EXPORT BAN: HOW NIGERIA GOT TO THE PARTY LATE

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