Just the other day, the Central Bank of Nigeria said access of foreign exchange to import milk would be restricted and the reason being that Nigeria had “abundant resources” to produce cow milk.
The CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, said this when he briefed the media on its Monetary Policy Committee meeting outcome. As Emefiele put it: “We believe milk is one of the products that can be produced in Nigeria today. I have asked questions at different forums that we have seen the importation of milk into Nigeria before many of us were born over 60 years ago.
“West African Milk and Freisland Milk have been importing milk into Nigeria for over 60 years. Today, milk imports stand at between $1.2bn and $1.5bn annually. That is a very high import product, given that it’s a product that we are convinced can be produced here.
“What really does it take to produce milk? Get cow and give them plenty of water to drink and let them eat a lot of grass and then position them in a place that they don’t roam about. Such cows get fat and we take milk out of them.” He charged the management of milk companies in Nigeria to support the policy, adding that local production of milk would reduce persistent clashes between farmers and herdsmen.”
But why is it that Nigeria’s policymakers are wont to put the cart before the horse? It was Sir Winston Churchill who said, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it”. Sadly, it’s the CBN’s history.
This very policy is a carbon copy of one from the same CBN that put Nigeria’s economy in the doldrums, of which The Economist newspaper warned the apex bank then through its article, “Nigeria’s Currency: Toothpick Alert”, of the consequences of restricting access to foreign exchange on a category of imports without first being self-sufficient. The CBN is again trying to use monetary policy to solve fiscal issues when it has not strengthened local capacity.
But the restriction of foreign exchange for milk importation is hardly my angst. As laudable as the idea of Nigeria being able to produce enough milk for its people is, it is coming at a precarious time.
Let’s interrogate Emefiele’s statement, particularly a certain part. I quote it again: “Get cow and give them plenty of water to drink and let them eat a lot of grass and then position them in a place that they don’t roam about.” Under normal circumstances, that statement will sound reasonable and well-meaning.
But times have changed!As they say, the more you look, the less you see. The more you hear, the less you understand. Which cows is Emefiele talking about? Who will give them plenty of water to drink? Who will give them grass? By the way, whose grass?The grass in the North or the ones in the South?
Who will position the cows in a place? Who owns the place the cows will be positioned? Will it be in the form of a colony, a ranch or dairy farm or something else? Is it individuals or government or corporate entities that will manage it? Is it even Nigerians or foreigners that will own them? Too many questions perhaps not enough answers.
I am not a pessimist. And neither am I a doomsayer. But a child who has been stung by a bee will be scared of a fly. It has to be said all does not seem to bode well with this plan especially at this time in our history.
Nigerians will recall that after they spoke against the implementation of Ruga settlement, President Muhammadu Buhari said he had “suspended” it. Many Nigerians queried the choice of the word “suspension” instead of “outright cancellation”. Suspension to them meant the matter could be revisited.
And it could come in any guise. That was why they did not want any ambiguous word. To them, the matter should be laid to rest forever. But with the word “suspension” still subsisting, Nigerians could be forgiven if they are wary of any policy where a cow or whatever is related to it is involved.
This CBN’s proposed policy is coming on the heels of another suspicious one called the e-registration of illegal migrants that will grant them automatic citizenship.
Now, why is a government that did not name its ministers so much in a hurry to introduce this policy that in my thinking should be driven and announced by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development?
Emefiele was re-appointed as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. And that was the first time since 1999 that anyone had got a second term. Is this second term because he has outperformed all previous CBN governors? Is it because his policies have removed Nigeria from being one of the poorest countries in the world? Is it because with his policies, the naira is now a respected currency globally? Is it because under him the economy is now performing? Or is there more to his reappointment than meets the eye? Recall that before he announced this policy, Emefiele, in what seemed a veiled threat, informed operators that foreign exchange access for milk and other dairy products would be restricted both at the official and parallel markets if they refused to toe the Federal Government’s line as a way out of the herders-farmers crisis. And we all know government’s own idea of solving the problem.
Consequently, Nigerians can be forgiven if they begin to wonder whether this is another way of introducing surreptitiously the vexed Ruga settlement.
It’s unfortunate that the Federal Government has made the people not to trust it any longer even when it could be meaning well.
The brouhaha that cows have continued to generate has left Nigeria to seem branded like a cow. Buhari’s government must do a soul-searching by asking itself first if it is sincere with the Nigerian people and has their well-being in mind. It must also ask itself how it lost the trust of the people. This government must find a way to win back the trust of the people. The place to start is in the President’s heart. But as for the cows themselves, I say “moo moo”.
Dr Odoemena is a medical practitioner writes from Lagos