Days back, representatives of the wife of the President, Aisha Buhari, were in Kano State. Their task was to distribute household items to certain segment of society as a form of assistance. I took note of some of the items. There were large locally-made boxes for packing clothes. It means some enterprising Nigerians have been patronised and I was pleased. But I didn’t see enough of the rest of the items to determine whether or not they were made in Nigeria. Days later, I watched as the mobile telecommunication company, Glo, gave prizes to Nigerians in one of its promos. There were foreign-made sewing machines, tricycles that I suspected were from Asia, as well as the inevitable imported generators.
This reminds me of a foreign relief organisation operating in Nigeria’s North-East but whose approach is different. They could have imported household items and distributed to displaced Nigerians. Instead, they make local producers, including farmers, to supply farm fresh items directly to the IDPs. They pay these suppliers, thereby ensuring that money is channelled into and retained in communities for the purpose of revitalising local economy. Government institutions don’t have an approach close to this. What we hear are depressing stories of officials who divert relief items meant for helpless Nigerians. Meanwhile, government institutions ought to utilise every single project to boost local production. Maybe, it will happen tomorrow.
I have had reasons to wonder on this page what our issues really are as a country. Government talks about Made-in-Nigeria products. But there’s no visible effort or guidelines strictly followed by officials in pursuit of this. I don’t know any country that conducts itself this way that transits from importation to self-sufficiency. For whatever reasons, government officials do whatever comes to their minds. And what always comes to their minds first is import things rather than seize available opportunities to patronize local producers of the same items. The other time, one lecturer in a tertiary institution in the East of the country displayed on TV a tricycle that the students of his department made.
He said officials of the Jelani Aliyu-led National Automotive Development Council approached the institution over a project. The officials had actually asked the institution to import tricycles for the project, but he insisted they could make the tricycles locally. That was the outset of the ingenuity in the form of Nigeria-made tricycle that the lecturer showed to journalists. Recently, Aliyu was on TV asking young Nigerians to enter a contest and display their talents in the field of automotive engineering design. I thought this was good. But it’s surprising that NADC asked an educational institution to import what it should as a matter of course encourage it to make locally. It shows how committed we are to the Buy Made-in-Nigeria slogan.
In the same eastern part of the country, Innoson Motors makes four wheeled-drive vehicles and passenger buses that it tags “Made In Nigeria”. Yet, the federal and state governments mostly purchase imported commercial vehicles for distribution in intervention programmes. Government officials purchase official vehicles for themselves but hardly would one see the products of this company in their convoys. Now, why are the programmes of the President’s wife, Glo’s promo, as well as the relief programmes funded by state governors and their wives relevant to domestic production?
Years ago, I met a young lady who had just ventured into making household products. Graduate of a tertiary institution, she had also learnt how to make soap and liquid wash for cooking utensils and cars. This fascinates me as I have enormous respect for any university graduate who strives to stabilise a small-scale business such as repair of mobile phones. In such, I see the future owner of a giant mobile phone manufacturing company or wholesaler. As for the young lady who made soap and liquid wash, I told her not to be discouraged as a beginner. She should introduce her products to corporate bodies, including NGOs, as well as take them to the office of the wife of the governor of her state. Why? I said governors’ wives buy products as part of the packages they give to people in distress. I said if persons at such level realised that a Nigerian made the products, they would patronise her since they naturally would want to encourage domestic producers.
That was what I thought. I don’t know what people who procure relief materials distributed by either governors’ wives or the President’s wife thinks. I simply assume a sense of patriotism would inform their action. I don’t know what the young lady made of my advice because I’ve never seen her since then. But I recall what I told her each time I watch Aisha distributes relief items.
The said young lady also reminds me of how well Nigerian youths could do for themselves if they would imbibe enterprising spirit. I shake my head when I see them spend so much time watching European football when they could use spare time to pick a skill or hone their talent which could be money spinners down the line. Nigeria is one big market. But from the attitude of many citizens and government officials, it seems everyone in West Africa except Nigerians realise how much of a market we are. Neighbouring countries even import bad rice for the purpose of exporting it to Nigeria. We don’t wake up to this and take advantage of our market. While our own people make things and do amazing stuff, government officials look the other way.
For instance, rather than kit our traditional entertainers – drummers, dancers, and kakaaki players – and make them welcome guests at the State House in Abuja, government officials make men wear skirts and blow Scottish bagpipes that they import, all with the excuse that it’s a military tradition. No serious nation gives such excuses. What they have is what they present. China has raised its economy by encouraging local producers. That nation didn’t import and play Scottish bagpipes for the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) when he visited Beijing under the pretext that it was a military tradition.
In Nigeria, a few months ago, there was an event where there was talk of using drones for some purposes. A representative of the customs service was present. He said to journalists that the service was prepared to assist security organisations that wanted to use drones, and that the service would play its part by ensuring drones were properly imported and the right tariffs paid. My first thought was that the customs service itself wasn’t interested in using drones for its work. All it thinks of is to collect tariffs when others import drones to help them carry out their tasks more effectively. Yet, the customs service has complained that it doesn’t have enough personnel to physically monitor our borders. Related to this is the idea of importing drones in the first place. Our military make armoured vehicles for battle but no government official has thought of encouraging them to make drones. Some of our spirited private citizens had even been displaying their home-made drones on TV until a top FG official announced that they were breaking the law. These private citizens were being discouraged rather than be encouraged to the point that Nigeria would be a producer and exporter of drones. Yet, private citizens pioneered this technology in the nations where government officials plan to import them from.
The foregoing makes one to ask: What drives policymakers to take the steps they take in this nation? Do they have an agreed vision of where they want to take Nigeria? Why aren’t they passionately committed to it? Except for sloganeering, action and the purchasing patterns in government, institutions don’t give the impression that officials are committed to encouraging and purchasing Made-in-Nigeria products. If they do, nothing that we can produce locally would be imported and used as government and private institutions continue to do. Patronising domestic producers can boost the growth of our economy. It’s for this reason I urge Aisha Buhari and governors’ wives to ensure every item their foundations purchase for distribution is locally made. As for Glo, a Nigerian company, prizes for its promos should be locally sourced. Other companies should do likewise. If there’s a government agency that can ensure this, it should swing into action.