• Address delivered on Sunday, 27 January, 1980, at the luncheon arranged by the Tribune Group to mark the Silver Anniversary of the introduction of Free Universal Primary Education in the former Western Region of Nigeria.
WE of The Unity Party of Nigeria have a vocated the immediate lifting of ban on all imports. We are fully aware of the intricate problems that would arise in the wake of such an action. It requires comprehension, industry, and dedication to cope successfully with such problems. We now know that the NPN lacks the attributes for the tackling such problems. But, at least, they can lift the ban on all food items immediately because the resultant problems in this case would be much easier to handle.
The Central Bank’s Monthly Report for June, 1980 which is the latest I have, and which is the most up-to-date of our statistical reports, only records the value of our major import groups up to December, 1979. During that year we spent a monthly average of about N92.2 million on food imports. the figures for 1980 are not yet available, at least for people outside the public service like me. But one can make a shrewd guess. The monthly average for 1978 was approximately N92.3 million while the total expenditure on all imports for December, 1978 was a little less than Nl billion – i.e. N907 million. Having regard to the 1978 and 1979 trend, it is not likely that the monthly average for 1980 would be much more than N92.2 million, or at the very highest, N100 million. As against this, our balance of payments for March and for April, 1980 shows a surplus of N254.2 million and N302.9 million respectively. It is most likely that our favourable balance of payments for the rest of the year would be less than monthly average of say the N280 million. Besides, out of our N55 billion foreign exchange reserve we only need N3 billion to meet three months’ imports; we can afford to spend N2.5 billion, It will be seen that, without having recourse to our present huge external reserve, we can finance our import of food items comfortably and still have a favourable monthly balance of payments of about between N180 million and N188 million. It is only a senseless and miserly fool who will pile up savings in the bank and allow himself to starve. Similarly it is a criminal breach of trust to allow the beneficiaries to suffer acute hunger, when the trust money is more than enough to give them suitable and adequate food. Furthermore it is a callous and anti-social violation of the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy for the Federal Government to fail to direct its policy towards ensuring that suitable and adequate food is provided for all citizens.
Even if we did not have such a high favourable balance of payments from month to month as we now have we should not hesitate to spend part of our existing foreign exchange reserve to feed people suitably and adequately. Practically all our foodcrops can be produced either twice yearly (like rice and maize or yearly (like yam and cassava). If we do mean, therefore, to produce enough food to feed ourselves we do not a all need to fear any dangerous inroad into our present healthy foreign exchange position.
In the face of the foregoing reasoning there can be only one rational explanation for failing to remove all restrictions on rice- import; it is. to provide avenues for artificial shortage, and for legalized and officialized pillage. Says Alhaji Shagari on this point.
Henceforth licences will no loner be issued to individuals but direct to Government Agencies adjudged competent to import and sell them at controlled prices. In addition I have set up a Special Task Force to monitor the new system for the importation and distribution of essential commodities.
Having regard to the Nigerian experience, no one will take Alhaji Shagari seriously on this statement of policy. If it amounts to anything at all it simply means, that the circle of “plunder without detection” is being unnecessarily widened by the super-imposition of the Special Task Force, and that the people’s lot will in no way be improved by the implementation of the stated policy.
Accordingly, in all the circumstances and if you accept my line of reasoning, it will be our bounden duty, at this Congress, to urge its strongly on the Federal Government to lift ban and remove restriction on importation of all items. This the NPN – NPP coalition can and must do because as we have demonstrated, it is not at all difficult to accomplish.
In regard to Housing, a write-up in the Nigerian Tribune of last September 26, entitled BOLD FEDERAL EFFORTS TO HOUSE THE CITIZENS has the following to say, among other things:
The houses provided by the Federal Government are not going to be expensive at all. For instance, a three bedroom flat unit designed for the medium income group will be sold at N15,000. One bedroom is N6,000 and it will take 25 years to pay up in contributive rentage of N20 a month. What else can be comfortably cheaper?
Of course, there are others which are much more comfortable, and a lot cheaper. As against the federal one bedroom flat which is N6,000, Lagos and Oyo State charge N6,000 and N7,500 respectively for a two bedroom flat. Again, as against the federal three-bedroom flat, Lagos and Oyo State charge N7,500 and N7,875 respectively for a three-bedroom flat.
What is worse, the federal one-bedroom flat is an outage on the status of the common people and a permanent form of degradation to their dignity as human beings. The room is three square metres, and the living room is 3.30 by 4.25 metres. I visited one of the estates and entered and inspected one of the houses. I am satisfied that no married couple with children in any of our rural areas would want to live in a one-bedroom house, and pay N20.00 per month into the bargain. In fact, in answer to question, the workmen in the estate told me with one voice that no married man with children would live in the one-bedroom house, and that the house must have been intended only for a school-boy or bachelor. Indeed, if a family of four or five, not to talk of ten which is common in rural areas, were to live in this one-bedroom house, the whole estate would become an unbearable slum in a matter of two years or less.
To be continued