A major lesson from the affliction of the world with COVID-19 is that it imbued countries with creative impulses to enhance their survival as independent entities. With the tragic deaths and huge dislocation of the global economy, countries knew it’s incumbent on them to chart their own paths to survival, despite the global collaborations in sharing information on medical and non-medical approaches to the novel coronavirus.
The lockdown helped a number of countries which had achieved a good measure of self-reliance in food sufficiency and industrial production to cope relatively better than many developing countries with import-dependent economies. While the former commendably tackled the challenges by exploring ways to bolster their economies, a country such as Nigeria has been in a quandry as it realises the futility of its indolent dependence on crude oil as a sole foreign exchange earner. The low price of the commodity in the past three months caused by the economic lockdown had made it compelling for Nigeria to look inwards in order to stay relatively afloat in the midst of the inclement economic weather.
It’s understandable why the Federal Government recently took steps to revise its 2020 budget and, thereafter, expressed its desire to promote patronage of locally made goods in order to grow the economy and curtail the depletion of foreign exchange. On three occasions where the Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, spoke on the impact of the novel pandemic on the country’s economy in the past month, she conveyed the necessity of patronage of made-in-Nigeria goods.
She stated: “On prioritization of made in Nigeria products, as you know, the President has set up an economic stimulus committee, chaired by the Vice President. The work of the committee is to develop 12 months economic stimulus plan and we are at the final stage of that work.
“We have prioritized spending in that plan to use and consume made in Nigeria. For example, some of the public works projects that will employ a lot of our youths is to be done using strictly our raw materials, so we don’t have to import bitumen, for example, to build our roads”, added Mrs.Ahmed, who also said that the recent approval for the Customs to purchase vehicles is within the framework of promoting local goods.
In the light of the foregoing, the recourse to patronage of locally made goods and products is a desirable step. It is badly needed at this time that many countries are compelled to look inwards and discourage importation of products that can be produced locally. The essence is to enhance national productivity as well as save foreign exchange for importations. Besides, a rejuvenated economy will provide jobs for the teeming unemployed youths.
For a very long time, the Nigerian economy has been weakened by importation of goods that have good substitutes in the country. These imports cover virtually every sector, ranging from foods, electronics, furniture, to automobiles. Apart from depleting scarce foreign exchange, it has progressively reduced the strength of the national reserve. The billions of naira spent on importation would have increased the pool of funds envisaged to revitalise the economy, boost industrial production and reduce unhealthy appetite of Nigerians for foreign goods.
As the Federal Government seeks to stimulate patronage of local goods, it should address problems that encourage importation, instead of buying Nigerian products. The central question is: Why is Nigeria producing very little and importing so much, nearly 60 years after attaining nationhood? Of course, the answer is self-evident. As such, improving and decentralising electricity supply, provision of credit facilities for the real sector, optimal incentivisation of industrialists to remain afloat, strict surveillance of Nigeria’s borders to check smuggling, and a renewed patriotic fervour of the ruling political class are needed to drive the campaign.
The last factor which captures the human element is critical as other issues are subsumed under it. Without a change of attitude and a fresh commitment of the elite, very little would be achieved. As the policy makers and drivers of the political economy, they are expected to show the light so that ordinary Nigerians will follow. It goes beyond sloganeering which hardly translates into concrete action.
It must be stated that Nigeria does not lack good ideas but the country’s Archilles’ heels lies with implementation. In the past, there were similar initiatives but the sheer disinclination of the elite largely sabotaged their success. Despite the years that have rolled on, the same disposition still permeates the mindset of the present-day managers of Nigeria. For instance, rather than patronise locally made vehicles from Innoson Motors, the federal and state governments prefer foreign cars, especially Toyota and Chinese products for official and private use, thereby enriching the economies of other countries. In retrospect, those Asian countries did not get to their present industrialised status without prioritising their economic needs, decades ago.
To make a success of the initiative, government officials should walk the talk by moderating their appetites for foreign goods and products. They must lead by example which is the norm in a democracy. It’s not enough to devise a good plan and leave it unimplemented, particularly at this challenging time. Patronising homemade goods by government officials and the citizenry is a sine qua non for the optimal economic development of Nigeria.