The law of protectionism is relevant if one has a thing to protect. It was the military era that Nigeria started the banning syndrome which really was of neither relevance nor protecting any banned goods it was supposed to.
Ban was placed on the importation of goods, ranging from vehicles, frozen chicken, turkey, textile goods to rice, flour, vegetable oil and even the tomato puree. The reason then was to protect our local industries. Ban was also placed on foreign exchange and that was the beginning of the downward plunge of the naira which before then was sixty kobo to one US dollar.
Yet, those in the fore-front of placing ban on foreign exchange were caught with fifty-two suit cases of naira on transit in our Muritala Mohammed airport. That was the end of the story, and nobody till today was brought to book. If banning of imported goods is to protect our industries, how far have our industries fared in the past thirty years. High-classed lace materials, hollandaise, guinea brocade, and wines brandy and whiskies, have been banned but today they adorn the homes and tables of rich Nigerians. Have our industries been able to produce alternatives of equal or better quality? Granted that the ankara represents Nigeria’s handwork. Can one compare the quality and cost of our ankara with that produced in Ghana or Benin Republic?
Our leaders boast daily with the green revolution, ofada rice, Abakaliki rice, enough to feed the nation and for exportation, yet none of them has been able to ask Brazil and Taiwan how to grow rice for export and local consumption. How much chicken and turkeys has Obasanjo’s farm ,(and indeed all the retired military generals, who after their misadventure in the nation’s governance, went with their booty to establish failed farms and later came back to the nation’s politics) produced for the nation’s consumption and for export? How much of it can stop the importation of frozen chicken and turkey meat?
For how long will Nigerian’s continue to fool themselves? The military never meant anything good for the nation and its economy. All they did is to consolidate themselves into power so that the incoming coup planners will not sweep them away. Their bogus economic policies were not really meant to enhance the economy of the nation. One of such obnoxious policies is the banning syndrome which all Nigerians and their leaders will now have to review and reconsider.
What is the essence of banning when all the banned products are still flooding Nigeria’s markets, homes, streets and so on, at much higher price? Products like rice, frozen chicken, turkey, meat, vegetable, oil, flour, alcoholic beverages, tomato puree, textile materials and all types of second hand vehicles are still very much with us, to the benefit of our untouchable leaders, both military and civil, custom officers and other law enforcement agents. Banning builds large markets for smugglers, a business which thrives so much in Nigeria today. Come with me to the Republic of Benin. Spend an evening, beginning from 8pm, anywhere between Seme border and Cotonou. You cannot imagine the volume of vehicles plying the road, most of them Nigerians on smuggling spree, bringing in all the banned imported goods into our country.
I stayed, watching at a vantage point, while the law enforcement agents, who are supposed to enforce the laws on the smugglers, would turn their backs, while these goods are being loaded after they have been settled just a pole away. Each of the law enforcement agent is represented in a road-block to collect “tolls” and allow the smugglers get away with the goods unchallenged. In some cases, these smugglers are accompanied by law enforcement agents who protect them against his colleagues on their journey into Nigeria markets.
The banning laws have outlived their usefulness and Nigeria should immediately do away with them and allow free trade especially on essential food items, which our nation cannot produce enough, because of the corruption inherent in our leaders. For the months I have spent in the Republic of Benin, I have never seen their light blink once. I have never experienced any black-out which is a daily litany in Nigeria. Billions of naira have been spent on electricity, and yet the more money we spend, the more darkness we have, and the richer our leaders.
If all our ports are opened for these goods to come directly into Nigeria, the country will be richer in customs duties and other related payments and the smuggling business will no longer be attractive. If the issue of smuggling is reduced or none at all, then police will not be shooting soldiers on the way from Seme border any longer, a case witnessed about two weeks ago. Thousands of jobless Nigerians would be employed in our ports to handle various clearing and forwarding of goods, exportations, importations and other freight-related businesses. It does not make sense banning goods on one hand, and smuggling the same essential goods, which the citizen of Nigeria need most at a costlier price. What sense does it make, for a bag of rice to be imported from the Republic of Benin at N6,000 and the same bag is smuggled to Nigeria and sold for N8,000 to our poor rice-eating citizens? The government will be helping her citizens, if rice is imported directly and sold at N4,000 to the people. The customs duties on the bag of rice will accrue to the government and it goes to build the nation’s economy. The ban on the importation of essential goods is archaic and of the military relics. It should be reconsidered, and jettison forthwith. I know that President Jonathan will make life easier for the poor masses of Nigeria by unbanning the banned goods.
Pat Asakome who is a broadcaster, an author and an analyst in public affairs, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.