Speaking at the 7th Annual Banking and Finance conference in Abuja, Jonathan lamented the high amount spent annually on the importation of food items that could be sourced locally.
“Our import of agricultural products as of last year, we spent N630 billion. We are now ranking number one importer of rice. I don’t know the ranking but I think we can also compete well in importing fish, and also in wheat and sugar, and this is a big challenge”.
The President who was represented by Dr Yarima Lawal Ngama, Minister of State for Finance, made references to the 3.3 billion dollar facility which Dangote signed with some banks saying, “I think there is no reason why the banks cannot come together to say that by 2015 Nigeria will not import a single grain of rice.
“That is a big challenge. We have put the policy in place to discourage importation of rice but the main issue is production,” he added.
At the conference with theme, ‘Upholding Professionalism in the Financial Services Industry: Supporting the Economy,’ the minister challenged the bankers saying that many countries in the world are proud of agriculture and mining, but not in Nigeria.
He said the oil sector that Nigeria relies on has few exploration companies, few drilling companies controlled by Nigerians, “so the bulk of the money leaves Nigeria or will not even come to Nigeria, because even the bankers are foreign bankers. But when you look at agriculture and mining, the entire cash flow will revolve within the country. It will have a bigger multiplier effect on the economy than the oil sector.”
The minister said if the banks can loan $3.3 billion to Dangote alone, they should be able to extend the same to salvage the agricultural sector.
“Whenever the Central Bank intervenes in the economy, it is indicting the banking sector. The commercial bank should take up the challenge of restricting the Central Bank to just regulatory functions because it is an aberration to find Central Bank lending. But who is allowing that aberration? It is the banking sector that is not doing what it is supposed to do.”
He decried the high interest charged by the bankers saying, “right now the amount of money government is paying as interest to the bankers is competing with the amount of money we are spending on capital projects and it is making bankers lazy.
“The entire banking industry has one customer from whom they earn N700 billion and they can afford to go to sleep,” he maintained, stressing that the CBN has to introduce instruments that are cheaper than the treasury bills.
The minister also said that between 60 to 80,000 barrels of crude oil are stolen per day as against the reported figure 400,000 barrels per day in the public domain. He however attributed the loss in the sector to mainly the shutdown of oil facilities not the theft.
“So this conference is very important to discuss issues related to the economy, because the oil sector has brought nothing to our economy but shocks,” he said.
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