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How to revamp Nigeria’s moribund ceramic industry, by Oaikhinan




Prof. Eguakhide Patrick Oaikhinan is the sole professor of Ceramic Engineering in Nigeria. He is also the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of EPINA Technologies Limited. In this interview with KINGSLEY JEREMIAH, he discusses strategies for revamping the ceramic industry in the country. Excepts.

Ceramic industry was one of the major activities in nation’s economy until the 80s. Today, about 75 per cent of its products are being imported. What could be responsible for this?
In the 80s, the ceramic industry was a strategic enabler for growth, innovation and sustainability. Ceramic manufacturing business was among the greatest and earliest achievements of Nigerian businessmen. It was part of our human history since man learned to control fire and manipulate clay; today’s ceramics incorporate design and innovation while continuing to meet our needs. For many ceramic sectors, design is a crucial aspect and innovation in design is the best way to compete in a global marketplace. In the 80s, there were notable ceramic industries that include Richware Ceramics Industry, Ilukpeju Lagos; Nigergrob Ceramics Industry, Abeokuta; Quality Ceramics Industry, Shagamu; Modern Ceramics Industry, Umuahia; Ceramics Manufacturer, Kano; and another located at Ifon, Ondo State.

Today, Nigeria’s ceramic imports is over N130 billion (US$600 million). There are no local well equipped laboratories and institutions to offer help in acquiring the necessary skills required in mineral processing and process technologies. Inadequate number of trained personnel, access to capital, lack of appropriate technology and machinery has made captive industries unpopular in Nigeria. In particular, the absence of skilled manpower and industries to process raw materials needed for the production of ceramics in Nigeria has prevented the growth of the industry. This has forestalled the creation of more than five million direct and indirect jobs that could be created from local manufacture annually.

How can the industry be revamped considering the country’s renewed focus on diversifying the economy?
More than business as usual is necessary. The transition to a competitive resource-efficient economy in 2020 represents a challenging target for the Nigerian ceramic industry. As demonstrated in its long history, the sector is committed to contributing responsibly to the achievement of such a target. This enormous challenge means we need to build on our current know-how and expertise and of course, new breakthrough technologies will be needed.

Given the strategic importance of many of the industry’s products, a competitive climate is essential to ensure the industry attain global position. Nigeria is endowed with enormous mineral resources which when properly harnessed can lead to ceramic industry development.

Minerals technology is vital to high productivity in manufacturing; efficient energy conversion; maintaining a high level of health and safety; and striking a good balance between our standard of living and environmental protection. Countries abundantly endowed with mineral resources for instance America and Britain are great in ceramic manufacturing business. Their level of greatness is often a reflection of how their resources have been planned, managed and utilized.

We need significant research and development investments in mineral processing and characterization techniques, as well as in the establishment of clusters of universities and research centres working in ceramics. Government and multinational/financial organizations should invest in developing skilled and trained employees for the ceramic industry.

There is an urgent need for adequate, stable, and economic sustainable mineral supplies development strategy essential to national security, economic well being, and industrial production. Nigeria Mining and Geosciences Society (NMGS) should help the ceramic industry to provide the following:

First, sustainability development strategies needed for the development of action plans to identify new mineral resources, secure supplies and develop materials recycling; to acquire geological and mineralogical data of mineral resources as well as a keen understanding of the markets; and to conduct research on the processes involved in the characterization and use of materials, minerals and waste materials of every kind.

Secondly, mineral intelligence to business investors that may be interested in ceramic manufacturing business. ‘Mineral intelligence’ makes up a unique and exhaustive body of knowledge that cut across every aspect of raw materials knowledge and management; the economics of mineral resources; knowledge on the subsoil and deposit models; exploration and assessment of reserves; operational and post-mining site expertise; substance life-cycle analyses; process management; and forward studies.

Thirdly, supporting mineral policy development to improve the identification and the use of their subsoil wealth; develop new raw materials deposits through recycling; establish rules of governance for minerals market; and measure the environmental impacts of mineral sectors.

What are the basic areas of ceramic applications in the country?
Without ceramics, our infrastructure would have since collapse. When assessing the impact and contribution of ceramic products, we need to look beyond the production phase. The long lifecycle of ceramic products shows how the durability, heat resistance and other properties of ceramics contribute to energy and resource efficiency over the entire lifetime of the product in other sectors and during the use phase of other applications. Ceramic products are built to last and durability is one of their key benefits compared to many other materials. Studies have shown that the average life of a brick house is more than 150 years. Vitrified clay pipes can also last for more than 150 years. In flooring, the expected lifecycle of porcelain, ceramic and mosaic tile is 50 years, far longer than carpet, vinyl or natural hardwood. Housing and construction represented almost 55 percent of the ceramic industry’s turnover in 2011 and supplies to other industries account for more than 30 per cent. Moulded in an endless number of designs and formats, wall and floor ceramic tiles build on 2,000 years of tradition to provide durability, aesthetics and technical solutions in private and public buildings.

In the automotive industry ceramics plays a vital role in increasing safety, cost-effectiveness and comfort in vehicle and automotive engineering. Piezo-ceramic components act as sensors for electronic controls and provide them with information on the vehicle’s quiet engine operation, position and changes in direction. Electronic components based on ceramic substrates react to this information and control motor management; safety systems like ABS and ASR and release the airbag when necessary.

Ceramics’ wide ranges of electrical properties including insulating, semi-conducting, superconducting, piezoelectric and magnetic are critical to products such as automobiles, boat engines, lawnmowers, cell phones, computers, television, and other consumer electronic products. High voltage insulators make it possible to safely carry electricity to houses and businesses

Zirconia is also becoming the material of choice for components in healthcare applications. The chemical inertness of ceramics is finding many uses in the medical field, where contact with body fluids is less of a problem than with most other materials. Finally, ceramics play a big role in the machine-tool industry. Their thermal and mechanical stability allows them to retain their smooth, accurate cutting surfaces longer than metals do

Nigeria is said to have abundant ceramic mineral resources. As an expert, how do you think this opportunity can be harnessed and utilised for manufacturing business in the country?
Some of the specific raw materials used for ceramics production such as clays, silica or quartz, feldspar, high-grade magnesia, bauxite, silicon carbide and graphite are readily available in Nigeria. Processing these for ceramics production can create a brighter future for us in the areas of socio-economic transformation, job creation and employment. In India for example, 5.5 million people are directly and indirectly employed by the ceramics tile industry. Ceramics manufacturing business can make people to develop their own capabilities, increase their assets, and move out of poverty. Nigeria occupies the 9th position among the top eighteen emerging economies for ceramics trade, and is also the only country in the world without ceramics export.

The Federal and State Government need to urgently establish Ceramic Skill Acquisition Centres (ECSACs) to support the promotion and attraction of investments in the mineral resources sector to enhance infrastructural and socio-economic development for wealth and job creation, and to improve the quality, distribution, and effectiveness of the Nation’s human resource base. Our Company, Epina Technologies Limited (EPINA) is a pioneer in ceramic manufacturing business – helping the ceramic industry solve its problems both with human capacity building, raw materials characterization, products formulation, process technologies, glaze processing, and with knowledge. We are available for collaboration with government in pacing ceramics manufacturing business in Nigeria.

What are the constraints confronting local manufacturers in this industry and how can such challenges be addressed?
Nigerians are entrepreneurial, dynamic and amenable to global lifestyles and consumption oriented. Unemployment in Nigeria is one of the most critical problems the country is facing. As earlier mentioned, the ceramics industry is a major employment generation and wealth creation sector. But viable domestic ceramics industries (less than five in number) are not able to contribute significantly in this direction because of the following constraints: shortage of professionals with appropriate skill and expertise in ceramics manufacturing business, absence of avenues for people that are interested in ceramic manufacturing business to pursue their ambitions, absence of training programmes in ceramic science, ceramic engineering, and ceramic technology in universities or polytechnics in Nigeria, lack of knowledge of the chemical and mineralogical compositions, physical and mechanical properties of available local mineral resources, none existence of raw material processing plants to feed the local ceramic industries.

The ceramic industry is a strategic and future-oriented sector. With its wide range of applications, from construction to consumer goods, industrial processes and cutting-edge technologies, the industry needs to constantly develop innovative and high-value solutions that improve our quality of life and facilitate vital progress in our downstream sectors.

The Nigerian ceramic industry’s domestic and international competitiveness depends on effective trade policies to counter tariff or non-tariff barriers, enforcement of intellectual property rights, and protection against counterfeiting and dumped or subsidised imports. Moreover, its competitiveness relies on both the availability and the undistorted pricing of raw materials. Unfair trade measures by foreign countries, such as export quotas or export taxes, have serious impacts on domestic industry, creating artificial costs and putting Nigerian importers at a considerable disadvantage.

To ensure long-term raw material supply and to encourage investment in the sector, the extraction of clay and other minerals must be carefully planned. During and after extraction, quarries and riverbanks must be restored and returned to their natural state, creating new habitats and promoting biodiversity. By restoring clay extraction sites and protecting biodiversity, the ceramic industry can play an important role in maintaining sustainable local communities.

Therefore, a supportive and reliable legal framework will be essential to mobilise the human and financial resources needed to acquire and implement the essential breakthrough technologies. Like many sectors, the Nigerian Ceramic Industry operates in a global marketplace. Therefore, it is essential that the impact of Nigerian legislation on the domestic and international competitiveness of the industry is properly addressed.

As Nigeria undergoes enormous internal change and aims to maintain its role as a global leader in Africa, the ceramic industry finds itself well-positioned to bridge the old world with the new. Since Nigeria independence, the industry has quietly being playing a major role in our daily lives and forms the cornerstone of our rich cultural heritage. The Buhari Administration should therefore be very ready to take a tour of the ceramic industry’s diverse sectors and evaluate the strategic role each of them plays in society and in enhancing life quality. The Ceramics Professional Associational of Nigeria (CERAPAN) should be mandated to present a realistic roadmap for pacing the development of the ceramics industry that has always been at the heart of developed nations and tradition and which continues to lead on the global stage. With an appropriate and adequate government support, the Nigerian ceramic industry stands to make significant contributions to the economic and industrial growth of our dear country now and beyond year 2020. We can enhance the international competitiveness of our domestic ceramic industry and adapt to the shifting global landscape, provided that the appropriate regulatory framework is defined and implemented by policymakers at the national level working closely with Ceramics Professional Association of Nigeria. This is no straight road but working together, we can pave the way for a better future for our people, delivering on jobs and growth in a sustainable manner. Our educational system should equally assist in building the capacity for practical training of people that are interested in the processing of raw materials for various economic sectors and the manufacture of ceramic products and glazes.

Nigeria is a major destination for Foreign Direct Investment in Africa. How do you think we can leverage this potential to overhaul the nation’s ceramic industry?
Nigeria is regarded as the next frontier of development in the world. We can use our wealth of natural mineral resources to leverage ceramics manufacturing sector to leap frog to global prominence among the comity of developed nations. The history of ceramics development and manufacturing in Nigeria is a classic illustration of how a nation could neglect a vital sector to its own peril through policy inconsistencies and lack of focus arising from the discovery of oil. Only one viable industry, West African Ceramics Limited, is producing ceramic tiles locally.

In line with other sectors, we call on policymakers to create a supportive regulatory framework to keep ceramics manufacturing competitive in Nigeria and to make CERAPAN’s objectives on smart, sustainable growth and competitiveness a reality. Without a policy shift to encourage foreign direct investment (FDI) based on the whole lifecycle of the industry rather than during production only, there is a danger that legislation will misguidedly drive consumers to either ceramic materials made in less environmentally-stringent countries or to other less durable products with higher annualised emissions. This approach would be detrimental to our economy. Nigerian Government must have an incentive to announce (or to lure foreign investors to agree on) for the growth of a large number of ceramics industries.

The Nigerian ceramic industry is affected by international market access issues and trade barriers. To tackle a wide range of trade and non-tariff barriers, we need to resort to all available trade policy instruments, both in a bilateral and multilateral context, including negotiations and enforcement procedures. Strong action must be taken against all unfair trade practices including counterfeiting, infringement of intellectual property rights, dumping and subsidies. In the context of the ongoing modernisation of the Trade Defence Instruments (TDI), it is essential that Nigeria preserve an effective regulatory framework on Trade Defence Instruments such as anti-dumping and anti-subsidy. Ceramics are made from a wide range of materials, from locally-sourced clay to natural or synthetic high-quality industrial minerals.

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