When the Central Bank Nigeria, CBN, blocked official dollar access to importers of 41 low-skilled items, Baton Nigeria, an Ogun state-based company, was preparing to start a factory producing tooth picks - one of the items on CBN's list.
By August 2016 when the company's production lines had kicked off, the policy had been in place for a year.
Now, with 43 staff per shift, Baton produces about 60 million sticks of tooth pick per month. It aims at producing 4 billion per each year by end of 2018.
"Our product is about 25 per cent cheaper than that of the Chinese, our main competition, although we consider our quality top of the range," said Rotimi Sokeni, chairman of Baton.
The company's smallest dispensers costs less than N100, while a pack of 250 sticks go for less than N200. With about N300, one can take the mega size of 700 sticks.
"We set out with the idea to ultimately get to a point where Nigeria could stop importation of wood, paper and pulp products by employing locally available 'wood' as raw materials to produce a basket of high quality, cost effective products for import substitution and export," Mr. Sekoni said.
Baton's staff exclude other seasonal employees of at least 400 people involved in its operations and process value chain. The company hopes to keep a pay roll of about 450-500 full time staff soon.
The company owes its thanks to the CBN policy. The plan to limit dollar use for importation of items such as toothpicks, besides conserving foreign exchange for other more pressing needs, also served to help local manufacturers.
The affected 41 items included rice, cement, margarine, palm kernel/palm oil products/vegetable oils, meat and processed meat products, vegetables and processed vegetable products as well as poultry (chicken, eggs, turkey), private airplanes/jets, Indian incense, tinned fish in sauce (Geisha)/sardines), cold rolled steel sheets, galvanized steel sheets, roofing sheets, wheelbarrows, head pans, metal boxes and containers enamelware, steel drums, steel pipes and wire rods (deformed and not deformed).
Others are iron rods and reinforcing bars, wire mesh, steel nails, security and razor wire, wood particle boards and panels, wood fiber boards and panels, plywood boards and panels, wooden doors, furniture, toothpicks, glass and glassware, kitchen utensils, tableware, tiles (vitrified and ceramic), textiles, woven fabrics, clothes, plastic and rubber products, cellophane wrappers, soap and cosmetics, tomatoes/tomato pastes and Euro bond/foreign currency bond/share purchases were also affected.
While CBN did not ban the importation of the affected items, it allowed interested importers to source forex outside the official window at a higher cost. As the policy came into force, many local manufacturers of affected items said they felt instant impact.
Psaltry International Limited, PIL, an agro allied manufacturing company based in Ado Awaye, a rural community in Oyo State, said the policy brought the most dramatic turnaround in its profit.
The firm began production from its 20-tons per day starch factory in 2012, but for years, returns were poor due to low patronage. Majority of Nigerian companies, particularly multi-national conglomerates like Unilever, Nestle, and Nigerian Breweries, that used starch in their operations, preferred to import to meet their needs.
The company struggled to cover costs, as the meagre income realised from poor sales were barely sufficient to take care of overheads and repayment of interest on the N264 million loan from First Bank in 2012 to construct the first production line, Yemisi Iranloye, its chief executive, said.
Ms. Iranloye said shortly the policy came into force, demand for product from customers rose.
"With our clientele spanning over 50 multi-national conglomerates in Nigeria, including Unilever, Nestle, and Nigerian Breweries, the company could barely meet about 10 per cent of their demand," she said.
Few months later, the company's turnover jumped from less than N400 million the previous year to over $3.5million (about N1.2 billion) by December 2015.
The company's asset base, comprising factory, farm land and equipment, for the corresponding period stood at about $5million (about N1.6 billion), a review of the company's financial records showed.
Since 2015, Ms. Iranloye said PIL's operatons saved more than $7 million (about N2.1 billion) in forex for the country, an amount used by its new clients a year earlier on importation of their starch when the CBN policy was not in place.
She said since the policy, PIL had grown in geometric progression, almost tripling its production figures in almost three years of the CBN policy.
From 300 workers, including 200 permanent and 100 temporary staff before 2015, she said PIL now has 650 farmers, cultivating over 2,500 hectares of cassava as at 2015.
Besides, she said since then, the figure has increased to over 5,000 farmers, harvesting 18-20 tons per hectare of cassava every year, with plans to increase to an average of 25-30 tons by end of 2017, to meet growing demand.
The multiplier effect of the expanding demand for the company's starch, as a result of the restriction on FOREX to companies that were importing the substitute, could also be seen on the Ado Awaye community and environs.
Apart from buying cassava from out-growers in the immediate community, no fewer than 2,000 registered and unregistered farm families, marketers, labourers, traders, transporters, and retail input suppliers are involved in the company's cassava supply value chain.
To boost its capacity to meet the demand from its growing clientele, Ms. Iranloye said PIL in 2016 took another N500 million loan from First City Monument Bank, FCMB, to build the second production line.
"Because we are growing and expanding rapidly in the last three and a half years, thanks to the CBN policy, we are planning to take a third facility to continue to expand our production capacity.
"Our story has significantly changed today. Prior to CBN's policy restricting FOREX for importation of the 41 items, no farmer in this community could count N100, 000 cash as income.
"Today, because we have a lot market for our products, we have enough money at our disposal to buy up all the cassava the small farmers in the community and environs supply to us.
"It is enough incentive for the people to be motivated to cultivate more, with some supplying over N3million worth of cassava every year. Their economy has been impacted significantly. They are now able to send their children to school," Ms. Iranloye said.
The impact of the policy has not been limited to PIL alone. Other businesses that were struggling to keep their heads above the waters also have positive stories to tell.
Roy Deepanjan, managing director, CHI Limited, a Lagos-based foods, beverages and dairy products manufacturers, said those who had been patronising the imported variety of CHI's chain of products reverted to their local blends.
CHI Limited is an affiliate of Tropical General Investment, TGI, conglomerate, with business interests spanning food, healthcare, agriculture, engineering and other industries.
With increased demand for CHI's products, the managing director said the company is now investing in local raw materials, like palm oil plantations and margarine, meat and beef. Fruits used for food drinks production are from CHI farms across the country.
He said the high price of the imported brand of the company's line of products is a blessing in disguise. With the CBN policy, most Nigerians prefer its products with local blends, like Chivita, Lucozade Boost and the like, which is comparatively cheaper, though of equal quality.
With the CBN policy, Mr. Deepanjan said CHI found it was more cost effective to source for raw materials locally and produce its products.
"The CBN policy has helped limit competition from imported variety of our products," Mr. Deepanjan told PREMIUM TIMES.
"Before now, stocks of our products used to take a long time before they were exhausted, because consumers preferred the imported alternatives. The competition was stiff and harsh. Today, it's hard to see our products left for days after production.
"We are constantly under pressure to expand production to cope with growing demand. This means we must employ more hands in our effort to produce to meet our ever-growing demand.
"Between June 2015 and now, we have created over 2,500 direct employments across Nigeria, more than the total figure in almost 10 years before the policy was introduced. The indirect employees in the company's business value chain, including transporters, distributors and marketers are over 70,000.
"What I can say is that the CBN policy has done the Nigerian economy one of the greatest good. Without it, every dollar spent to import products that rivaled CHI's were indirectly financing the survival of rival company's abroad and creating employment for those economies, while killing our local industries and fueling unemployment back home," Mr. Deepanjan said.
Numbers adding up
The Nigerian economy thrives on imports, often to the detriment of the local economy. Reputed to be one of the world's largest producers of hydrocarbon, but the NNPC's monthly financial and operations reports for June 2017 showed Nigeria imports more than 70 per cent of refined petroleum products it consumes daily.
The government spent over N7 trillion on importation of consumable and household items in 2015 alone, the Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Aisha Abubakar, said recently.
Details of the import bills included N6.7 trillion on goods and services for which the country has capacity to produce locally; N1.09 trillion on foods and drinks; N1.5 trillion on spare parts; N123.01 billion on leather shoes and clothes and N399 billion on household items.
Further breakdown of the figures showed Nigeria's import bill during the year, for food items, like wheat, sugar, rice, milk and fish, stood at about N901 billion per month.
The CBN Annual Report 2015 showed the demand for FOREX for fuel imports and other purposes by individuals and corporate entities rose astronomically during the period, from $3.2 billion monthly to $5billion.
The high import bills, particularly for food and other items that could be produced locally, accounted for the sharp decline in the country's external reserves, from $34.2 billion to $28.28 billion during the period.
The restriction of access to FOREX by importers of 41 items was one of CBN's alternative strategies to:
conserve FOREX hitherto used to fund such imports, to reactivate local industries, create jobs and save the Nigerian economy from sinking, amid falling oil money.
The policy appears to be achieving its goals. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said at the 16th Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth, Africa Region in Abuja recently that Nigeria's rice importation dropped by over 80 per cent in the last two years.
Also, the NBS Foreign Trade in goods statistics for the first quarter of 2017 speak of the huge impact of the CBN intervention on the economy. The report said Nigeria's total trade volume for the period stood at about N5.3 trillion, a 12.3 per cent growth from about N4.72 trillion in the third quarter of 2016.
CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele
Further details showed that when compared with the data in the first quarter of 2017, total imports of manufactured goods was lower by 3.3 per cent, compared with equivalent manufactured goods exports, which recorded a massive 45 per cent increase, more than the value in the last quarter of 2016.
In terms of raw materials, the NBS said total imports reduced by 11.3 per cent in the last quarter of 2016 against exports, which recorded a 25 per cent reduction in first quarter of 2017.
For agricultural goods, the statistics agency said total imports grew by 1.96 per cent in the first quarter of 2017, compared to the fourth quarter in 2016. Total exports grew in value by as high as 82 per cent, compared with the corresponding periods.
Specifically, imports of some of the items included in the CBN's 41 items list, like boilers, machinery and appliances parts, for the first quarter of 2017 stood at 19.8 per cent; vehicles and aircraft parts as well as vessels (5.3 per cent) and vegetable products (5.2 per cent).
Compared to exports, vehicles and aircraft parts as well as vessels was 0.6 per cent; vegetable products (0.4 per cent); plastic rubber and other articles (0.2 per cent), while prepared foodstuffs, beverages, spirits and vinegar, tobacco was 1.7 per cent increases as at June 2017.
Meeting customers' demand
For Tempo Foods and Packaging Limited and Tempo Paper Pulp & Packaging Limited, the 41 items policy by the CBN saved it from continuing to be victim of dumping of foreign products in Nigerian market.
The deputy managing director of Tempo Group of the Otta, Ogun state-based manufacturers of packaging and foods products, Nassos Sidirofagis, said since the introduction of the policy more than two years ago, Tempo Group has witnessed significant changes in the demand for its products.
"Although we are in the middle of a serious economic crisis, which makes it difficult to see the full impact of the policy yet, the country is moving in the right direction.
"The introduction of the policy by CBN made Tempo Group to declare profit for the first time last year in many years," the deputy managing director said.
With the profit, he said the company was able to acquire another automated machine to expand its operations and production to meet growing demand.
"This could not have happened three to four years ago. We are a good example of Nigerian companies that were losing money due to importation and dumping of competing products. Today, we have been exporting our products since the second half of 2016," Mr. Sidirofagis said.
The vice president, OLAM Nigeria Limited, Regie George, said the impact of the CBN policy could be seen in the company's numbers, and the number of new projects in the last two years to cope with expanding market.
The Iganmu, Lagos-based company involved in local farming, importation, distribution and milling of rice, said it has since started a brand new animal feeds business and hatchery in Kaduna.
"The policy has significantly enhanced our rice production capacity to a commercial farm in Nasarawa State.
We have 3,500 direct staff, apart from over 7,000 seasonal workers. We have 18 processing units and 115 warehouses, focused on procuring primary commodities, like cashews, cocoa and shea nut," Mr. George said.
Mr. George said the company has continued to invest in its 10,000 hectare farm with integrated mill, directly employing about 950 people, and producing about 36,000 metric tons of rice pay annum, raising its production figures by almost 50 per cent in the last two years.
"The policy has created a lot of consciousness among Nigerians about the need to be self-sufficient in domestic production of goods and services. With the policy, we have about $160 million of new investments in the country, including an animal feed business, with feed mills and integrated hatchery in Kaduna.
"We have enhanced our rice production capacity through our commercial arm in Nassarawa state as well as double the numbers in the agricultural out-growers programme, in partnership with CBN under its ADP.
"We have over 5,000 farmers in 6,000 hectares of farmlands in Nassarawa, Benue and Kaduna States. The farmers are getting better productivity.
"Our rice production capacity has increased all over the country since the introduction of the CBN policy. We have doubled our milling capacity, and already working on a dairy/beverage plants. Our profitability has been enhanced. Several thousands of jobs have been created for Nigerians," Mr. George said.
Also, the general manager, Labana Rice Mills in Kebbi State, Abdullahi Zuru, said the CBN FOREX restriction policy has made significant impact on the company's operations in particular and country's economy in general.
Prior to the policy, Mr. Zuru said only Nigerians who could afford to travel to India, Thailand and China, were importing and flooding the country markets with rice. The profit made benefited only individual importers.
But, since the CBN policy, he said the number of Nigerians returning to farming, to produce rice and other agricultural products, has been amazing.
"Imported items, particularly rice, are now produced in Nigeria in large volumes and sold to indigenous rice millers.
"Today, with CBN's support, Labana Rice Mills Limited is operating two rice mills, with processing capacity from the mills increasing by about 250 per cent since last year, to about 320 tons per day.
"Instead of empowering the rice producers in Thailand, India and China, and creating jobs for their economies, the reverse is the case today.
"Massive employment opportunities, in terms of the farmers, transporters transporting the products to town, from town to market; from market to the various processing factories.
"We were not producing to capacity before now. We had to reduce the staff, leaving only about 10 to 20 per cent. But, the market has improved significantly. We are not producing and storing anymore. We are now selling.
"Since the FOREX restriction policy, we have increased the number of employees by about 50 per cent.
"More people employed, more production and procession, distribution and sales outlets - manufacturers, transporters, loaders, distributors, sub-distributors and retailers," Mr. Zuru said.
The managing director of Kano-based Umza International Farms Limited, Mohammed Abubakar, described the CBN policy as "a perfect idea at the right time."
"The issue should not be impact of the policy. Rather, how CBN would sustain the policy in the long run. Reversal now will be suicidal.
"A lot of Nigerians have taken advantage of the growing appetite for local products as a result of the policy to invest massively in the reactivation of their moribund companies. Nigerians are now looking inwards to produce local substitutes to some of the 41 items on the CBN list.
"We should look for more products to add to the list. It will help industries survive and the Nigerian economy continue to grow. We can never survive as a nation by importing what we eat. Survival comes when we eat what we grow.
"With the CBN policy, Nigerians will begin to think of how to generate more new jobs for the people. CBN should expand the scope of the policy to cover other items whose importation served as a drain to scarce FOREX in the past," he said.
On how the policy has impacted his company, Mr. Abubakar said the growing market for paddy rice has more than tripled, not only his company's production, but also the country's.
"What was impossible for several years when importation of other brands of rice were being allowed in the country has become possible, with Nigeria already on its way to self-sufficient in rice production.
"A bag of paddy rice, which used to cost N2,000 six years ago, today sells for about N10,000, because the quality is comparable to any imported brand. If CBN sustains the policy, in three to four years, importation of rice will become history in Nigeria," he said.
Since the policy was introduced, Mr. Abubakar said the only challenge Umza is facing has been inability to meet its customers' growing demand.
"Before 2015, we used to have tons of rice in our warehouse waiting for buyers. Today, buyers pay money in advance and wait patiently for the production of their order. We now employ over 200 people, excluding casual labourers, farmers and drivers to deliver on orders.
"With the policy, farmers are encouraged to take agriculture as serious business. Most Nigerians who were involved in farming were at the level of subsistence. Now, people are resigning from other jobs to go into big time farming.
"Extension services to farmers have improved. Seeds quality has improved. Off-taking stocks have increased.
There are lots of transformation and improvement. Utilization capacity of rice mills has taken a leap.
"Rice importation was a major drain for billions of the country's scarce FOREX every year. We were importing 3-4 million tons of rice every year from countries that did not even have as much potentials as Nigeria. With the CBN policy, these resources have been saved for the country.
He said Umza, which produces the Sarauniyya Golden Rice brand in Kano, today operates at almost 100 per cent of its installed capacity, and stockpiles about 150,000 metric tons of paddy from rice farms in Kano, Jigawa, Taraba, Gombe and Adamawa States.
The CBN policy, which supports the federal government's drive to promote agricultural development and food sufficiency, he noted, resulted in the opening of at least 15 new mills across the country, with combined production capacity of over 300 metric tons of rice per annum.
Some business operators argue that despite the policy, importers were still buying dollars from the black market to import the 41 products.
"To make the policy more effective, the CBN needs to go a step further by outright banning the importation of tooth picks and the other 40 items on the list once and for all," Mr. Sekoni of Baton Nigeria advised.
"If the CBN policy is sustained, I believe we will be able to expand and grow. The policy has to be consistent across the country and legislative cycles across administrations to build a real sustainable industrial base in the country," he said.
Although the National President, Poultry Association of Nigeria, Ayoola Oduntan, said the policy could affect producers with no alternatives to their imported raw materials in the CBN list, he however acknowledged its strategic importance.
Mr. Oduntan, who is also the Group Managing Director, GMD of Amobing Nigeria Limited, and Amo Farm Sieberer Hatchery Limited, Awe Oyo, said the policy has encouraged a lot of Nigerians to begin to think like industrialists.
"Prior to the policy, full chickens were being smuggled into the country unchecked. That has since stopped. The high exchange rate has made it difficult for poultry products to be smuggled into the country anymore. Export of similar products has started to receive more attention," he said.
Mr. Oduntan told PREMIUM TIMES since the policy, export of food items from Nigeria has resumed in a significant scale.
He said what was required was policy consistency and government continued direct intervention in agriculture.
"More than 80 to 85 per of the raw materials used in the poultry industry are sourced locally. The 10 per cent needed to keep the industry vibrant, to meet the needs of Nigerians and generate export, cannot fetch the FOREX to do it.
"The policy has made the industry develop capacity to support various value chains - from transporters, to limestone supplier, palm kernel cake, retailers of chicken, loaders and off-loaders," he said.
The chief executive, Beloxxi Industries Limited, Obi Ezeude, described the CBN policy on FOREX restriction as the best for the Nigerian economy.
Although Mr. Ezeude said margarine, one of the company's raw materials for manufacturing biscuit, was among the 41 items affected by the CBN policy. He said the policy has compelled the company to find local alternative, to continue production.
He advised the CBN to constantly review the list as the economic variables change, to identify and support those Nigerian businesses with capacity to easily impact the economy.
Deputy Group Managing Director, GMD, Coscharis Rice Farms in Anambra State, Okey Nwude, said the CBN policy not only helped the company expand the scope of its investment in agriculture, but also created opportunity for Coscharis Technology to take advantage of the policy to build an assembly plant for the Ford brand of cars in Nigeria.
The chairman of Coscharis Group, Cosmas Maduka, said the decision to fund farmers to cultivate 3,000 hectares of rice in Anambra state was inspired by the CBN policy and the need to join efforts in producing foods Nigerians eat.
"We would not have gone into rice production if the CBN policy was not in place. The policy has made Nigerians, producers and consumers, to look inwards. Producing and milling rice in Nigeria has removed the mentality of waiting for imported rice.
"The policy has triggered a lot of interest in mechanized farming. It has also bolstered national pride that Nigerian products are good enough for local consumption and exports.
"Encouraging large companies to go into mechanized farming has set the country on the path of food sufficiency," he said.