THERE has been renewed talk lately about the need for Nigerians to patronise locally made goods, (someone should have added… and services!). Championed by Senator Ben Murray Bruce, and supported by the Senate President Bukola Saraki, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Hajia Aisha Abubakar and a large crowd of online campaigners, so much ink, saliva, and emotions have been invested in this old, and perhaps boring story.
Senator Bruce, who goes by the moniker “the Commonsense Senator” even introduced a hashtag #BuyNaijaToGrowtheNaira. He hasn’t quite explained the connection, but with the exchange rate melting down and the Naira yo-yoing, everyone including our neighbourhood electrician, and his friend, the battery charger, have both become experts on the fortunes of the national currency. Senator Saraki has promised that the Public Procurement Act will be amended by the 8th National Assembly to make it mandatory for the government to patronise locally made goods. Minister Aisha Abubakar has proposed a “Patronise Naija Products Campaign.”
It all sounds so familiar but what has triggered this latest effusion of patriotism was a Made in Aba Trade Fair in Abuja, where locally made products including shoes were displayed and purchased by the snobby class now acting as great promoters of Nigerian identity and entrepreneurship. Senator Bruce and the National Assembly have also purchased made in Nigeria vehicles from Innoson Motors, a local vehicle manufacturing company. The interest that this has generated is good publicity for Innoson Motors, and it will probably provide good justification for the National Assembly purchasing more vehicles. It is also an excellent advertisement for local entrepreneurship. There was a time in this country when the phrase Aba-made was meant to be denigrating, but today, corporate suits and other items made in Aba have made it to the status of a Trade Fair.
We must be reminded nonetheless, that this buy Nigeria campaign, or proudly Nigerian, as it was once called, has been promoted in one form or the other for more than 30 years. At a time, federal ministers chose to wear Ankara fabrics, which are supposed to be locally made, and at another time, the Federal Government only patronised Peugeot Motors, which then had a thriving car manufacturing company in Kaduna. Virtually every government has tried to promote Nigerian goods. And there is certainly no doubt that there is a lot of entrepreneurial talent out there in Nigeria, a gift for innovation and a capacity to aspire.
People come here, take our raw materials to other factories in other parts of the world, send back the products and then make profit at our expense.
Given the right, enabling environment, Nigerians are willing to help government promote the objectives of diversification, backward integration, and non-oil exports which are at the root of all this talk about made in Nigeria. The YouWin exhibitions held between 2014 and 2015, showed great potential, especially in the agriculture and food sector, and the need for government to encourage entrepreneurship and manufacturing. But lessons were also learnt, and it is the same lessons that should guide the current patriotic excitement over locally made goods. In the end, Senator Bruce, patriotism is not enough, lest it turns us all as someone warned into “scoundrels”, seeking economic restoration without the right strategy and attitude.
The first lesson is that we need to truly encourage the transformation of Nigeria into a primary, productive market, and not a secondary market for the dumping of goods. We may be celebrating the fact that some Nigerians are making the effort to produce goods locally, but really how much of that local production is local? I can bet that the leather that is used for the shoes we are being encouraged to buy is not produced in Nigeria. Our local entrepreneurs import leather, manage to produce something labeled Nigerian, when in fact the entire value chain could have been truly local? Innoson Motors is well known in government circles, but have we measured how much of those Innoson vehicles is actually local? 30 per cent?
Before Innoson, we had Omatek and Zinnox computers, advertised as made in Nigeria goods. But where in this country do we have young technicians producing computer chips and other components? We need to take a second look at the concept: made in Nigeria, and be sure that we are actually talking about the same thing. What is the answer? I think government must in the long run insist that those who seek to sell in the Nigerian market, must set up their factories here, and produce for the Nigerian market inside Nigeria. We have all the raw materials that may be needed, and we have the market, the biggest in Africa.
People come here, take our raw materials to other factories in other parts of the world, send back the products and then make profit at our expense. We end up creating jobs in other parts of the world, and receive finish products that could have been produced here. No. If Toyota and Nissan want to sell cars in Nigeria, then they must produce the cars inside Nigeria and source their materials and labour majorly from here, and brand the vehicles Made in Nigeria and export them to other parts of the world. In recent years, there was such discussion with Hyundai and Volkswagen. Minister Aisha Abubakar should look at the records. Innoson can then compete with Toyota Nigeria, Nissan Nigeria, Hyundai Nigeria and Volkswagen Nigeria. The same argument goes for every other product in need of direct investment. The point is not about being local; it is about developing the capacity to turn Nigeria into a world-class production and economic centre.
The second lesson has to do with quality and standards. The recent debate has been about indigenous patronage as a test of patriotism. I don’t think that is the right focus. People like quality. In a capitalist system, they will make their own decisions and choices with the capital at their disposal. And we shouldn’t be talking as if Nigerians should produce made in Nigeria goods to be consumed only by Nigerians, whether good or bad. The vision, consistent with the ambition of the authors of the country’s various development plans, is to produce world-class products inside Nigeria. What we have seen is that locally made goods often fall short of international standards. They lack the competitive edge.
It is good to buy Aba-made, but our ladies who are used to Hermes and Louis Vuitton are not likely to trade their designer bags for Nnamdi bags, except the latter can compete and become a global brand. It has been reported that many Nigerian goods sent for export are often rejected overseas, for such simple reasons as packaging or basic standards. No amount of patriotism can by-pass that. We have a Standards Organisation of Nigeria and an Export Promotion Council: what is the synergy between them and the various SMEs striving to break into the export market?
The third lesson is that government must just make up its mind about this whole thing about the diversification of the Nigerian economy. It is not the responsibility of one government or administration; it is a process that should move Nigeria from being a democracy observing electoral commission rituals, into a developmental state. We were almost there under the military quite ironically, but then the military also lost it due to bad attitudes.
Once upon a time in this country, there was regular electricity, manufacturing companies, both local and foreign thrived, salaries and pensions were paid as at when due, potable water was available, the leaders sounded as if the Nigerian people and their welfare were important and there was a suffocating vision of Nigeria being the “giant of Africa”.
When students graduated from universities, teacher training colleges, and nursing schools, they were sure of immediate employment, which brought them life-long fulfillment. Brilliant students got special scholarships; every student got a bursary, our schools attracted students and teachers from every part of the world. And now, here we are wondering why? What happened? This collapse of the Nigerian standard is the worst thing to have ever happened. Younger ones may not even believe that indeed Chinua Achebe was right when he wrote that “there was once a country.”
The challenge can start with re-discovering that lost country and moving forward from that point. I mentioned services in addition to goods earlier. And I ask: how many Nigerians are satisfied with Nigerian services? Many families won’t even employ a Nigerian nanny or driver. They would rather look for people from Asia and West Africa. Builders won’t recruit Nigerian masons: they’d rather use artisans from Ghana or Togo. When foreign companies set up businesses in Nigeria, they bring staff from their own country, and violate the expatriate quota in collusion with our own people; they even import cement and other equipment from elsewhere and our officials look the other way. We don’t even respect ourselves as a nation. But we love slogans.
So, the matter is not as simple as just buying Nigerian goods. It is not about trending hashtags, slogans or propaganda, but a decision to move this country beyond the on-going knee-jerk, desperate elite war of position within the political spectrum, and see what can work for the people’s benefit. We want to buy made in Nigeria goods, and yet every start up business in this country is facing serious challenges; the more established manufacturing outfits are groaning. Every election season, the private sector pretends to support the political process, but once its chieftains are not allowed access, control or influence, they become closet saboteurs.
I consider that to be a subject in the heart of the future. What needs to be done is before our very eyes, but its starting point must include the education system. Very few parents these days still buy the services provided by Nigerian schools; the private ones that receive better patronage train the children to end up in foreign schools including schools in Ghana and Benin Republic. Nobody is training quality artisans either, because all the Government Technical Colleges of old have been shut down and many of our young men are more interested in kidnapping and riding okada. So, where are the critical young men and women and institutions to drive the renewal we seek? The matter is so complex; it is the reason I don’t envy anyone who is President of Nigeria.
This article was first published by The Guardian Newspaper.