By Emeka Mamah, Nwabueze Okonkwo & Chimaobi Nwaiwu
ONITSHA — IGBO traders and businessmen have cried out over what they described as the recent harsh economic policies introduced by the Federal Government, saying that such policies were allegedly introduced to cripple their businesses across the country. A vox pop conducted by the South East Voice across the five states of the region showed that the traders were angry with the Federal Government for introducing the $5,000 Basic Traveling Allowance, BTA, as well as for making Kano State the “clearing house for all imported goods in the country.”
Those, who spoke at separate interviews, also, faulted the ban on importation of certain commodities like shoes and other agricultural products. They said that efforts should have been made to encourage local producers instead of banning them without warning.
The Ogirishi of Igboland, Chief Rommy Ezeonwuka, who spoke in Onitsha, said that although it was good for the government to ban the importation of furniture, toothpicks and rice, among others, the policy should have been carried out in phases to enable local producers come to terms with the situation.
“It is an insult to import textiles into this country while our textile industries are not flourishing. But the current government policies are targeted at suppressing Ndigbo as a race. Such policies include the current clamp-down on foreign exchange and making Kano the clearing ground for imported goods. How can one leave Port Harcourt or Lagos and travel to the extreme north to clear his goods? These are wrong policies because they will discourage local and foreign investments.
“In the same vein, the Buhari’s regime is not observing the constitutional provisions for federal character in political appointments. The government is also discriminating against Ndigbo in the area of execution of projects as the South East Zone is excluded in the provision of social amenities. This is very bad.
Buhari should focus on achieving uninterrupted electricity supply. The government should even encourage building of indigenous private refineries rather than relying on the oil cabals, who are deceiving the government and making life unbearable for the entire citizenry, Onwuka who is also the proprietor of Rojenny Sports Resort, said.
In his contribution, Chief Gilbert Bravo Obi, chairman, Nigerian Importers Association, Anambra State branch said: “We heard that President Buhari wants to transfer the clearing house for all imported goods to Kano. Since he assumed office, traders have not been finding things easy. There is no more importation business in Nigeria, and you know, that majority of importers are Ndigbo.
However, I must emphasize that it is still too early to draw a conclusion that Buhari’s policies are either favourable to Ndigbo or not, or that they are favourable to business environment or not. At Nnewi, the Publicity Secretary of Anambra State Traders Association, Dede Uzor Uzor said that, “the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has stayed for over six months now, adding that it had hit him adversely as a businessman.
“The economic policies of the present administration has affected me personally; as a businessman, who trades on textile materials and pharmaceutical products. The administration introduced the policy of $5,000 as BTA. That means that you can only travel outside Nigeria with only $5,000. Tell me how a trader, who imports from overseas can survive with such amount of money. It is not possible for a trader to survive with that amount, after paying over N200, 000 for your air ticket.
“The government knows those siphoning money to their overseas bank accounts, but has left them to pounce on ordinary traders, who are doing their businesses in order to hamper their operations. The other time about seven Onitsha main market traders were arrested and their money seized because of their alleged involvement in money laundering. What money laundering? “Tell me how a trader can survive in this present administration with this policy of $5,000 as BTA?
“So, the government of President Buhari is not helping traders. This government is killing us, quote me. The traders are crying, so he should review the policy because it is affecting everybody. Nigerians are suffering because of that policy, because if it does not affect you as a trader or importer, it will affect you as a consumer.
Big time traders
“Nigerians are crying over the high prize of goods and services, which have skyrocketed to high heavens. The average man on the street is crying. Buhari should discard that policy because about 80 per cent of Nigerians are either petty traders or big time traders while 20 or 30 per cent are civil servants. Tell me how these people can survive when Nigeria does not produce anything; virtually nothing, so in situations like this the government should listen to the yearnings of the people.
“Democracy is supposed to be government of the people by the people and for the people, but this one is government of the people by the people, against the people. This is man’s inhumanity against man. This is economic blockade and President Buhari must review the bad policy or other policies that are not just against the people but the economy. “Nigerians know those who have stolen their money. Buhari knows those who have stolen Nigeria’s money.
“He should go after them and not traders who have not occupied any government offices or done any government jobs or contracts. We have been suffering over the years; doing our buying and selling businesses. Some of us have graduated from small scale businesses to importers and now you want to kill our businesses with one policy that somebody just woke up and introduced. This has made people to abandon their businesses. It is inhuman. The policy lacks human face.
Dr Okey Umeano, an industrialist, medical doctor and a politician said that the Federal Government was not serious with any economic policy that would lead the country to prosperity. What they are doing is trial by error. The government is still grappling with the issue of petroleum subsidy and there is no economic direction yet by the government. When they come up with one, we will know.
“It is unfortunate that during the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan, some people were against petroleum subsidy; those people criticized it and even sponsored protests against Jonathan over subsidy. “Those people who were against Jonathan must be ashamed of themselves now .We are waiting for them to come out and criticize the present government for removing petroleum subsidy.
“Actually, this government surprised us with its $5000 BTA policy for business travels among others. Those who introduced that policy are wicked. The policy is aimed at witch haunting some people, but at the end of the day they have used it to cripple the economy of some people but everybody is now suffering. When you bring up such policies, you have to introduce measures to cushion the effects. We are not producing some of the things that they are discouraging people from importing into the country.”
Mr Rob Emeka Eze, a small scale industrialist and movie producer also spoke on the issue. He said, “The economic policy of the present administration has succeeded in crippling the economy. I do not know how they came up with some of these economic policies. Sometimes, I do wonder the type of economic advisers the present administration has. They are misleading the government. President Buhari should listen to the yearning of the masses and reverse some of these economic policies that are killing the economy. They are crippling the economy; we are not doing anything these days.
“We believe that they are experimenting with these economic policies with the hope of dropping some of the ones that are not working, like the $5000 BTA. They have crippled our businesses with that policy and it is affecting everybody I hope they will review it.”
Mr Alphonsus Eze Okete, who trades on kernel also criticised the present economic policies which he said had “locked down the country for six months now, saying that people were now being arrested for swallowing foreign currencies at airports instead of drugs because of the harsh economic policies of the Federal Government.
“The whole thing was meant to cripple the Igbo. That is why people have now resorted to smuggling the dollar and other currencies instead of hard drugs. It is like cutting your nose to spite your face. We have taken ourselves back by 50 years and this is ridiculous. “What traders do now is to collect money among themselves and smuggle same through couriers. That is the reason for the upsurge in the trafficking on the dollar and other currencies, Eze added.