The wife of President Muhammadu Buhari, Hajiya Aisha Buhari, has called for a total ban of tomato paste importation into Nigeria to encourage local manufacturers and protect the health of Nigerian citizens.
Also, the federal government has been urged to create a separate ministry for industry to promote local production.
She made this call at the unveiling of Erisco Foods’ new 450,000 tonnes tomato paste processing plant, the first of its kind in Nigeria turning locally farmed tomato to tomato purée.
Mrs. Buhari also commended the legislative arm of the government for upholding the polices of the government towards promoting the growth of local industries.
She said: “I learnt that some foreigners met with the senate to revise the polices and laws that was passed to ban the importation. I think we have imported enough. Thank you so much for showing us how to produce. We thank them so much, and may God bless our senators for defending the policies of this country, I think they are ready for change.”
“We are also happy that by defending the policy we have Erisco foods that is replacing all the importation that we used to have. We are now sure of what we are eating because we grow tomatoes in excess and by having a company that can process it in tons.”
In his welcome address, the Group Chief Executive of Erisco Foods, Chief Eric Umeofia called on the federal government to separate the Ministry of Industry from that of Trade and Investment, saying this will help encourage Nigerians to build more active industries and industrial estates, “which will give more benefits and billions of naira to Nigeria which will grow our economy because this was the steps and process taken by the most industrialized nations.”
Umeofia said that the company fast-tracked its backward integration programme by developing a technology that synchronises its existing machines to produce tomato paste directly from fresh tomatoes to tomato pastes and ketchups.
Stressing the need to grow the local industry to generate employment, he said there is need for the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN) to “task our commercial banking sector to support the practical diversification of our economy now with very low interest rates and favorable conditions through indigenous manufacturers and few genuine foreign investors.”
He added: “May I propose to the Federal government to separate the Ministry of Industry and allow it to stand alone instead of combining it with Trade and Investment in order to promote manufacturing in Nigeria.”
Lamenting the waste of raw tomatoes in the country, Umeofia said: “We were busy exporting our job opportunities to China and other parts of Asia while millions of Nigerian youth are here struggling with the pains of unemployment. The Erisco Foods Revolution in Tomato Paste production will stop the annual wastages of over 75% of fresh tomatoes across Nigeria.”
“We are pleading for the government to create policies and competitive markets that will enable us to compete and have the markets to sell our products and pay our bank loan.
He further urged the federal government to “as a matter of national emergency direct various government agencies and parastatals involved in industrial sector to stop giving undue advantage to ‘briefcase’ foreign investors who camouflage as industrialists whose primary interest is to import finished goods as raw materials without paying taxes or the relevant customs duties.
With a current staff strength of 1,600, he said the Lagos factory will employ 9000 direct staff once it begins to operate at optimum capacity, adding that its backward integration programmes planned for Jigawa, Sokoto and Katsina will generate employment and prosperity for 50,000 Nigerians within three years while off-takers and our distributors and retailers will be in hundreds of thousands.
Also speaking at event, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal, said government would continue to support the growth of indigenous businesses, especially in this period of economic downturn.
Lawal, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary, Economic Affairs Office, Williams Alo, said the current economic reality calls for a decisive policy thrust to address issues which must be pragmatic enough to leverage on.
He said: “The major concern of government in this presence circumstance is to continue to make policies and reforms as well as restore confidence to stabilise the economic fundamentals and also to provide the necessary infrastructural platforms for industries to thrive on.
“Furthermore, government will continue to intervene in policy formulation towards protecting our national interest and in the process providing a conducive atmosphere that will make production in Nigeria profitable, attractive and worth engaging.
On his part, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, said 150 million metric tonnes at the cost of N170million of tomato concentrates was imported into the country annually.
Represented by Alhaji Aminu Bisala, a Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Enelamah noted that the local production of the tomato paste would save Nigeria foreign and create employment for its teeming population.