Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Dollar Hunt In Nigeria

By Aniebo Nwamu
By this year’s end, I expect Nigeria’s foreign exchange hawkers to sell a dollar for more than N500. If oil price fails to climb up, and the Central Bank maintains its current policy, the dollar may hit N1, 000 before the end of 2017. Is my prediction frightening?
 
*Buhari
I’m not perturbed. The CBN is perhaps not perturbed. The rates I’ve quoted are found only in the black market; in the white market, a dollar is just N197. Last year, the then opposition APC promised to make $1 equal to N1. To fulfil its campaign promise, the ruling APC should wait for some time before applying former CBN governor Chukwuma Soludo’s redenomination idea by striking out three zeros.

There is no better route to take now. Rather than hint of an impending restriction of forex for medicals and school fees, as it did last week, the apex bank should act immediately. It’s time to exclude ALL items from forex allocations. Perhaps only then would Nigerians come to their senses and begin to look inwards.

The dollar hunt has taken hawkers and bureaux de change operators to Togo, Benin and even Ghana. They won’t get enough of it. Not until the Nigerian government reverses itself on forex allocations to criminals and importers of toothpicks.

And that’s what I dread most: the lack of continuity of policies. It’s one of Nigeria’s greatest problems. In this space, a fortnight ago, I canvassed supporting importers of medicines, agric equipment and fuel with forex at the official rate. Now, I eat my words. Ban them all! Let everyone that desires dollars, euros and pounds source them at “autonomous” markets.  I say so because I know what Nigerians can do. Anyone who gets forex at the official rate is likely to divert it to the parallel market: it is far more profitable to make 100 per cent profit instantly than import machinery for business, with all the risks involved.

 
(pix:flairng)
So long as the CBN will sustain this tempo and not reverse itself, it will have my vote. We either act together or hang separately. I know Nigerians are stubborn. They are not patriotic. They suffer from inferiority complex. That’s why their greed for foreign-made goods is insatiable. Just a year ago, I was lamenting that one American dollar was exchanging with N200. As I write this, many are paying N345 for $1.The latest jump has been caused by CBN’s hint that forex restrictions would affect overseas school fees and medical tourism.

Civil “servants”, politicians and criminals have sent their children to school abroad. Those who stole Nigeria dry can only be treated in Europe when they fall sick. Certain governors and senators drink only red wine imported from Spain or whisky from Russia.  Let them stick to their choice, while some of us enjoy the palmwine sourced from our villages. They don’t need to worry about the dollar now; in any case, some of them have hidden millions of dollar bills in their water tanks and cesspool pits.

I’m aware President Muhammadu Buhari has few friends in Nigeria now. Not even his ministers are happy with him. While he may not be praised for his stubbornness, he should be urged to focus on policies that cater to the needs of the common man. [Hunger now makes some people collapse and die in the streets.] The dollar is not among the common people’s needs. Prices of local and foreign goods have gone up, but importers of essential items like fuel will no longer be allowed to inflate pump prices, no matter at what rate they purchase the dollar. Importers of luxury goods should go ahead! Let them quadruple their prices, and let’s see who will buy them. I believe in market forces.

But for the distortions brought by treasury looters, smugglers and their accomplices, Nigerians, by now, wouldn’t be worried about the dollar exchange rate. Nigeria has become a consumer nation simply because every thief is allowed to flaunt their ill-gotten wealth unchallenged. Thanks to the EFCC, we no longer see multi-storey buildings going up in Abuja, Lagos, Kaduna and Port Harcourt. The number of flashy cars painting our cities red is now in decline. Bank employees no longer earn millions for getting deposits from crooks.

So, Buhari is still on the right track. Maybe he should do something about the judiciary that has constituted a cog in the wheel of the anti-corruption war. Since the legislature is not likely to pass a bill prescribing the death penalty for corruption, a special tribunal would be necessary. The EFCC cannot locate all stolen properties; so, after seizing the ones it could find, it should be helped with a property tax. Each mansion that is not occupied by its owner, for instance, could be taxed N10million per annum. A private jet should attract N50million per annum, except it is put to commercial use.

This country has all it takes to be great.  A part of the little foreign exchange available should now be used to support genuine entrepreneurs. I hope government is aware of a young man near my village that produced a generator that uses water for fuel. Many of such technologists have been wasting away in parts of the country. They are the ones that should be sent dollars and pounds, so they could import things they need to build industries. I know a local plant whose pulp kills malaria instantaneously. Herbal healers don’t need any forex. Nor do real farmers.
*Aniebo Nwamu is a commentator on public issues


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