Editor’s note: Senator representing Bayelsa East constituency, Ben Murray Bruce and the Senate president Bukola Saraki have started the campaign to encourage patronage of made in Nigeria products.
Reuben Abati, a spokesperson to ex-president Goodluck Jonathan, shares his views on why Made in Nigeria campaign can’t help country’s economy.
The renewed campaign for made in Nigeria goods
There has been renewed talk lately about the need for Nigerians to patronize 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 State for 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.
READ ALSO: Senator Murray-Bruce acquires made-in Nigeria cars (photos)
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 patronize locally made goods. Minister Aisha Abubakar has proposed a “Patronise Naija Products Campaign.”
How items made in Aba have made it to the status of a Trade Fair
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.
Virtually every government has tried to promote Nigerian goods
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 is supposed to be locally made, and at another time, the Federal Government only patronized 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.
READ ALSO: Buhari asks Nigerians to buy “Made In Nigeria” products
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.
Three lessons that should guide the current patriotic excitement
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%?
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?
READ ALSO: Abati replies Jonathan’s critics
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.
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.
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