ABUJA: Nigeria’s average import bill in the first five months of 2017 reached about N588.1 billion per month. This is in contrast to what it was in 2005 when oil prices was about $50 per barrel for an extended period of time, and monthly average import bill was N12.4 billion. Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr Goodwin Emefiele who disclosed this on Tuesday observed that the high import bill has continued to put pressure on the Naira as demand for Foreign Exchange (FX) remained significantly high. In his presentation titled “The Dilemma of Monetary Policy During a Recession: Potential Options for Nigeria,” delivered at the Nigerian Bar Association’s 2017 annual conference held in Lagos, Emefiele called on Nigerians to use the opportunity provided by this period of economic recovery to look inwards, diversify our economy, produce locally and create jobs for our unemployed youths.” He also disclosed that the demand for Halal meat and sesame across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries is huge. “In fact, we have credible information that the Saudis may need up to 120,000 heads of frozen goat/sheep per week from Nigeria. Similarly, the demand for cashew nuts and shea-nut butter across the world is rising.
“Nigeria has comparative advantage in all these products and can quickly tap into the vacuum created from the sharp fall in supply of these products from their erstwhile major suppliers. From these, we can earn foreign exchange to bolster our reserves while also creating jobs and engendering broad based economic growth,” he said. According to the governor, looking carefully at the size and structure of Nigeria’s import bills, and taking cognisance of the fact that imports are a leakage to every economy, “it is apparent that we as a people cannot continue to depend on other countries for things that can easily be produced locally.” “How do we justify the importation of items like eggs from South Africa, beef from Zambia and toothpick from China if we are serious about jump-starting economic growth in Nigeria and creating sustainable jobs for our people?”
In proffering solution, the governor reiterated that agriculture remains the largest employer of labour in Nigeria and contributes about 24.2 per cent of our GDP. In addition, a good share of the demand for FX today goes directly to importing agricultural produce he said. So, the CBN, according to him, has both a direct and indirect rationale to ensure that this sector is revived in a significant way.“In this regard, we are gratified that the CBN’s Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, together with other initiatives like the Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme and NIRSAL, are proving to be successful in several states.“In Kebbi State alone, over 78,000 small holder farmers are now cultivating about 100,000 hectares of rice farms. It is expected that over one million metric tonnes of rice will be produced in that state alone this year,” Emefiele stated. According to him, given the persisting drop in oil prices, the government need to take bold and decisive actions at fundamentally changing the structure of Nigeria’s economy.