The Federal Government on Thursday evening moved swiftly to address lingering issue of high cost of food items in the country with a directive for the immediate release of 102,000 metric tonnes of rice, maize, millet and garri from government reserves and stores of the rice millers to the Nigerian market.
This was the highpoint of the three-day long meeting of the Special Presidential Committee on Emergency Food Intervention headed by the Chief of Staff to the President, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, which ended on Thursday evening at the State, Abuja.
Briefing newsmen after the meeting, Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris said while the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security will make available 42,000 metric tonnes of maize, millet, garri and other commodities, the rice millers through their Association will also release 62,000 metric tonnes of rice from their reserves.
His words: “Today’s meeting was again on the issue of difficulty of putting food on the table of most Nigerians, and has come up with a number of measures to ensure that food becomes more readily available to Nigerians.
”The first one is that the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security has been directed to immediately release about 42,000 metric tons of maize, millet, garri and other commodities in their strategic reserve so that these items will be made available to Nigerians.
”The second one is that we have held meetings with the rice Millers Association of Nigeria, those who are responsible for producing this rice and we have asked them to open up their stores.
”They’ve told us that they can guarantee about 60,000 metric tons of rice. This will be made available and we know that that is enough to take Nigerians for the next one month to six weeks, perhaps up to two months. They’ve agreed that they will make that available to Nigerians to bring it out to the market so that food can be made available.
”Now the whole idea of this is to crash the cost of these food items. And these are measures that will happen immediately.
”42,000 metric tons from the strategic government reserve, about 60,000 metric tons of rice from the rice Millers Association, they have them in all their storage facilities and government in conjunction with them after this exhaustive meeting, has directed that they also bring this out immediately so that the price of rice will come down significantly”.
The Minister added that as a last resort government may import commodities to augment what is available in the market.
”Now the third item is that the government is also looking at the possibility, if it becomes absolutely necessary as an interim measure on the short run to also import some of these commodities immediately so that these commodities can be made available to Nigerians immediately within the next couple of weeks”.
Idris also stressed that government has firmed up arrangement to invest massively with a view to having a better farming season in conjunction with farmers and other stakeholders.
He said: “Now, with all these emergency measures, there is of course a directive to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security to invest massively in conjunction with Nigerian farmers and other producers so that we can have better season coming up shortly.
”Now, we all know that dry season farming is happening, that will take effect very shortly, and that we hope will also contribute, because as soon as the dry season farming gets underway, it is the hope of government that food prices will also come down.
”In the long run Federal Ministry of Agriculture is going to invest massively, so that Nigeria will recover its potential as a food basket and we don’t expect that going forward we are going to be faced with these challenges again”.
Idris further disclosed that government will view seriously any attempt to hoard the food items saying “government of course is also looking at all those who are hoarding these commodities because actually these commodities are available in the stores of many traders.
“Government is appealing to them, that they should open up these stores, make these commodities available in the interest of our nation. There is no point when the whole country is looking for this food, you are looking up this products so that you make more more money and then Nigerians suffer.
”Of course government will not fold its arms. We know where all these major traders are. We know where all these major stores are. And if they don’t respond by bringing these commodities to the market, government will take appropriate measures to ensure that these products are made available to Nigerians”.
On the possible sanctions against those hoarding th food products, he said: “Well, you cannot hold the nation to ransom. You cannot have these commodities and you’re hoarding them in your stores when we all need them. We are in an emergency situation and we’ll take emergency measures to make sure that this food is available to Nigerians.
”What do you think about a general concern of high-level inflation, not only food that affects the high cost of living in terms of prices of general goods, particularly when it affects Forex? When we go to market, we see these goods, we see bags of rice, we see yams in their trucks but everyone tells us about dollar prices to increase garri and millet prices.
“Well, people always talk about that even some commodities that do not have direct dollar denomination are always quoted in dollar. That is unfortunate. We ask that Nigerians need to be more patriotic. Be our brother’s keepers and sell this thing at a margin, but at a margin that is not also killing to Nigerians.
”You know, you need to be patriotic at this point. This is an emergency situation. Every nation faces emergency situations like this. It is not the first time that it has happened. Many countries of the world have faced this.
It is our own time to face this challenge. Government is going to respond adequately and it is already responding adequately.
”The President has directed that whatever it will take, food will be available to Nigerians at a cost that is also very reasonable. And that is what the summary of this meeting entails”.
Asked if the committee consider the prices at which the commodities will be sold, the Minister replied “Yes, the government has looked at that and what I can tell you is that whatever the government will do to ensure that this food is made available to Nigerians at an affordable cost, the government will do that”
Deji Elumoye in Abuja