In the words of Eze Onyekpere in his article last week, “The buy Made-in-Nigeria campaign championed by the leadership of the executive and legislative arms of the Federal Government is a step in the right direction. It is a welcome development… etc”. So much for starters.
A situation where a 75 to 80 year-old former head of state, after having spent upwards of 12 years in office, finally identifies with his country by buying two pairs of shoes manufactured in Aba, is too little too late. Even the more substantive purchase of INNOSON automobiles by an activist senator does not immediately constitute a policy. All the wasteful political actors who ran Nigeria aground are still hovering along the corridors of power. They fall into two categories, the few who know no better, and the vast majority who do not give a damn.
What do we do? Many things. But it is good to recognise how bad things have become these past two decades and more. And how things became so bad. And the implications!
I have in the past challenged our Northern elite and technocrats who occupied senior positions in the then viable textile industries for which Kano, Kaduna, Funtua and Gombe were known, and also the criminal smuggling enterprise called the Customs service. The textile operations in the Lagos axis have never been insignificant, but have essentially met with the same fate. President Industries, Atlantic, Afprint, Bhojsons, Spaecomills etc. If per chance the government decides to procure, say towels, locally, where is Nitowels? Dead! As an undergraduate, I could swear by my Daltex Tergal fabrics for my trousers. Can my children lay hands on that now? The answer is a resounding No!
I used to discuss the status and fate of the UAC-owned African Textile Prints factory at Onitsha with the chief executive. It was all a sad story. How about Abatex and Asabatex? My neighbours in Ikeja, the Nigeria Textile Mills, went moribund so long ago, but is having a new lease of life as one of the polypropylene sack manufacturing operations of the ubiquitous Dangote Group. Others have not been so lucky. Meanwhile, Nichemtex and others are barely hanging in literally by their fingernails.
I once referred to the military cum strategic implications of a vibrant automobile industry. Having killed off almost all that we jointly own, is it not a shame that the only ones left, the very stones that the builders rejected, are the Coscharis and Innoson auto assembly plants? It may be impolitic to remind Nigeria that these “belong” to Ndigbo. Thus, don’t look good. I am by no means discounting the Toyota, Nissan and Hyundai. However, the decision making there is outside the shores of Nigeria. In conclusion, why did we allow the Michelin and Dunlop tyre manufacturing facilities to close down? I am not interested in hearing stories. An army without a reliable supply of high quality tyres, especially in a time of mobilisation, is dead. Ask the Chinese who had to resupply on foot, donkey and buffalo back across the jungles of Burma and the Himalayas during the Japanese occupation. Thank God that Nigeria at present does not have any real threats. Otherwise, we would have long folded up.
But for the CNN, Nigerians would not have known that the Nigerian Air Force has been going in the dead of the night, like the biblical Nicodemus, to procure brake components for its grounded aircraft from INNOSON. Now, the army is trying out Armoured Personnel Carriers, made by the selfsame INNOSON. The relationship between our defence establishment and the manufacturing private sector should by no means be sneaky. They should be overt, transparent and long term.
I do not want to return to my personal involvement in manufacturing items and components relevant to the electrical power industry. Enough has been said in previous writings. Surely, my organisation was not alone. I can go on and name many others in the membership of MAN that have fallen or rather been abandoned by the wayside. My reaction then and now is that Local Content is not what you talk about but what you do. I have been on a number of projects where my group was barely tolerated by the expatriate participants, only for my team to end up correcting the work signed off as correct by the “oyinbo” managers at Wilbros headquarters in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We taught them humility.
We had contributed to the construction of the NLNG and maintenance design at the Port Harcourt Refinery Company. I have personally been involved in the pre-construction design of some aspects of The Bonny Export Terminal Project. True to type, I had opened my presentation by announcing to the client that the project itself, which was already at an advanced stage, was a hare-brained scheme. This opinion was despite my having made as extensive tour of the Bonny River midstream “export” platform. The facts on the ground were too compelling. As far as I know, that multi-billion naira facility never exported anything. So much for planning.
As noted earlier, our activist, Eze Onyekpere, had also written, “The buy Made-in-Nigeria campaign championed by the leadership of the executive and legislative arms of the Federal Government is a step in the right direction. It is a welcome development…etc”
He continued, “Understanding these benefits and discussing them in an empirical manner will facilitate governmental, private sector and civil societal action in support of the campaign.”
We seem to have forgotten that the new campaign to buy Made-in-Nigeria products, welcome as it is, is strictly a déjà vu. We have over the decades laid more emphasis on the drama surrounding the announcements, than on the things that matter. A cursory survey of my writings will show that my colleagues and I have always put our money where our mouth is. We routinely take on difficult assignments to the surprise of many clients and the consternation of the competition.
Our planners, if I can honour them with that appellation, often do not appreciate the damage done to the polity by subjecting almost all our development projects to design in foreign offices in London, The Hague, Seoul, Munich, New York, Houston, San Francisco or Los Angeles. Lee Kuan Yew would not have done that. (I refer readers to my eulogy at the passing of the late Singaporean prime minister.)
I know, because I worked in such locations. This leaves our home based engineers floundering outside the loop. I have written years ago about the fate that befell NETCO, the still-born Bechtel/NNPC engineering joint venture. I have gone ahead to ask the following question as the title of an article, CAN NIGERIA ADVANCE BY DOING ONLY EASY THINGS? Isn’t that what all this talk of buy Made-in-Nigeria is all about?
Which brings me to this which I hope will shock the readers. Stick a microphone in the face of an ignorant talking-head on this topic and he goes, with righteous indignation:
“Can you imagine? We even import toothpicks! Bla, bla, bla, . “
It does not occur to such that, yes, Nigeria SHOULD BE importing toothpicks, leaving that low end economic activity to our less endowed neighbours and trading partners. Meanwhile, we should be busily engaged in high end value added activities, producing and rolling steel and aluminum, electric motors, transformers and pumps, high voltage cables, insulators and other engineering ceramics, tyres, car and truck wheels, alternators and kick starters, operating refineries for meeting our national demand for electrical grade copper. The list goes on and on. I will probably punch the next smart alec who mentions toothpick within earshot. We should be ashamed of ourselves. Such people have never been inside Dorman Long facilities or Nigerdock at Snake Island.