Textile industry: Too many unfulfilled promises
Nigerians should have every reason to be tired of reports of every government’s move to revive the textile industry since 1999 when democracy returned with some promise. Despite all the noise and vaunting about revamping the industry, it is still in a sorry state. The industry used to be investors delight in the 1960s when businessmen mainly from Asian countries found it very attractive to commit their capital given the large market the Nigerian economy presented 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 Kaduna, Asaba, Aba, Ikeja, among others where textile production was a success story. In the sixties 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.
The story is now very different – a far cry from the glory days of the past. Workers in such industries, including the 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.
Indeed, more significant citizens like Oshiomhole cut their teeth in trade unionism and thereby had a rewarding career that propelled them to greater heights. Those were the days of yore. Hence 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, 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 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.”
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 have been lost, leading to the setting in of de-industrialisation in the country. 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. To change this narrative, much work would need to be done in combination with good policy articulation and thus bring a return of the good old days of the textile industry boom in Nigeria.
First, Nigeria must come up with a functional commercial and industrial policy to be able to address the issue of the reversal of de-industrialisation in Nigeria. This would have to be situated within the context of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). This invariably must not be at variance with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) arrangement of which Nigeria is a signatory. The commercial policy to revive the textile industry must be holistic, for it to have any meaningful impact on textile production in Nigeria. One good thing that can be achieved from this is to divert trade away from non-AfCFTA members and prepare for competition with other African producers. It must be clear that the world economy is currently averse to trade protectionism unlike what obtained in the days of textile industry boom in Nigeria. There is the existence of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) which is focused on promoting free trade among nations based on specified criteria. The current trade war between the U.S. and China is quite instructive given the turbulence the global economy is currently going through by such flexing of muscles by these global economic powers.
What the president and his economic team should be focusing on in the interim 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 wears 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. This has to be followed closely by a massive public enlightenment campaign by the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to sensitise Nigerians on the need to buy “Made in Nigeria” textiles. Another policy posture the government must take is the effective surveillance of the borders, to check incessant resort to smuggling by businessmen who want to evade paying duties or bring in prohibited fabrics into the country for maximisation of profit. This definitely distorts the structure of production in the economy.
Specifically, as this newspaper has been reiterating on this, smuggling must be dealt a heavy blow to revive the textile industry; 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.
One fact 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 realised. The least the country can do in this regard is to satisfy the domestic market and have a total reorientation of the populace in the preference for locally made fabrics to those imported. We hope that the textile industry and its good old days of boom in the sector will be revived. The only way to achieve that is to migrate from rhetoric to action that the nation can feel.