by Feyi Fawehinmi
2 days ago, the minister of agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, released the following statement:
The Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development — Chief Audu Ogbeh has threatened to shut down any fertiliser plant that denies local farmers access, while exporting the same commodities. The minister made this known following allegations that one of the two big urea plants in Nigeria is producing for export while selling to Nigerian farmers at skyrocketed prices, making affordability and accessibility difficult.
“Two urea plants are big enough to run the Nigerian demands. We know their capacities. But where there are allegations that some people are exporting instead of putting in the Nigerian market, and prices shot to N10,000 per bag of urea, we became extremely angry with them. Thank God now, many of them have started producing and putting into the market. The price is already dropping,” Chief Ogbeh observed.
“But, we are warning against the future. There can’t be any priority but the Nigerian market. If there is a surplus, they are free to export. But, unless and until there is a surplus, we can’t sit by and watch people selling fertiliser beyond the shores of Nigeria when the local farmers have nothing to buy. And we are saying the same to others. The priority is the Nigerian market.”
According to the minister, “Nigeria is a good market for fertilizers, therefore there is no reason to side-track this market and create difficulties for farmers. The government is giving every support it can to people who want to manufacture locally; and we will always give. So, we need absolute cooperation from all of them.”
There has to be a point where you say ‘enough’. And for me this is it. To the extent that I can afford to have some principles, I cannot have anything to do with people who are so openly hostile to enterprise and who speak the language of Venezuela to the economy.
You can run a simple google search on ‘maduro threatens to shut’ and you will see results where the Venezuelan president is using the same language as Audu Ogbeh to threaten businesses. It did not start with Nicolas Maduro — it began with Hugo Chavez who conveniently died before oil prices crashed. Today, Venezuela is a complete humanitarian disaster that is on the brink of complete implosion.
Whether or not Audu Ogbeh carries out his threat, he has publicly shown the type of person he is and the kind of government he is part of. If you run a fertiliser business, you will have to find some way of protecting yourself just in case he actually carries out his threat. There is no way this can be good for consumers. If it was as easy as ordering prices to come down which country won’t be doing it? Why will some countries bother with the hard work of allowing markets do the job of bringing down prices?
For one year, some of us tried as hard as we could to get the government to leave the currency alone and let markets work. They only agreed to do it after they had tried everything else and it didn’t work. But even at that, they cannot help themselves. The first month was spent on trying to rig the market to keep the naira at N280. When that failed, they tried all sorts of things including mandating oil companies to only sell their dollars to oil marketers —an idea so foolish that even they quickly backed down from it.
The latest idiocy is to tell people like me that I can only use Western Union or MoneyGram to send my own money to Nigeria. I have not used Western Union to send money in close to 5 years now and I don’t know anyone who still uses them. We abandoned them for a reason. For the CBN to try to force us to go back to something we walked away from is so laughably idiotic that I will give them a few weeks to reverse themselves again.
Now they are telling BDCs that they are only allowed to add a 2% margin to forex sales. In a couple of months time, the forex landscape will be such that no one will remember that these same people ‘floated’ the naira a couple of months ago.
A few weeks ago, the CBN governor was in New York to meet with some investors and try to convince them to return to Nigeria. One of the big fund managers refused to meet at all. Please understand this — the CBN governor was in their city and they refused to meet him. Nigeria has less than zero credibility in the eyes of foreign investors right now. And less than a month later, he has proved them correct by constantly fiddling with the rules and trying all kinds of shenanigans. They know he is not reliable so nothing that comes out of his mouth can be believed.
The logic of floating the naira some of us campaigned for was simple — a transparently priced currency would give investors confidence to bring their money into the country after they all ran away. The inflow of forex would then reduce the pressure on the naira and make life a little less painful for Nigerians who are exposed to forex through the price of imported goods.
When the government then goes back to its vomit by fiddling with the market. When it keeps a CBN governor who has less than zero credibility with the people we are trying to entice back into the country. When the agriculture minister is openly threatening private businesses based on the idea that everything you have is only yours because the government allow you to have it. When the government is directly increasing the suffering of Nigerians even though it claims to be doing the opposite.
One must say enough.
It is possible that I convinced a couple of people to vote for Buhari and the APC. I owe them an apology. I never expected this. The instincts of these people is to run with their expired ideas directly in the face of all the contrary evidence i.e. the 21st century. In fact, they are not interested in evidence, they are so convinced of their own foolishness. A bunch of undercover communists and unreconstructed socialists.
I have nothing in common with such people and yet I somehow donated money to them and canvassed people to vote for them. I will freely say that this is one of the biggest lessons I have learnt in my life so far.
Was the evidence there all along? Possibly. The adrenaline of changing a government we were tired of closed eyes to the obvious. Sometimes there are no good choices and with or without me, Buhari and his APC co-travellers would have won anyway. I doubt I can swing 10 votes in a Nigerian election.
But what I should have done is to have been more skeptical. Ideas should have been interrogated a lot more. Even if it ended up not making a difference, it would still have been important to do so. Not just so one can say ‘I told you so’ but perhaps to have forced a few concessions and to make them know we were watching closely. If enough of us had done this, perhaps the APC would not have the confidence to be walking away so blatantly from the product it sold during the campaign as it is doing today.
It is hard to see where respite will come from. Unless oil prices go back up significantly, there is really nothing coming out of the government that gives you any confidence they know what they are doing. The ‘smart’ people who were supposed to lead sensible reforms and drive the change agenda have been reduced to actors in a silent movie.
In place of a change agenda that was promised, Nigerians are now offered a daily dose of high drama and the redefinition of extant words. ‘Padding’ now means a different thing from what it used to mean.
If I convinced even 10 people to vote for Buhari, then I owe them an apology. For not properly interrogating the people who offered themselves as the solution to Nigeria’s problems. Not because it would have made a difference but because it was the right thing to do. Nigeria was always the point.
I feel sad and ashamed at the way things are unfolding. I speak to people in Nigeria and the level of sadness without even the outline of a vision of a better tomorrow from the leadership fills me with despair. I speak to some people in government and even they know that things are not working. The government that promised change is now so bound up in politics that changing anything is practically impossible even when they know the thing is not working.
This has been a chastening experience for me. There are hard lessons to be learnt here.
So, even if you were 99% convinced of voting for the APC last year and you read something from me that finally pushed you to 100%, I apologise. If you overcame your skepticism because you thought the arguments that people like me made carried some sense, I also apologise.
All that is left to do now is try as much as possible to keep the government from tipping Nigeria over the cliff. It is already standing at the edge and is determined to jump off. And more importantly to start a process of ensuring that mistakes made last year are not made again in the future. It is the right thing to do.
- This Best Outside Opinion was written by Feyi Fawehinmi