Alhaji Hamma Kwajaffa, Director General, Nigeria Textiles Manufacturers Association (NTMA), in reaction to the Federal Government-led fight against coronavirus, Covid-19 pandemic, says there can be no better way to do it than it has been done. He however implores members in charge that, while locking down and restricting movements, social and religious gatherings as precautionary measures, government should also set up a mechanism for monitoring with a view to ensuring that the economy is not too affected beyond control. This, he said, is important because after the fight against coronavirus, economy will be the fall back for both government and the people. Excerpts:
What collaborative arrangement exists between the Nigeria Textile Manufacturers Association and the Presidential Task Force (PTF) in the anti-coronavirus fight, considering your relevance to providing the materials required? Have you been contacted?
I wouldn’t say PTF but through our bigger association, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), we have been contacted. MAN President contacted us to provide the list of capable garment factories that can do nose masks. So, a list of about 44 textile and garment factories was submitted through the umbrella body and it has been presented to the Committee on Covid-19 and the MAN President said he’s still awaiting whatever they would do. And I understand the President (Buhari) has himself set up a committee on all these things and the palliatives but, up till now, nothing concrete has been heard.
Don’t they talk about it at all since your list was submitted to the committee?
We only hear people talking here and there that they will give tailors something and the tailors are the garments. So, now government should come out and tell us. Is that list approved or not? MAN President said that he had submitted the list to the committee. So they should tell us what they meant by tailors because you cannot have the tailors without the garments and garments now are waiting for approval of the list we sent through the President of MAN and which has been conveyed to the Covid-19 committee. So, we want to know the outcome on those issues. People are waiting.
And then, these people have to pay their workers. Do they want the garments to lay off their workers, which is going to be dangerous at this lockdown time? People are managing to eat to survive and then if you lay them off, it becomes a big problem. Look at the British Airways, it just laid off about 36,000 workers. Is this what you want to happen?
While one can understand that you would definitely be affected economically in situation where in a lockdown you don’t make money, it should also be asked what the fate of your workers are in the face of the current reality?
We pray that our workers will be retained. But it is only through this effort such workers will be retained. So, government has to be fast and stop bureaucracy. The committee should work fast, it should be very, very proactive, sincerely, and work on the list with them to allow the garments sector to continue working. We can do all the provisions, we can do all the social distancing, we can do all the safety issues within the workers and put the safety measures of distancing and hand washing in place. We are good at that and we will do same.
So let them, as a matter of urgency, allow us to take up this responsibility of producing these things these materials needed for the nation. On the sideline of that, our workers will be brought back to work and so they continue to get their pay because, it will be difficult to continue to retain workers without paying their salaries.
In essence are you saying that it will be difficult to continue to pay workers in lockdown when you as employers are not making money?
Yes, because you must be able to continue to make money and then pay your workers especially when what you do are essentials. It (money) is not plucked from trees.
And no palliative givens to the textile and garment sector to be able to provide those essentials needed for fighting the coronavirus pandemic, while at the same time keeping the economy standing?
Exactly! None. Even the MAN President has written something on palliatives but nothing has happened. He said that government should be able to collaborate with us to lift at least 50 percent of salaries so that the workers will continue to work.
So, those are the kind of things. We need to parley with them and know what is happening. They should call us when they are doing their briefings on Covid-19. Our association should be ably represented so that we talk to them there. It is not only journalists that need to be there. All those key stakeholders ought to be there so we can talk and tell government what is happening. It is only through those robust contributions that you will be able to form policy that can work well.
From our findings, lockdown in Nigeria means a halt to everything, which is different from the intention of government, as far as I know. Every office just shutdown despite the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari made himself clear about which business offices can operate, albeit partially, during the exercise e.g. ICT, food process companies, food stores, etc. Those offices treat lockdown as a complete shutdown of the economy to the extent that even food moments have attracted monetary extortions at state borders, according to complaints while prices of food have gone up. Whereas in some foreign societies such as United Kingdom, economy still operates partially. Are you not worried that in Nigeria, no mechanism to move from one industry to the other, lockdown or not, to ensure that things are still working so the country does not go down completely after the war against coronavirus is won?
Look at even Ghana here, Minister of Trade would go round to see that garments industries are working. Okay, look at the garments industry in Calabar near us here, the governor went, by himself, and resuscitated the garment factory in the state. He did this further strengthened it by ensuring that face mask required by the people of Cross River State is provided by the factory and then he made the use of nose mask compulsory.
So what are the people positioned for the anti-coronavirus fight by government waiting for, considering the fact that if the textile and garment industries are co-opted into the operations, not only the prevention of person-to-person transmission of the coronavirus will be ensured but also, the economy will, on that part, be kept going as they will produce materials largely garments needed for stopping the pandemic for the entire country and for exports?
We don’t know what exactly they are waiting for. But they have to be very, very proactive. They have to be quick and make the workers in the textile and garment sector to be productive. Because, if nothing is done in this area, that will be too bad. Something, honestly speaking, needs to be done quickly.
Or does it mean the government, because everything is still about government, does not know the potentials, the benefits that the country stands to have from promoting and patronizing for development of textile and garment economy, locally, especially at this critical period?
They do, I mean they recognize our potentials but they are taking things slowly. And if you take things like this slowly, it takes money and then, how would workers be paid? They asked us to submit our list and we have done that. We are capable, from this textile and garment sector we can be key players in the building of the economy of our nation. The President gave money up to N1 trillion for this fight, pharmaceuticals and materials, and the garment is part of those stakeholders needed to achieve the success we all desire. Garments should be occupied but, I don’t know what is stopping the action on this.
One thing, while we want to produce all that we need locally, and it is the priority of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, what assurance are you giving that engagement of the textile and garment sector in Nigeria will not be another betrayal where people take things for granted, and how would your participation bring about effective face masks and doctor’s shrubs required in ending the disease?
The face mask is a very, very preventive measure that must be used every time. You know the coughing and sneezing are simultaneous. Before you know it, it comes out and it has transmitted from one person to another. So, if you use it, you can cough within yourself and sneeze will only be to yourself.
We have seen how some face masks are very, very effective and you know it by putting a lighter in front of your mouth, you blow air from inside and it blowing will not quench the fire. That is to tell you that it is very, very effective and protective. Those are the ones we are using and they are of international standard.
What we are saying in essense is that, the textile will produce the fabrics and we have lots of textile factories that produce fabrics, the garments will buy from there to produce their materials and at the end of the day therefore, everybody will have been fully participatory. We have quite a lot of textile and garment factories in Nigeria; we have in Lagos, Kano and Abuja. Certain things should be done for all of us to be able to deploy our potentials in the fight against coronavirus to save our people from catching the disease and from death.
As media organizations and economic stakeholders with patriotism running in our blood, respectively, we owe the government the duty to tell them the truth of what is going on and what is to come after something. Our incoherence can be worrisome sometimes because we haven’t gotten it right with the present, how then do we plan for the post Covid-19 era? I mean, after Covid-19, what next, talking about cotton-textile-garment value chain aspect of the economy?
The issue is that, we don’t even know when this thing, coronavirus fight, will finish. This is because Lagos continues to have the highest number of cases and we have to be very, very careful with it. Traveling is one way it is this escalating and nobody is being checked. And some of these things are asymptomatic. That is why it has timeline before it shows itself. Once that manifests, then it becomes open and we may not be able to contain the virus with the number of health facilities we have as in hospitals.
We have seen what happened in Italy, we must be very, very proactive and take action and try to see what can be done locally.
This lockdown is not meant to punish anybody. It is for our own good. We got to know this. Because there is no space to admit people in Italy, people are just falling down in the streets and are dying because some of them, when they know that you are old, they may not take care of you again because they know you don’t have immunity. It is no point admitting you when they have youths to admit. So, we must be very, very careful and be very, very proactive so our own situation to that got to explosive stage.
Essentially and, I mean, essentially, we must be able to cooperate with our government on what is being done. We should manage whatever palliative is given to us and see how we can make things move on. If people are allowed to work, let them work but must be very, very compliant with the health authority’s guidelines and government’s directives. Sanitary issues should be done clearly and, if you are in work place, all these preventive measures should be followed. Otherwise, it will boomerang and will go into unmanageable position, which we don’t pray to happen.
So, as far as we don’t want to send off our workers, let us be engaged. We see how workers are now losing their jobs abroad, particularly in America, and we know the effects and we don’t want that to happen to our own workers. It is double jeopardy for workers to be sent out of job and so we must do something to avoid this. In trying to fight Covid-19, we should not send people into hunger and into suicide because, if a man cannot feed his family, it is sickness in itself for him.