Nigeria is the undisputed king of paradoxes. It’s Africa’s largest producer and exporter of crude oil yet it cannot locally produce enough fuel for consumption, so it imports from anywhere and everywhere including from African countries. Nigeria has spent the highest amount of money and sent the highest number of security personnel to keep the peace in other African nations but it is not at peace with itself at home.
It has the most policed highways with police check-points dotting every 200-metre on major highways but it also has the highest incident of armed robbery attacks, kidnapping and sundry acts of banditry on the byways and highways. In major cities in the country, the trend these days is for every Jack and Jill to don uniforms of all kinds. In Lagos, for instance, which a colleague recently described as ‘militarised zone’, all manner of uniformed men and women are on the roads. From the police, soldiers, Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI), local government goons reeking of alcohol and sundry hangers-on are all on the streets and byways trying to enforce law and order, pretending to be securing the lives and property of the people. Yet, in the same Lagos, armed robbers would lay siege to a bank or neighbourhood for hours in broad daylight without as much as a challenge from this ‘army’ of uniformed men.
These are some of the paradoxes that define Nigeria. The latest of such ironies was the 2016 Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG) summit themed “Made in Nigeria”. At these times when the nation’s economy is critically ill and requiring high dose of forex to keep the primary sector revving back to life, the theme was well thought out, expedient and opportune, but it suffered the same fate as most of the nation’s initiatives. It became a victim of the proverbial Nigerian paradox.
For a conference with the theme, Made in Nigeria, you would expect the organisers and key Nigerian participants to lead the charge by turning up in made in Nigeria apparels. It was a fitting occasion to showcase truly Nigerian fabrics as a demonstration of the commitment to patronising locally-made goods. Never! The Vice Chairman of the NESG, Sola David-Borha, the Minister of Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah and other key Nigerian participants were all Victorian in their dressing as they took turns to tell the nation why they should patronize made in Nigeria products and services. Not even the Chairman, NESG Committee on Research and Publication, Dr. Adedoyin Salami, tried to save the situation. He, too, was all Victorian in his suit. And I just wonder, if Nigerians cannot patronize made in Nigeria goods and services, why should the same Nigerians cry foul when foreigners in Nigeria flood the local market with imported products.
I once engaged a senior marketing dude in one of the outlets of a popular South African shopping mall doing big business in Nigeria. Out of anger on learning that even the meat – beef, goat meat – and sea food sold in their outlets are imported, including cucumber and other fruits that we have in abundance in Nigeria, I asked him why Nigerian products and farm produce are not on display in their stores. He merely smiled and with a cold, firm and sure voice told me that Nigerians once they learn those products are locally sourced would shun them. And he challenged me to investigate the preference of Nigerians on products like margarine and butter, for instance. He was so sure of himself that he asked me to walk into a supermarket in town and inquire from the owners which stock of margarine or butter brings more return on investment – local or foreign.
I have since discovered that Nigerians prefer more expensive foreign margarine and butter to cheaper local brands. And it is the same for other products including farm produce. With increasing output in the production of local rice which is healthier and fresher, Nigerians are still stuck with imported rice as staple. Most of the rice imported into the country are dead, unfit for consumption and expired. Yet, that is what teases our fancy. We are all responsible for this recession. For each imported product we use or consume, we put a strain of the naira by depleting the nation’s foreign exchange reserve.
The government is promoting ‘Buy Nigeria’ but it is only as a soap-box rhetoric. The same government is not matching action with words. Key players in the nation’s primary sector insist they are being denied the requisite forex to import machinery and raw materials. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) says it has given enough forex to banks to sell to manufacturers to enable them import raw materials and machinery but this money does not get to the manufacturers. They accused the banks of rationing the scarce forex to importers of finished goods including importers of expired toxic rice.
The Comptroller-General of Customs, retired Col. Hameed Ali, a man who should know, says 99 per cent of rice smuggled through the land borders is not fit for human consumption. According to him, samples of some of the rice seizures made over a period were referred to NAFDAC to ascertain their condition and the test reports certified that smuggled rice through the borders was unfit for human consumption.
Some of the rice are smuggled in coffins, some smuggled in bags meant for bagging animal feeds where such rice get contaminated yet Nigerians devour them passionately. It’s alarming.
CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, said Nigeria has in the last three years spent the sum of $2.4 billion on rice importation alone. This is aside the huge sum expended to import wheat, sugar, beans and others.
The latest data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said the federal government has spent the sum of N2,315,788,177,176.86 (N2.3 trillion) to import petrol (Premium motor spirit –PMS) within a period of 16 months spanning January 2015 to April 2016. This is more than one-third of the 2016 budget. This money is for petrol alone. If you add what was spent to import kerosene and diesel within the same period, it’s mind-blowing. Again, this puts further strain on the foreign reserve because importation of fuel is priced in dollars not naira. Yet, Nigeria is a major producer of crude oil.
The way out is a simple path that the same government has made complex. Let’s refine enough fuel for local consumption, let’s deliberately make a policy to serve and eat only local foods in all government houses, at all occasions, in every home, in schools. Let’s for once banish rhetoric and buy made in Nigeria. If all politicians and political appointees turn up in office wearing made-in-Nigeria apparels, it will trigger a national consciousness; if all we serve at functions are Nigerian foods and drinks, it will strengthen local production.
Local producers and manufacturers are not encouraged to shore up production because patronage is low. The reason private refineries are not dotting the Nigerian landscape is because investors do not have confidence in the government that granted them licences but has refused to take its hand off pricing.
Achieving patronage of ‘made in Nigeria’ is possible but it must be matched with commitment from those who preach it. India did it and succeeded, today India does not have to import any finished product; it imports raw materials including Nigeria’s crude oil at a cheap price and use its home-grown technology to refine the crude and sell to Nigeria at a higher price. That’s how never to be in a recession.