Africa, Economy & Trade, Headlines, Labour

ECONOMY-NIGERIA: Product Ban Elicits Limited Support

Toye Olori

LAGOS, Dec 2 2003 (IPS) - It has been business as usual in most Lagos markets during the past few days, even though several traders were on tenterhooks, after officials threatened to confiscate a variety of items that had been banned from sale.

In August last year, the Nigerian government outlawed the import of certain second-hand goods that had been manufactured more than eight years ago. These included used refrigerators, air-conditioners, vehicles and tyres.

Additional lists published in March and July this year extended the ban to bagged cement, textiles, frozen poultry, cassava, packaged fruit juice, toothpicks – and a wide selection of other goods.

The government has also adjusted the tariffs on 512 items – all this in a bid to encourage Nigerians to buy the local equivalents of targeted products.

While customs officers had threatened to raid markets towards the end of November, no action was taken on the scheduled date.

The raid was to have marked the end of a two-week period given to traders to dispose of contraband goods. According to the National Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), this did not apply to products that were already on the shelves before the announcement of the new policies.

"Most of us have moved some of the items they listed as banned out," said a motor parts dealer, who gave his name simply as Chukwu.

"As you can see, the shops are almost empty. It is not because I have sold out of tyres or other items, but I have removed them to avoid complete loss if the raid takes place," he added.

However well-intentioned the government’s policies, many traders and consumers have taken a dim view of the effort to bolster Nigerian industry. Those who spoke to IPS in Idumota market said raids would simply create more hardship for people who are already affected by economic decline.

"It is impossible to say you want to take away things that are already in the warehouses and shops. How can they? We cannot produce some of these items and even if we do, they are too expensive," said Idowu Oduware, a government employee.

"Can a civil servant afford ‘Made in Nigeria’ Dunlop tyres," he asked. These tyres cost up to a 120 dollars, while used tyres can be bought for as little as 30 dollars.

Oduware also pointed a finger at inefficient policing along Nigeria’s borders: "How did the banned items come into the country in the first instance?…You (officials) cannot control supply, yet you want to control the use. It is a crazy policy."

Textile shop owner Daniel Aiyedun also thinks the ban is ill-conceived. "When I brought in my textile materials and shoes through the Seme post (on the border of Benin and Nigeria) we had to pay some money. The items were not seized, because we paid," says Aiyedun.

"But if you now come into my shop to seize the same goods, then you are putting me out of business. That is not fundamentally right," he added.

Oduware says, "They will only drive traders underground…Traders will now sell the materials on the black market, and at outrageous prices. Government is creating more problems for the poor masses."

NACCIMA has added its voice to this chorus of discontent, describing the new policies as reckless.

Director General Lawrence Adekunle said in a statement that seizures of contraband goods could only be effectively carried out at border posts – not in shops or supermarkets.

"NACCIMA (has) been (a) proponent of import prohibition of products that are adequately produced locally. The implementation of such a ban should be carried out in such a way as to prevent huge losses by importers who have concluded import contracts before the pronouncement of the import prohibition," he added.

The selective ban forms part of government efforts to revive ailing industries in Nigeria.

Industry Minister Magaji Muhammed has said that certain sectors are only operating at about 48 percent of their total capacity, in spite of efforts by the government to boost economic growth.

The milling industry is one example of this. In 1983, Nigeria had 55 mills. Only 18 are currently operational.

The liberalisation of the textile industry by the late President Sani Abacha in 1994, also led to the closure of about 135 companies out of 175.

In a bid to control the influx of textiles, President Olusegun Obasanjo has imposed high import duties on printed textiles – and insisted that these imports pass through the Apapa and Tin Can Island ports, both situated in Lagos. But, Lamidi Dokun – Customs Area Controller of Tin Can Island Port – says importers are finding inventive ways to avoid paying the tariffs.

These taxes are hurting the economy of neighbouring Benin, though. Benin’s ambassador to Nigeria, Benoit Adekambi, said recently, "Already we are a weak country with a poor economy. Nigeria is the largest market we have for our textile products. Since that ban came into effect, our economy has been badly affected."

Chukwu and his fellow motor part dealers believe the furore may eventually die down – allowing them to continue with their trading. In the meantime, they’re sleeping with one eye open.

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