By all standards, Eric Umeofia, President of Erisco, is a successful businessman. He always thinks through his business ideas. Little wonder, he has fared so well, even in the face of the inclement business climate in the country.
However, the narrative has now been altered. Those close to him claim that he is paying the price for being upright in a nation that is steep in corruption.
This began when his company, a tomato processing company, signed in to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS), a scheme that offers financial support to Nigerian manufacturers in the agriculture sector by way of loans/credit facilities at interest rates not exceeding nine per cent per annum and Foreign Exchange (FX) at the CBN official rates.
Under the scheme, the company, it was gathered, enjoyed a facility of N500million through its bankers: Stanbic IBTC Bank and Keystone Bank Limited, which enabled it to create employment opportunities for many job seekers. As part of its expansion plans, Erisco, on its own,Â paid a whopping USD$460,000.00( about 50% of the total cost) to its foreign suppliers, Messrs Urumqi High Tech Development Zone Elite Trading Company Limited in China onÂ June, 16, 2015 for importation of tomato concentrate, the major raw material for its operations. This left Erisco with a balance of USD$460,000.00 to be paid to the suppliers before the items could be shipped to the country.
However, the CBN, via a circular dated June 23, 2015, banned 41 listed items as not valid for foreign exchange (FX). By this, Erisco, one of the affected importers, would be required to source for foreign exchange independently.
Among the items was â€œtomatoes/tomato pasteâ€.Â Consequently, Erisco could no longer access or obtain foreign exchange from the CBN through its bankers for the purpose of importation of tomato concentrates, which is the major raw material for the its tomato processing lines.
Very distraught, Umeofia, who said the CBN circular was not retroactive, got the greatest shock of his life when his bankers informed him that their requests to the CBN to approve the purchase of the balance sum of USD$460,000.00 at the official exchange rate were not granted.
Consequently, the billionaire businessman has dragged the CBN before a Federal High Court in Lagos for redress.
In the suit no: FHC/L/CS/402/17, he is praying the court to order the CBN to pay the sum of N20 Billion as general damages.