Buhari Pledges to Arrest Soaring Foodstuffs’ Prices

Muhammadu Buhari

Restates directive to CBN not to give forex for food imports
Nigeria, now competitive in rice production, says Bagudu

By Omololu Ogunmade

President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday committed his administration to checking the soaring prices of foodstuffs, which have become a major driver of inflation in the country.

The president, at a virtual meeting of the Presidential Economic Advisory Council (PEAC) assured the council of his administration’s readiness to monitor the persistent general rise in the prices of food commodities in 2021 with a view to bringing them down.

The president made the commitment on the same day Kebbi State Governor, Senator Abubakar Bagudu, gave a high rating to the quality of rice being produced in the country, saying that Nigeria is now competitive in the production of the commodity.

A statement by presidential spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, also quoted the president as reiterating his directive to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) not to grant any foreign exchange for the importation of food items. This is the third time the president would issue the directive; first in August 2919 and again in September.

Recent data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) had shown that Nigeria’s Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures inflation, increased by 14.89 per cent (year-on-year) in November compared to 14.23 per cent in the preceding month.

The report showed that the composite food index, which accounts for more than half of the country’s inflation basket, had risen sharply by 18.30 per cent in the review period compared to 17.38 per cent in October.

The NBS had said the rise in the food index was caused by increases in prices of bread and cereals, potatoes, yam and other tubers, meat, fish, fruits, vegetables and oils and fats. Food inflation has been in double digits for more than three years.

Buhari also spoke on what he described as the strides made in agricultural production following the programme of diversification by his administration to check Nigeria’s over-reliance on oil revenue.

He wondered what would have been the state of the country in view of the devastating economic crisis caused by COVID-19 if the country had not embraced agriculture.

He restated the place of agriculture in the overall efforts to restore the economy, observing that measures must be put in place to curtail inflation in the country.

He said: “Going back to the land is the way out. We depend on petrol at the expense of agriculture. Now the oil industry is in turmoil.

“We are being squeezed to produce at 1.5 million barrels a day as against a capacity to produce 2.3 million. At the same time, the technical cost of our production per barrel is high, compared to the Middle East production.

“We will continue to encourage our people to go back to the land. Our elite is indoctrinated in the idea that we are rich in oil, leaving the land for the city for oil riches. We are back to the land now.

“We must not lose the opportunity to make life easier for our people. Imagine what would have happened if we didn’t encourage agriculture and closed the borders. We would have been in trouble.

“Already, about seven states are producing all the rice we need. We must eat what we produce.”

The meeting, presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari and attended by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, reviewed the state of both the global economy and the domestic economy in the outgoing year.

It identified sharp deterioration in international economic environment as a threat to Nigeria’s fragile economic recovery.

The PEAC emphasised the need to position the private sector of the economy as the primary source of investment and not the government.

The meeting also reviewed progress towards structural reforms in response to the country’s economic crisis.

The PEAC examined the institution of the economic sustainability plan, the changes in electricity tariff and fuel pricing regime, the partial re-opening of the land borders, the movement towards unification of exchange rates and budgetary reforms through Finance Bill 2020 and 2021.

“It agreed that, to prepare the country for the challenges ahead, it is imperative to ensure macro-economic stability, create certainty and re-build investor confidence in the economy.

“It emphasised the need to deepen structural reforms initiated by the administration as a basis for stimulating investments from domestic and international sources with a view to raising productivity in key sectors of the economy,” the statement explained.

Nigeria, Now Competitive in Rice Production, Says Bagudu

Kebbi State Governor, Senator Abubakar Bagudu, yesterday gave a high rating to the quality of rice being produced in the country, saying that Nigeria is now competitive in the production of the commodity.

Bagudu, in an interview with Arise News, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers, said unlike countries that started rice production earlier than Nigeria, that are selling rice stored for years in warehouses, Nigeria sells freshly produced rice.

“We have done well in the last few years. Nigeria is competitive with other countries in rice production. There is no country that can sell rice to us if we compare things.

What has been happening is that countries that are stronger than us, countries that started early are selling subsidised rice to us, or rice that has been kept in storage for many years but we are selling freshly produced rice,” he added.

He, however, expressed optimism that the country has the prospect to dominate the rice market in West Africa and on the continent with the right investment in critical infrastructure and capital.

“With the support we are receiving, the funding from the domestic economy, the Central Bank of Nigeria, the capital market that is beginning to get interested, we believe that we have what it takes to continue to dominate and expand ourselves outside the shores of Nigeria,” he said.

According to him, Nigeria sits on “acres of diamonds” and the agriculture sector can bring Nigeria out of recession.

“The agricultural revolution across the whole country, including Kebbi, is still on its way and we are counting on agriculture to lead us out of recession despite the downturn in other sectors,” he said.