To keep the mills running – Guardian

By The Citizen
Listen to article

A Push towards industrial development that was given an official seal by President Goodluck Jonathan the other day as he launched the twin-pack Nigerian Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP) and the National Enterprise Development Programme (NEDP) certainly sounds good. Only if the push would not end up as a mere public relations gimmick. The articulated industrial revolution plan has also been tagged the National Quality Policy.

Based on perceived weak links in the value chain, the revolution is expected to exploit the country's competitive advantage in agriculture, mining and the oil and gas related industries to attain frontline position in Africa and over time, a place among the top 10, globally. Other key economic sectors are in focus with priority attention to manufacturing to improve foreign exchange earnings. The goal will be to ensure value addition, enterprise development and industrialization through industrial cities and parks.

These are no doubt lofty goals, but how sincere the government is and how holistic and integrated the schemes are as claimed remain to be seen.  Nigerians are bored with slogans without action. Issues are also genuinely being raised about how much of the revolution would be in the interest of Nigerians for whom it is supposedly being designed. These fears cannot be wished away going by past unfulfilled dreams and designs for industrialisation on one hand and preferences for foreign interests on the other.

For instance the question to be asked about the new automotive master plan, lofty as it looks on paper, is:  in whose interest?  If such design would only benefit foreign investors, no matter the level of that investment, it is not worth the effort. Nigeria needs a master plan solely targeted at the development of local content and for the benefit of Nigerian investors or manufacturers.

The proposed revolution, it must, however, be said, is lacking in rigorous content for a major policy framework. Significantly, much more serious economies run on a solid national development agenda. In the past decades, planners in the public and private sectors of the economy make projections based on a five or 10-year development plan which are even rolled over in the event of a deficient implementation. Nigeria has not witnessed a faithful adherence to this for a while.

The people have merely been assailed with non-performance dressed in slogans by politicians. As a matter of fact, Nigeria can be said to be set again on a road once travelled with this new push. After all, all industries across all sectors of the economy have ignobly collapsed due to planlessness and policy flip-flops.  Nigeria was once in the top five in the league of textile producers. Today, many of the mills have been dismantled with the premises serving as storage for imported cars, buses, parboiled rice and electronics among others.

The steel rolling mills, machine tool plants, and others,  all investments have gone down the drain in a rare mortgaging of the future of the country.

It would make sense only if what President Goodluck Jonathan just launched is government's full commitment to the revitalization of the moribund factories that were criminally run aground by inconsistent policies that encouraged full time importation of materials to kill local alternatives. Otherwise, gleefully announcing any industrial plan for the country without a check on a sector already in limbo is a waste of time. At the root of the fatal shot at the manufacturing sector was a regime of unregulated import licences given to brief-case carrying  businessmen and cronies of top public and government officials. Corruption has, as usual, been the order of the day.

Even now, what effort has been made to correct the cumbersome processes of business registration especially for foreign interests? Where is the supporting infrastructure to attract further investments? Are the components of the new plan readily available for studying  by interested investors? What is the philosophical foundation? After the launch blitz, what happens next? These and more are based on the realization that a sound policy ought to be based on existing structures. At present, for instance, imports still weigh down the economy. No one is deceived that as it is, the environment is totally disenabling for local industries to thrive. How much then has the government listened to the manufacturers and other groups to draw ideas for a full-scale industrial revolution?

Hopefully, policy flip-flops that characterised most other plans in the past will not halt the actualisation of whatever is envisaged by the Federal Government in its planned revolution.