Be patriotic--buy Nigerian: the Nigerian government has launched a new campaign: 'Buy Made-in-Nigeria'. It is designed to rekindle a spirit of patriotism in the population that has long had a penchant for foreign goods. Frederick Mordi reports.
Linus Achara is a tailor based in Aba, Abia State, in southeastern Nigeria. He makes high quality suits for boutiques in Lagos and other major Nigerian cities. Achara has been in the business for the past 10 years or so but the surprising thing is that his suits all have foreign labels attached to them. The majority say 'Made in Italy'. Asked why he chose to brand his suits Italian-made when they are manufactured in his small workshop in Aba, a twinkle appears in his eyes.
"People will not buy my suits if I put 'Made in Nigeria' on them," he explains. "Nigerians prefer foreign goods to our locally made products. To remain in business, we have to adjust to suit their tastes."
Worried by this unhealthy development, the Nigerian government launched a 'Buy Made-in-Nigeria' campaign late this year. The government intends to use the campaign to rekindle the spirit of patriotism in Nigerians. It was inaugurated at the famous Eagle Square in Abuja, the nation's capital city. The event, the brainchild of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, attracted a large crowd drawn from all walks of life.
President Umaru Yar'Adua, who was represented by his Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, noted that the low patronage of locally made goods has stunted the growth of the nation's once vibrant manufacturing sector. He said ailing industries would regain their lost glory if the citizens became more patriotic by buying locally made products. Already, the government has earmarked N200m ($1.3m) for the campaign that complements the nation's current re-branding exercise being vigorously championed by Professor Dora Akunyili, the energetic Minister of Information and Communication.
"With a population of over 140m, Nigeria's market is big enough to sustain a bubbling domestic industrial sector, if only Nigerians look inwards at their local products," Yar' Adua's speech read. "Unfortunately, many industries had to close shop due to a lack of patronage of their products by Nigerians. We must therefore reorientate ourselves to value what we produce in order to develop a strong and virile industrial base."
Yar' Adua's address at the high-profile occasion also announced a ban on the consumption of foreign beverages at official functions and in government offices. Some of the items on the prohibition list include biscuits, tea, coffee, soft drinks, fruit juices and bottled water. The government's argument is that uncontrolled importation of these items has made local brands largely uncompetitive.
The head of state further directed that Nigeria must utilise its products, such as locally made blankets, when donating aid to foreign countries as part of deliberate efforts to promote national branding and enhance industrial growth. He said: "Henceforth, all government contractors must give priority attention to the use of Nigerian products whose quality is certified by the relevant government regulatory agencies like the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
"All uniforms and boots of the armed forces: army, navy, air force, police, as well as the Paramilitary, Customs, Immigration, Prisons, Civil Defence Corps and Road Safety services, must be sourced from Nigerian manufacturers certified by SON."
However, the Minister of Commerce and Industry, Chief Achike Udenwa, who is the brains behind the project, admitted that it would not be easy changing the apparent disdain of Nigerians for local products.
He said: "For this campaign to succeed, strong political will is needed to back it up by patronising 'Made in Nigeria 'products in the government's procurement programmes. This way, the general public will be sensitised to embracing the campaign."
However, Udenwa clarified that the aim of the campaign is not to advocate the purchase of poor-quality products just because they are of Nigerian origin. Consequently, he challenged local manufacturers to produce high-quality products that would compete favourably with imported ones. It is expected that the government will give adequate incentives to Nigerian industrialists to enable them to take advantage of the campaign and build capacity. Such incentives could be in the form of tax rebates and improvement on infrastructure, especially electricity.
Improve product quality
Accepting the challenge, the president of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Alhaji Bashir Borodo, appealed to the patriotic instincts of Nigerians. He said, "Nigeria is a great country and God has endowed us with highly resourceful citizens and abundant natural resources. The products that emerge from the combination of these two assets should therefore command our pride and our patronage."
Borodo also recalled that MAN had initiated the 'Made in Nigeria' campaign more than 30 years ago, adding that it has been used as an effective tool to champion the cause of the manufacturing sector. Lamenting that the sector currently grapples with challenges such as poor infrastructure, lack of access to funds and inadequate sales, he observed: "Non-patronage of local products has led to the worrisome issues of closure or suspension of production by many industries--a trend that is assuming a very frightful dimension in the economy. It has been observed that between 2000 and 2008, about 820 manufacturing companies have closed down or temporarily suspended production."
Nevertheless, Borodo said the importance of the campaign could be situated against this backdrop, expressing the confidence that if fully accepted and internalised it would, among other things, expand the capacity utilisation of the industries, which currently stands at about 45%, create more jobs and reduce dependence on imported goods. He also advised the government to check the unrestricted imports and smuggling across the nation's porous borders.
But James Kwegyir-Aggrey, president of the Lagos branch of the National Association of Ghanaian Community, has expressed concern over the implications of the campaign for other countries that export to Nigeria. He said: "The Nigerian government's banning and unbanning of goods into Nigeria leaves many traders confused, not knowing what, and what not, to bring in at various times."
Experts who have analysed the campaign have also expressed scepticism over its implementation. For example, one social commentator argued that Nigerians would only buy a locally made product if it was readily available and if matched the quality of its imported rivals. Others believe that the Nigerian proclivity for foreign goods would render the campaign ineffective.
Government efforts to ban the importation of items such as packets of fruit juice, bottled water and toothpicks have failed because Nigerians simply smuggle them into the country. On one occasion, the Nigerian Customs Service raided Lagos supermarkets to search for and confiscate prohibited items on the shelves. Customs subsequently had to soft pedal in its stance after it was lampooned by well-meaning Nigerians.
Analysts say that the new campaign will catch on fast if top government officials show a good example by wearing clothes that are 100% sourced locally, instead of buying expensive imported materials which are sewn locally. This may be an uphill task because the practice has become deeply entrenched in the culture of the people, who love the good things of life. Even if the famed UK chain Marks & Spencer opened a shop in Lagos, many Nigerians would still prefer to buy their clothes at a London Marks & Spencer store!
Perhaps the government can learn a lesson from Bill Clinton, who in 1984 as the governor of Arkansas, visited Wal-Mart to seek assistance for a local clothing factory that was about to lose its biggest customer to a foreign rival. Clinton's intervention in the affairs of the limping business, like Yar'Adua's, was inspired by the spirit of patriotism. After discussing the matter with his executives, Sam Walton, owner of Wal-Mart, which currently ranks among the top 10 companies in America, reportedly said: "We are going to see if we can do something that has never been done before."
Wal-Mart pulled out all the stops and at the end of the day, it rescued the company from the jaws of bankruptcy. Wal-Mart received good publicity for 'doing something that has never been done before', leveraging on the PR opportunities that Clinton's visit presented. It endeared itself to the hearts of Americans, who saw it as a truly patriotic company.
The following year, Walton took out full-page advertisements in major newspapers to announce the store's new 'Buy American' programme, which was also deemed a patriotic gesture. The owner wrote: "Our American suppliers must commit to improving their facilities and machinery, remain financially conservative and work to fill our requirements and, most importantly, serve to improve employee productivity."
One of the lessons that can be learnt from this is that quality can never be sacrificed on the altar of patriotism. The 'Buy-Nigerian' campaign is, without doubt, a great idea. But it will only work when the government does "something that has never been done before". That is, by thinking outside the box.