Agric Minister tongue lashes Importers for wrecking FG’s efforts to promote local industry

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…As SERAP lampoons Gov’t over soaring waves of Corruption, despite Buhari’s efforts ***

The Minister of Agriculture, Mr Audu Ogbeh on Tuesday tongue lashed importers, describing them as the greatest wreckers of Government’s efforts to promote patronage of locally produced products.

Ogbeh stated this in Abuja when he appeared before the National Assembly Joint Committee on Agriculture, to defend the Ministry’s budget.

But while he was busy tongue lashing the importers in Abuja, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) were in Lagos Tuesday, lampooning the system, saying corruption had soared to unacceptable level in Nigeria, in spite of the efforts of the Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

The Agriculture Minister essentially noted that international merchants such as importers of products like toothpick, sugar, vegetables, and pencils were largely frustrating government’s efforts at ensuring that Nigerians bought made in Nigeria goods.

“We are a nation of importers. Toothpick every year costs us 18 million dollars, tomato paste costs us 400 million dollars.

“Meanwhile, a basket of tomatoes is less than N2,000. The farmers are losing money because the processors do not have enough funds to set up factories.

“Two factories have started off. I am sure by the end of next year we can comfortably tell the importers of tomato paste to stop.

“Unfortunately, when you do you make enemies; even the importation of rice that we are trying to reduce is creating for us enemies, heavy enemies, people, who can kill if they have the opportunity because you are spoiling their business.

“Nobody should take this lightly. These guys have hijacked the economy of this country.

“They have taken it hostage and they have no intention of giving up. This regime is unpopular in part because it is trying to cut down imports and transfer the wealth to another thing.

“I know what I am saying because I have been in this business for 41 years. We import sugar, handkerchief, toothpaste, even pencils.

“I read in the newspapers recently that the Champagne Ambassador in Nigeria said Nigerians love life. We are the biggest consumers of champagne on planet earth. More than the French, who made it.

“It will take a strong government to cure Nigeria of this problem,” he said.

He said it was unfortunate that some Nigerians, who had developed so much appetite for foreign goods, were finding it difficult to begin to patronise locally produced goods.

“There is made in Nigeria rice in super markets across the country, but I have no sympathy for those who insist that it must be foreign rice.

“I have no cure for their disease. If they prefer foreign rice I cannot stop them,” he said.

He said it was unfortunate that some reasons given for the crave for foreign produce was borne out of the need to show class and not because the products were better than locally produced goods.

On implication of farmers, herders clash on the amount of products produced in the country, Ogbeh said it had so much effect on the quantity of food crops churned out by farmers.

He expressed concern that efforts by the ministry to find lasting solution to the problem had been frustrated by key players in various states.

He pointed out that the ministry invited governors of the 36 states of the federation to a roundtable, only 16 states responded.

The minister said the country could pride itself as one of African countries that is the largest producer of rice and yam.

The Co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Sen. Abdullahi Adamu, called for concerted effort to restore the glory of the agricultural sector, which was once the country’s mainstay. 

Meanwhile, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) on Tuesday bemoaned the present system, highlighting that corruption in Nigeria has soared to an unacceptable level, in spite of the efforts of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.

The SERAP made the claim at the launch of the results of a report of a national survey entitled “Nigeria Anti-Corruption Performance Assessment Survey”, an event which held in Lagos, during which the body came up with a 57-page report in collaboration with UKaid.

It said  that corruption was prevalent in the country in spite of  some significant measures  by the president toward addressing it.

According  to SERAP, some of the measures are the establishment of the Treasury Single Account, Whistle-Blowing Policy and constitution of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption.

The reports showed that the national survey conducted in November 2018  and December 2018, targeted a total of 2,655 respondents, selected from seven states spread across the six geo-political zones of Nigeria and Abuja.

The survey also covered five sectors –  Police, Judiciary, Power, Education and Health – in order to assess the state of corruption in public law enforcement and service provision.

It said: “There was a 63.7 per cent probability that an average Nigerian would be asked to pay a bribe each time he or she interacted with the police.

“There was a 49.1 per cent probability in the power sector, 27.7 per cent in judiciary, 25.6 per cent in education and 20.5 per cent in the health sector.

“The police and the judiciary had the largest proportion of total bribes paid at 33 per cent and 31 per cent, respectively.

“The average amount of bribe paid by the respondents was highest among those who paid to the judiciary at about N108,000. All the other institutions ranked lower on this variable.”

SERAP recommended establishment of an independent commission of inquiry to conduct a transparent, comprehensive and impartial investigation into  corruption in the five sectors.

It also suggested legislative and constitutional reforms including amendment of the Code of Conduct Bureau and  Tribunal Act to ensure public access to the asset declarations of public officials.

It equally urged prosecution of liable individuals without delay and according to international fair trial standards, adding that there should be improvement in financial oversight of the five sectors.

SERAP also urged publication of quarterly budget execution reports by the sectors.

The Chairman of the occasion,  Akin Oyebode, a Professor of International Law and Jurisprudence, lauded the report.

“We now have a reference point to assess how much we have done in the fight against corruption. The consciousness of corruption cannot be erased.

“We have accepted corruption as the way of conducting business via kickbacks, bribes or dash. The police who are to sanitise the system are complicit.

“SERAP is putting Nigeria on the stand as regards what needs to be done as it is not very often you see organisations coming up with a scorecard,” Oyebode said.