•Assures foreign investors no cause for worry
•Vows to implement forex for food import restriction
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has begun a probe into the gas pipeline contract agreement Nigeria signed with an Irish company, Process and Industrial Development Limited (P &ID), whose alleged breach led to a legal battle that has left Nigeria, for now, with a $9 billion judgment liability.
Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, who spoke about the probe yesterday in Abuja, said the anti-graft agency would come up with a report that would guide the federal government in its decision.
He added that notwithstanding the EFCC probe, the federal government was determined to appeal the judgment, given last Friday by a London court.
He also said notwithstanding the mixed reactions that greeted President Muhammadu Buhari’s comment, asking the CBN to henceforth stop the provision of foreign exchange for importation of food items, he would aggressively implement the policy.
Emefiele, fielding questions from State House reporters at the ongoing retreat for ministers-designate, said he was not scared of the London court judgment as the counsel to Nigeria in the suit had already stated that there were sufficient grounds of appeal and stay of execution against the verdict.
According to him, not only will the stay of execution be vigorously pursued, the appeal will also be pursued to the level of success.
Emefiele appealed to local and foreign investors whom he said had expressed concerns over the judgment not to be worried, promising that both the country and its foreign reserves will be adequately defended.
He said: “I am not scared at all and I think it is also important that this question has come up. Since the news about the judgment broke out late on Friday, we have been discussing with our counsel and they have advised that there are sufficient and strong grounds on the basis of which we could file a stay of execution and also an appeal against that judgment.
“There are certain anomalies in the process leading to the award of that contract, which is currently being looked into by the EFCC and I believe that the EFCC themselves have their own investigation reports about that.
“So, we will follow through and aggressively too on ensuring that the execution of that judgment is stayed and that the appeal succeeds at every level both within Nigeria and abroad.
“It is important for me to use this opportunity to assure our friends, local and foreign investors, who called to express solidarity with us, not to express concern but to say that there is no need for anybody to worry. We know that the implication of that judgment has some impact on monetary policy and that is why the CBN is going to step forward and very strongly too to ensure that we defend the country and defend the reserves of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
On the presidential order on banning foreign exchange allocation to importers of food items, Emefiele said the president’s comment was not new, as the apex bank had already begun implementation of the policy by withholding forex for the importation of 41 items, most of which are food items since 2016.
Buhari had on August 13, this year, in Daura, Katsina State, said he had instructed the CBN not to “give a cent to anybody to import food into the country.”
According to the president, “foreign reserves will be conserved and utilised strictly for diversification of the economy and not for encouraging more dependence on foreign import bills.”
But the CBN governor said the president’s comment only strengthened the CBN’s action, adding that the bank will even go beyond the 41 items whose importation had hitherto been restricted.
According to him, the CBN will now be more aggressive in ensuring that importation of those items is restricted, adding that importing items that can be produced locally into the country is unacceptable.
Emefiele who queried the rationale behind providing “scarce foreign exchange” for importation of items that can be produced in Nigeria, accused critics of misrepresenting the comment of the president and described such criticisms as unfair.
He also said the bank would widen its net of restricted items by deliberately ensuring that prospective importers of such items are denied access to foreign exchange.
He told State House correspondents: “Let me say this, Mr. President’s comment on the issuing of forex to people who import food items into the country, is in the logic of CBN management’s foreign exchange policies that we started since 2016.
“If you recall, we started with about 41 items (food and non-food items) because we believe that those items can be produced in the country. As we stand today, there are about 43 items on that list and I will say substantially most of them are food items. We are basically saying if we have a food item that can be produced in the country, why should we waste scarce foreign exchange importing those items into the country when those items can be produced in the country?
“It is important for me to say that the attempt to misrepresent the comments of Mr. President is very unfair and unfortunate. But, what we will say from the CBN is that Mr. President has made this comment purely to strengthen the position of the CBN to say that he believes in what the CBN has been doing since 2016 and there is need for us to reinforce that going forward.
“I will say that to be honest, we would aggressively go more into the list of items that are being imported into the country, items that can be produced in Nigeria. I will like to stress that we would ensure that more of these items will get on the list of items that are going to be restricted from accessing foreign exchange in Nigerian banking industry not just from the CBN source because I have heard some comments that maybe it’s about the CBN’s source.
“It is not the CBN’s source. We are saying you will not be able to access foreign exchange from the Nigerian banking industry because it is important for us to produce these items in Nigeria and we will follow through on them.”
Asked if the policy would not run contrary to African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) recently signed by Buhari in Niger Republic, Emefiele said terms of engagement on the agreement had not yet been determined as negotiations were still ongoing.
He said what was important now was for Nigeria to stand out as not only the most populous country in Africa but also the largest African economy.
Emefiele added that it was untidy to allow the importation of items that can be produced locally into the country, saying doing so will militate against job creation and economic growth.
He explained: “It will not affect the content of the AfCFTA. In any case, the AfCFTA is an agreement that is ongoing. The terms of engagement are still being discussed and negotiated. The important thing is that Nigeria needs to stand as the largest economy in Africa and the largest populated country in Africa.
“We need to stand and dictate the terms under which we want to be in it and this is what we are saying. But what I am saying is that it is wrong, it is inappropriate that an item that can be produced in Nigeria should be imported into Nigeria.
“When we get into the AfCFTA issues, we will also look at the details of it, but at this time, we are saying we need to create jobs for our country, for the youths and we need to create jobs. We yearn for growth and the only way we can really accelerate growth in Nigeria between now and next four years is to see to it that items that can be produced in Nigeria are indeed produced in Nigeria rather than being imported into the country.”