In Nigeria, almost every government since independence has launched one type of special intervention programme or the other to revive the textile industries. All the interventions seem to have been failing as the reality points to the fact that the industries, not only textile are disappearing. Some of the existing ones are now ghost of what they used to be.
There is no gainsaying the fact that over the years the Nigerian textile industry has been on its deathbed, in need of some form of protection or genuine intervention.
The comatose state of Nigeria’s textile manufacturing industry is a far cry from that of the 21st Century’s industrial evolution and productivity demand of any serious nation.
Nigerians should have every reason to be tired of “stories” of every government’s move to revive the textile industry since 1999 when democracy returned with some promise and glimmer of hope.
But despite all the noise and vaunting about restoring and overhauling the industry, it is still in a sorry state. The sector used to be investors’ delight in the 1960s when businessmen mainly from Asian countries and other parts of Africa found it very attractive to commit their capital given the large market the Nigerian economy presented to them then.
This is the same industry that used to provide employment to myriads of skills and cadres of staff ranging from the very low, semi and highly skilled, which led to immense boom in the national economy, particularly the economies of cities such as Asaba, Aba, Ikeja, Kaduna, among others where textile production was well located and was a success story.
Gone are the days when Nigerians embraced the products of the likes of the International Textile Industry (I.T.I) at Mushin, Lagos; Texlon at Amuwo Odofin; Enpee at Oshodi; Aswani at Isolo; Boujson Mercedes at Oyingbo; Sunflag at Surulere; Five Star at Isolo and many others. Virtually all the above-mentioned textile companies except one have stopped production of clothing materials and even the one that is still in the business not only has few staff, but has its production reduced drastically.
In the 60s and years later, these cities were centres of excellence of some sort with many trooping in from the hinterland, to eke out a living for themselves, through small and medium-sized industries that sprang up, by forward or backward linkages with these textile firms, with tremendous positive effects on general commerce, increased tempo in economic activities and enhanced living standards generally.
What we have these days is quite different or at best pathetic, a far cry from the glory days of the past. Workers in such industries, including the former Edo State governor and current National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole indeed have had reminiscences of such situations that laid the foundation for vibrant labour unionism in the country.
Those days could aptly be referred to as the days of yore.
It was no surprise at the enthusiasm expressed by the representatives of the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers, NUTGTW led by its President, John Adaji at the promise by President Muhammadu Buhari to the union, at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, recently to revive the textile industry and thus enhance job creation, as one of the key pillars of his economic agenda in his second term in office.
This promise by the president is cheery news, not only to members of the NUTGTW, but to the generality of Nigerians who would be glad at the return of those days of the boom.
However, on second thought, it must be clearly expressed that good wishes are indeed good and that “if wishes were horses then beggars might ride.”
Industry analysts who spoke with Sunday Sun think that the only way to achieve a good result, given Buhari›s promise, is for the government and stakeholders to migrate from cheap rhetoric to action that the nation can feel.
Commentators are also in agreement that there is the need to ensure that smuggling is dealt a heavy blow in any revival effort; else domestic textile production will be a mirage, as these firms will find it tough to survive in an uncensored economic environment.
Focusing on producing for the local market would also revive the cultivation of cotton which used to blossom in the Northern parts of the country. That will also create jobs in the agricultural sector.
No country’s industrial sector can ever flourish without the provision of a stable, reliable, quality supply of electricity.
There is without controversy of unscrupulous elements whose stock in trade is to profit from the present horrible situation of non-availability of sufficient electricity supply. The same goes for the poor functioning of textile manufacturing companies in the country, which in the first instance is the fallout of lack of adequate and quality supply of electricity. Therefore, the real enemy of development and progress particularly in this industrial sector may not necessarily be the need to set up hydro-plants for electricity, among others, but, indeed, to muster the willpower and unyielding resoluteness with which to confront or displace those who would not let go.
The textile industry, which is powered by quality electricity, is a tremendous source of employment. It can absorb millions of persons, if and or when it is functional.
It has prospects to generate foreign exchange thereby mopping up revenue for the federal and state governments. This is true when other African countries begin to depend on Nigeria for the supply of clothing materials for their fashion businesses and other purposes.
Research has shown that since the days of the structural adjustment programme, which commenced in 1986, Nigeria has gone through a series of economic policy frameworks that have had negative effects on its competitive relations with the rest of the world such that production capacities for various sectors such as textile manufacturing has been lost, leading to the setting in of de-industrialisation in the country.
Also, Nigerian firms do not currently have the necessary comparative advantage in the production of many exportable commodities, even in producing for the local market. With adjustments in the exchange rates, among other changes in the macro-economy, which are different from what obtained in the days of the textile industry boom, imported textile products have become much cheaper than those produced locally thus making local industries largely unprofitable in production and thus very difficult to sustain the existence of these firms.
Former Deputy President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Joe Ajaero told Sunday Sun that, perhaps, unknown to the government, there is a de-industrialization agenda of most African countries with the signing of the WTO agreement as most African countries lack the needed ingredients to stay afloat in the liberalisation platform that requires the power of comparative and competitive advantage.
Ajaero, who is at present the president of Nigeria Electricity Employees noted that the inability of the government to provide adequate and effective power supply, as well as the needed policies also pose a problem for the dying textile sector.
He told Sunday Sun: «The cause is not farfetched, you can trace it to the programme of de-industrialisation of some African countries, Nigeria inclusive, especially when most countries signed to WTO Agreement and then their borders were let loose and then if you are signing the WTO agreement of liberalisation and then you don›t have the competing power and a product that has a comparative and competitive advantage to compete in the international market it then means you will be at receiving part, you will be a dumping ground and the Federal Government if there were no restrictions for products as low as textile products people will begin to patronise those coming from outside our shores, which are cheaper.
“Also, with the high cost of charges in our nation’s ports, it became easier to bring such products closer to the ports of nearby countries like Cotonou and then smuggle it into the country. And such products when they come in, as we are all aware they are usually cheaper in the market so why will anyone then patronise the products that are made locally when the ones that are smuggled in are cheaper.
“If you go further there were efforts of late, but not too strong where they are trying to propose the use of locally made fabrics for the Nigerian Army, Nigeria Navy, Air Force etc, as a way of thinking Nigeria, but I don’t think that has really paid out, it’s still a promise, so if people could set up their companies in places like Cotonou, Ghana etc, and make it cheaper because they still have cheap labour it pays them better.
“When you compare that or look at our case, having very corrupt Customs and immigration officers who allow these products to come into the country with the least offer of gratification the problem will continue.
“If you recall in the early 80s, if you go through Aswani, and other textile areas it was booming, Nigerians had jobs, even banks were in operation, but Nigeria didn’t have any policy of industrialisation then they started the policy of deregulation and then left everything to vagaries of market forces and you are not establishing more industries, and the environment is hostile, gradually the existing ones will begin to vanish, unemployment will begin to set in then there will be problem, that is where we find our self today. As far as those companies are not functional even the states where they are located are not making revenue through taxes from them so there is a problem.
“Closely related to that is the problem of electricity because the power sector has not been doing well just like any other sector, so when people now get cheaper and regular power supply like in Ghana, Cotonou etc, they prefer to then move over there to establish their businesses. That was what led to the exit of companies like Michelin etc, it is easier for them to produce there and cheaper too, in a friendlier business environment then bring them back here, but at a costlier price then”.
To change this narrative, experts say much work would need to be done in combination with good policy articulation and thus bring the return of the good old days of the textile industry boom in Nigeria.
What the president and his economic team should be focusing on in the interim, according to industry commentators, is the revival of production for the domestic market by the textile firms. This can be backed up by appropriate government policy pronouncements compelling officials of government ministries, departments and agencies to patronise locally made textile wear and adorn them at public functions.
This is feasible and has been clearly demonstrated in our neighbouring country, Ghana, where it is common to see government officials wearing their local “kente” fabrics at public and private functions.
The consensus among industry players is that creating an enabling environment for the private sector to thrive is one sure way that will lead to the revival of most industries on their deathbed, leading to massive job creation, which will, in turn, develop the economy.
Chairman, Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), Asue Ighodalo, disclosed recently during a visit at Rutam House, headquarters of The Guardian Newspapers in Lagos that the country requires about $100 billion (N36 trillion) to get the right infrastructure.
To get this huge sum, Ighodalo had urged the Federal Government to encourage investors by granting incentives and creating the right policy framework to secure investments.
“Since Nigeria does not have $100 billion to tackle infrastructure deficit, so we must encourage those who have it. We must create an enabling environment that would generate jobs, have proper infrastructure and develop the economy.
“Investors will only bring their money where they get good results. All these will form a template for the country’s development plan. Any other way, we are only deceiving ourselves.”
For Ighodalo, there is a need for a strategic shift to a competitive private sector economy by 2050 through a renewed focus on economic growth, competitiveness and inclusive development.
He said the time was ripe to address issues on achieving rapid industrialisation, transforming education, managing demography and sustaining peace and security.
According to him, it has become critical for industry leaders and policy-makers to create a realistic way of achieving desired goals that will move the nation forward.
Noting that Nigeria’s economic prosperity depends on the productivity with which human and natural resources are employed, Ighodalo said: “Competitive economies have stable macroeconomic conditions and their business climate keeps transaction costs low, thereby encouraging savings and investments, as well as enabling vigorous competition. Such economies create a private sector than can effectively compete for opportunities in regional markets.
“For Nigeria to rank among them, we must have the capacity to modernise in a way that Nigerian firms achieve more sophisticated competitive advantages and higher productivity.”
Abiodun Joshua, a textile union executive in Lagos, lamented over the neglect of the sector by the government, arguing that the government refused to create an enabling environment to sustain the textile industry.
Joshua who was livid with anger over the neglect of the sector, when approached for comments told Sunday Sun: «The sector is on its deathbed and government is simply making bogus statements that they are bent on reviving the sector, but in reality, there is nothing practical on the ground to see.
“Is the government doing anything on improving power supply? All are mere rhetoric. What of the harsh economic policies and regulations of government? How can you close the country’s borders when you have not encouraged local production that can take care of the citizens’ compulsory needs? It’s a pathetic situation because when you have a government that does not listen, does not take advice, but operate on the spur of the moment, no concrete planning, that is what you get”.
One fact the government must make clear to the operatives of the textile industry is that it would take a lot of hard work to revive the industry and that all hands must be on deck.
A curious mix of good policy formulation, tariff measures and border control, exchange rate management and good industrial incentives would have to be deployed to achieve this great dream most Nigerians would want to be realized.
The least the country can do in this regard, according to experts, is to satisfy the domestic market and have a total reorientation of the populace in the preference for locally made fabrics to those imported.