Fish Import: Fishing in troubled waters

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By Josef Omorotionmwan

NIGERIA, like any other country, needs genuine foreign investors. These investors must be kept under close watch. Otherwise, they could end up doing more harm than good. Occasionally, we must critically re-examine the role of some of the adventurers who come into the country under the guise of investment but with the sole aim of devastating our economy. Their modus operandi is to move in with big capital, plunder the country and leave it in ruins. Meanwhile, they have repatriated, a hundred-fold, the dubious capital they brought in.

Acceptably, corruption is the bane of our society. Here, we shall be dealing with the type of corruption that gets to the very fabric of our daily lives – the type that affects our psyche.

When we travel out of this country, we watch with fascination, the way Immigration and Customs Officials treat their nationals  who are returning home. They enjoy free passage while we are left endlessly on the queue for vile experimentation on how not to carry drugs, even on those of us to whom anything more than common analgesic may be alien.

On our return home, there is a complete role reversal. The other day, it took some shouting bout from some of us to get attention at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Ikeja, when we were waiting endlessly on the cranky queue, in that dark alley, while foreigners coming into the country were given accelerated attention – not for nothing; but they were the ones who could part with a few dollars.

It gets worse when you come into the country. In the business place, the so-called foreign investors slap it on your face that in your country, they can even get away with murder because your government officials are too corrupt. Government’s attitude on the issue of the protection of local industries has been largely one of “Do as I say, not as I do”.

Ikpong Umoh, Vice Chairman, Toiletries and Cosmetics Group of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN, surmised that government has never been serious with the protection of local industries. He puts it more succinctly: “Government is more interested in revenue generation and not in the growth of the industries… Today, foreigners have taken over our economy even in Small and Medium Enterprises, SMEs, like operating barber’s salons and eateries….”

Umoh is pained by the fact that over time, government has launched campaigns and made far-reaching pronouncements on the protection of local industries, including import prohibition of certain products, ban on the consumption of foreign beverages at official functions and in government offices, maintaining that uncontrolled importation of these items would continue to make local brands largely uncompetitive.

He dwells further on government’s hypocrisy: “During the campaign, the dress code of Ministers and government officials showed shoes made in Italy, the flowing gowns made in Saudi Arabia, wrist watches made in Hong Kong and the pen used to sign the event register made in Switzerland. The trays, cups and plates used for entertainment were made in China… The approval by the President Goodluck Jonathan-led Federal Executive Council, FEC, to import 60,000 waste bins from the United Kingdom at N927.6 million may have confirmed the insinuation that the much touted local content policy is mere lip service.” (Sunday Vanguard, January 12, 2014, p.33)

Speaking biblically, at a time when our indigenous fish importers should be singing the Songs of Solomon, they are still restricted to Lamentation, no thanks to the so-called  foreign investors who are suffocating them in the business. Their grand design is that once they come into the business, they begin to look for monopoly and they devise various manoeuvers to ruin any local competitor that may have been in the market before their arrival. They cut corners and employ all manner of anti-trust tactics, sometimes using the regulatory agencies, to scheme out local entrepreneurs.

Right now, some of the big importersare crying blood because an apparently incorruptible personage, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, is the Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources and it is no longer business as usual. Suddenly, there came the wild speculation that the Federal Government had banned the importation of frozen fish  into the country. Investigation revealed that this rumour of the immediate ban on frozen fish importation was a hoax designed to cause disaffection and destabilise the market.

We hear that the Ministry found that the volume of fish dumped on the country was simply superfluous and it had to quickly take two vital steps to save the market from imminent collapse: first, the quantity of fish imported into the country was reduced by 25 percent of the present level in the first instance; there is the speculation that a planned phase-out of fish importation by 25 percent annually is feasible, which means that a total ban is not coming until 2018; and second, a measure of control had to be infused into the market by allocating specific annual quota to each importer.

This government intervention is certainly an idea whose time has come and it agrees with international best practices the world-over. It succeeds in removing Nigeria from a class of its own where it has been the only country where importers operate without control and without quota allocation.

Again, this government intervention has the added advantage of boosting local production of fish. This, in a way, agrees with the old age belief that it is better to teach a man to catch his own fish than to keep giving him fish. We must not also forget that the enormous savings in foreign exchange accruable from this  plan will go a long way in the development efforts of the country.

Rather than attract opprobrium, the Agriculture Ministry deserves commendation. Two things are clear at this point: All the smear campaigns in the mass media against the Ministry are absolutely unnecessary. And, indeed, this could be the beginning of the ethical revolution we have been yearning for!

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