Ever since the beginning of the year, dry beans exporters in Nigeria had looked forward to the resumption of trade between Nigeria and European Union following the ban on beans from the country as a result of high presence of pesticide.
Unfortunately, however, these exporters would have to wait till 2019 before Nigeria can resume export due to the same reason it was previously banned.
The European Food Safety Authority accused Nigeria of not doing enough to ensure that corrections were made on rejected beans coming from Nigeria which were said to contain pesticide of maximum residue, in contrast to EU standard.
The exporters and concerned Nigerians would have thought that the Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC) had gotten the ban under control when the Chief Executive Officer of the council, Segun Awolowo, set up an inter-agency committee to workout modalities that would ensure that the move of the Buhari-led government in ensuring that non-oil export compete favourably with oil export revenue of the country is not mitigated against by the year-long ban.
While the committee’s target was to get Nigeria to a zero rejection by 2016, what Nigeria got was another stretched ban and stakeholders have continued to wonder where the country missed it.
Many observers are of the view that the ban is a wakeup call for Nigeria to begin to do the needful.
“This ban should be a lesson for us that things should be done rightly,” Dr Vincent Isegbe, the Coordinating Director of the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service, said.
While the producers and traders of commodities are less concerned about the health implication of their products, surprisingly, consumers are also nonchalant. This, Isegbe and some other Nigerians believe, explains why export products are often rejected.
Some also observed that the ban was as a result of the usual bureaucratic bottleneck that compound problems instead of proffering solution to them.
An industry observer, Samson Odigie, does not understand why a committee with a year target refused to meet up despite what was at stake.
“Why would a committee sit for almost a year when it knows there is a deadline to put things in the right perspective? It only shows that our committees are the likes that proffer solution on paper with no sincere practical effort,” he said.
But how did Nigeria get to this pass?
In 2011, as a result of the pressure from the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East Zone and the imminent threat to extend the occupation to other parts of the country, the federal government directed all agencies at various ports in the country to vacate.
It, however, excluded the Nigeria Customs, Immigration Service, the Police and the Department of State Services (DSS) while agencies like e National Agency for Foods, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) and other standard regulatory agencies were forced to vacate the ports.
As a result of this development, exporters who trade in substandard commodities, capitalized on this development to get their goods overseas without proper certification from relevant agencies of government.
Nnamdi Onwakaba, a Director at the NAQS, told Time Nigeria that most exporters would prefer to approach government agencies at the port to get certificate that may not be relevant to the standard regulation of their commodity and by this avoid the prying eyes of the relevant standard regulatory agencies.
“Exporters are quick to go to any sister agency to get a document to show that they have fulfilled all requirements needed for exportation, ”he said.
Despite the immediate justification of the action by the government as at that time, its effect on the economy remained biting. The move gave window of opportunities to exporters reluctant in adhering to standard procedures to take laws into their hands.
The government directive paved way for safe passage of substandard products through the port to the seas, with packaging, labelling and information on nutritional content identified as inadequate.
Agencies like the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Services saddled with the duty of ensuring that all agricultural produce are inspected and certified before export were restricted to their offices while exporters carried out their activities with little regards to the standard of their products.
Pray, what machinery is in place?
While the NEPC’s committee met to deliberate on what should be done for a yearlong ban to be lifted, Nigeria got a three-year ban. Time Nigeria reliably gathered that although the committee had submitted its report to the CEO of NEPC, Mr. Segun Awolowo is yet to present it to the Minister of Trade and Investment who would in turn transmit it to the Federal Executive Council for implementation.
Until then, the document remains classified, its recommendations sealed while Nigeria continues to lose billions in non-oil export.
The Ministry of Trade and Investment is yet to react to the extended ban.
“Meeting is ongoing and we will soon come up with our reaction, ” the Head of Press in the ministry, Grayne Anosike, had told Time Nigeria, when taken up on the issue.
While the ministry and its concerned agencies may not see the dire implication of this disturbing development on revenue generation and diversification, the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service say beans and other agricultural produce would remain banned until exporters subject their produce to inspection and certification before shipment to other countries.
Even more disturbing is the fact that until Nigeria tidies up its act, it will continue to lose about N200 billion in non oil export.
Industry observers are now wondering whether this stone walling is the NEPC’s blueprint for prosecuting the economic diversification agenda of the Muhammadu Buhari administration?
This article was first publish by TIME NIGERIA