) do not wish to be dragged into politics. Our focus remains to ensure FOREX savings, job creation and investments in the local production of milk,” the CBN statement said.
The CBN described the reactions by some interest groups to the planned policy ”as an attempt to mislead the general public by misrepresenting its case for investments in local milk production.”
It said while it was aware that some of its policies may hurt business interests, ”Nigerians should be allowed to have the buy-in and intense interest in the policies of the CBN”.
The apex bank assured that, as a people-oriented institution, it will remain focused on the overarching and ultimate welfare of the Nigerian masses.
Reiterating the objective of the planned policy, the CBN clarified that the importation of milk into the country was not banned.
For over 60 years, the CBN noted that “Nigerian children, and indeed adults, have been made to be heavily dependent on milk imports.”
The bank’s statement is reproduced below.
“The national food security implications of this can easily be imagined, particularly, when it is technically and commercially possible to breed the cows that produce milk in Nigeria.
“About three years ago, we began a policy to encourage backward integration to conserve foreign exchange and create jobs for our people.
“Included in this policy package was the introduction of the highly successful policy which restricted the sale of FOREX from the Nigerian foreign exchange market for the importation of some 43 items goods that could be produced in Nigeria.
“Arising from the success of the restriction policy, we approached some milk importers, as we did for rice, tomato, and starch and asked them to take advantage of CBN’s low-interest loans to begin local milk production instead of relying endlessly on milk imports.
“Today, although there have been some successful attempts at producing milk locally, the vast majority of the importers still treat this national aspiration with imperial contempt.
“For the avoidance of doubt, milk importation is not banned. Indeed, the CBN has no such power. All we will do is to restrict the sale of FOREX for the importation of milk from the Nigerian foreign exchange market.
“We wish to reiterate that we remain ready and able to provide the needed finance to enable investors who genuinely want to engage in milk production.
“The ongoing resort to blackmail and undue politicisation through the use of social media attacks can only serve to strengthen our resolve to wean our country from the clutches of powerful and highly influential traders and dealers who have kept the masses of our people hostage to foreign consumption and condemned our youths to perpetual unemployment.
“We call on Nigerians to enlist in this vanguard to take our economy back from vested interests, make our country a productive economy and create jobs for our teeming youths,” the CBN said.