Directive to CBN halting Forex issuance not ban on food import ― Presidency

The Presidency has clarified that President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to stop issuance of foreign exchange for food import does not amount to a ban.

While in Daura, Katsina State last week, Buhari has told the apex bank “don’t give a cent to anybody to import food into the country,” in a bid to conserve foreign exchange for use in the diversification of the economy.

In a letter written in response to a Financial Times report, which suggested that the ban would cause food shortage and high prices in the country, presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, said it was not correct to say the government was restricting food import.

In the letter made available to the media in Abuja on Sunday, the Presidency added: “To be absolutely clear, there is no ban – or restriction – on the importation of food items whatsoever.

“President Buhari has consistently worked towards strengthening Nigeria’s own industrial and agricultural base.

“A recent decision sees the Central Bank maintain its reserves to put to use helping the growth of the domestic industry in 41 product sectors rather than provide FOREX for the import of those products from overseas.

“Should importers of these items wish to source their FOREX from non-government financial institutions (and pay customs duty on those imports – increasing tax-take, something the FT has berated Nigeria for not achieving on many occasions) they are freely able to do so.

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“Diversification of FOREX provision towards the private sector and away from top-heavy government control, a diversification of Nigeria’s industrial base, and an increase in tax receipts – are all policies one might expect the Financial Times to support.

“Yet for reasons not quite clear, the author and this newspaper seem to believe the president’s administration seeks to control everything – and yet do so via policies that relinquish government control.”

Financial Times, had in the report last week, claimed that Buhari’s directive had sparked dismay over policy shift on food imports.

According to the report, the President was “coming under fire after calling for the central bank to stop providing the foreign currency needed to pay the country’s vast food import bill.”

The report added: “But he drew withering criticism from economists and analysts who said the move threatened to send food prices skyrocketing and brought the central bank’s independence into question.

“Since 2015 the central bank has enforced a controversial policy that denies foreign currency for dozens of imported products from cement to toothpicks to rice, but Mr Buhari’s call would represent a vast expansion of the prohibition.”

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