For an administration with a poor economic track record, President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive to the uniformed services to patronise locally made Cotton, Textile and Garment products offers a silver lining. As revealed by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, the Bureau of Public Procurement is mandated to ensure that all public agencies comply with the directive while exploratory meetings have been held with the service chiefs to actualise the programme. As a bold step to revitalise critical productive sectors and create jobs, this is a step in the right direction.
Nigeria, however, is a vast graveyard of bold policies and good intentions that, more often than not, are never implemented, executed half-heartedly, abandoned midway or crushed by corruption. The major challenge before Buhari, therefore, is to drive this programme and, perhaps, snatch victory from the jaws of defeat staring him in the face on the economic front.
If faithfully implemented, the military, paramilitary, law enforcement agencies and uniformed civilian services will henceforth patronise only local producers for their uniforms. Under the scheme, hospitals and clinics are also to source uniforms for their use. In 2017, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, while acting as president, had issued Executive Order 3 among two others, asking Ministries, Departments and Agencies to patronise only made-in-Nigeria products. He ordered the MDAs to monitor, enforce and implement the local content stipulations in the Procurement Act. To this end, the government said it was setting up a Local Patronage Unit to monitor compliance.
Actively promoting patronage of locally made products is a tested route to stimulating local agriculture, mining, manufacturing and exports. Crucially, it holds the promise of stimulating job creation. Nigeria needs this badly where the number of jobless people rose by 3.3 million to 20.9 million in the third quarter of 2018, while youth unemployment, put at 38 per cent in Q3 2018 by the National Bureau of Statistics is 55.4 per cent today. Bangladesh, India and China are some countries whose leaders combined local content patronage, agricultural and industrial policies to grow their economies to become leading exporters of products churned out by high job-creating sectors. Unlike Nigeria’s leaders, for them, patriotism begins with wearing local fabrics.
Can Nigeria finally play catch-up? Past record does not raise much hope. Apart from the many failed policies and misused intervention funds, most recently, Executive Orders issued as acting president by Osinbajo to improve the Ease of Doing Business at the seaports and airports have been lamely implemented by officials or sabotaged outright in some cases, with no oversight response from the President. But Emefiele is enthusiastic. He believes the policy would help revive the CTG industry, tackle unemployment and grow the economy. Apart from the BPP enforcing compliance, the CBN, he said, has developed a model of facilitating long-term contracts of five years or more with the local producers. The CBN also recalled how it had been supporting the sector by funding cotton seeds for farmers to produce enough for manufacturers. The sector once employed 25 per cent of Nigeria’s manufacturing workforce. It has since collapsed and efforts to revive it through funding interventions have not made much impact. Making the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme work for cotton as it has done for rice cultivation should be a priority. About 180,000 hectares of cotton are to be cultivated across 23 states to feed local ginneries and produce high quality textiles.
But success can only be guaranteed by dogged policy implementation and a change of attitude by those in leadership. Bangladesh has become the second largest exporter of ready-made garments after China, contributing 20 per cent to its GDP and employing 20 million people. Indonesia, once trapped in subsistence agriculture, saw manufacturing add 18.1 per cent to GDP by 2015, the food and beverage sector accounting for 30.8 per cent of this, with additional $14 billion in investment pledged by foreign and local investors. The Global Business Guide reported textile products export of about $13 billion in 2018.
Decades of policies to grow local manufacturing were backed by the powerful symbolism of leaders adorning locally made apparel and patronising locally made products in these countries. Undeterred by glitches in their early designs, India’s political leaders continued to promote patronage of its local vehicle brands and, today, boasts the fourth largest automobile industry, attracting $20.85 billion in FDI between 2000 and 2018 and $14.5 billion vehicle exports in 2014. For the National Automotive Policy to achieve its objective of promoting a local auto industry, the government needs to enforce the local content directive to the MDAs. Effective monitoring requires seeing that the 2016 order for 50,000 boots from producers in Aba, Abia State, by the Nigerian Army was met, the quality right and follow-up orders by the Army and other services made. Similar arrangements for vehicles assembled by Innoson to supply the Federal Road Safety Corps and patronage of other local producers by the MDAs should be pursued. The doggedness of former Ghanaian president, Jerry Rawlings, in his preference for local fabrics, helped to popularise Woodin, Akosomboand Kente brands worldwide and as major exports. Buhari and his ministers should set the pace by wearing local fabrics.
In Nigeria, great potential lies in food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, footwear and leather products as well as plastics. Buhari needs an aggressive economic team that will drive this policy. The Nigerian Customs Service, Standards Organisation of Nigeria, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control and other regulatory agencies should be overhauled, well-funded and headed by crusading reformers to block smuggling, ensure standards and punish offenders and saboteurs.
The message must sink in that any country that truly desires to emerge from under-development must consciously and persistently create the enabling environment for local production.