Obasanjo, Dora & M-I-N Goods

Source: huhuonline.com
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Nigerians often forget that the success or failure of our economy can generally be traceable to the actions or inaction and policies of our government.  It is, however, clearly recognized that industrial output outside the oil, gas and telecom subsectors has  diminished significantly over the last 20 years.  This much was confirmed recently by the Director of Field Services of the Manufacturers Association at a sensitization programme on the incidence and effects of multiple taxations. (Punch 26/8/10).   

  The Punch Newspaper report on the event indicates that Nigerian Manufacturing companies lost a total of about 1.7m workers between 2001 & 2008!  The sector's contribution to Gross Domestic Product declined significantly from 9.5% in 1975 to 6.65% in 1995 and 3.42% in 2007, while capacity utilisation also declined rapidly from 70.1% in 1980 to 29.29% in 1995 and settled at 47% in 2009!  As would be expected, hundreds of otherwise vibrant enterprises closed shop and the relative range of made-in-Nigeria (M-I-N) consumer goods fell drastically, while competitive consumer goods were imported to fill the existing demand. This is another way of saying that in spite of government's propaganda on its sincerity and commitment to grow Nigeria 's industry, the actual reality was a dismal failure of the administration of Obasanjo/Yar'Adua/Jonathan!  Thus, former President Obasanjo's recent admonition that Nigerians should patronize locally manufactured goods appears out of sync with the realities, which his economic and industrial policies sustained.  

  Obj's plea was made as he declared open the new SPAR Nigeria Departmental Store in Lekki-Lagos last week!  Incredulously, Obj chose to jubilate 'that those apostles of doom, who do not believe in Nigeria, would be put to shame by the demonstration of confidence in the Nigerian economy by the foreign sponsors of the supermarket'. Somehow, Obj did not wonder about how many Nigerian manufacturers are still standing to stock the shelves of the supermarkets!  An examination of the shelves of the increasing number of foreign shopping malls and supermarkets will reveal the alarming truth that Nigerian products constitute less than 10% of their offerings.  The balance 90% are imported consumer goods paid for from our paltry foreign reserves in support of employment opportunities in the exporting countries, with severe consequences for employment in Nigeria.  

  Indeed, while the small army of surviving Nigerian industries are subjected to vigorous and relatively expensive processes and certification by Nigeria's Agency for Food and Drug Control, NAFDAC, the host of imported supermarket offerings are not subjected to the same level of control, as they are granted exemptions based on a so-called NAFDAC blanket approval of a global listing of supermarket products.  

  It is rather curious, therefore, that former NAFDAC DG and current Information Minister, who incidentally was in charge of that government agency when the so-called global listing of supermarket products was approved, also joined in drumming up support for patronage of locally made goods at the recent launching of the auto-disable syringe by NAFDAC in Abuja last recently.   

  Prof. Akunyili belatedly rightly recognized that patronage of locally made goods would help to ' stem the tide of kidnapping, armed robbery and other social vices, which would become minimized if indigenous manufacturers were encouraged through patronage!!' The question, Nigerians would want to ask the undoubtedly hardworking and principled minister is whether she recognized this reality before technically opening the floodgate for imported foods, drinks, soaps and other personal care products, which form a significant proportion of supermarket goods!  

  The following is an excerpt from an earlier article titled: NAFDAC'S BLANKET APPROVAL FOR SUPERMARKET IMPORTS (first published 22/06/2009).  Readers of this column are once again given another opportunity to reassess this national predicament.  Please read on:  

  The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) woke up to its responsibility to ensure the wholesomeness and integrity of what we consume about six years ago.  The sustained and concerted efforts of NAFDAC, without doubt, saved a lot of lives and reduced the operating landscape for these 'pirates' who grew fat from the corpses of those they sent to early graves with their poisonous offerings.  Although the masses were the main beneficiaries of NAFDAC's crusade, the surviving brigade of the endangered species of our nation's small and medium industries were also full of praise for the work of this Agency.  Anyone who has ever been involved in the tedious and uncertain journey of conceiving and bringing a consumer product to birth successfully in the market place, particularly in this country will have a story replete with the spirit of never say die endurance, family deprivation, inaccessible funding, local and state government extortion, etc, to tell to anyone who cares to listen.  

  There are few things, therefore, which are as destabilising as the sudden appearance of clones and look-alike versions of your product in the market to confuse consumers and diminish the steady return you have begun to expect as a result of your toil and sacrifice!  They say that 'failure is an orphan and success, of course, has multiple heritage.'  I recall the lamentations of a close acquaintance whose Hair Pomade quickly gained wide market acceptance sometime ago! The success of the product soon came to the attention of the vultures of the faking business, who wasted no time in putting into the market over 20 clones of this popular hair conditioner.   

  The widespread activities of adulterators posed a serious threat to the existence and growth of industrial entrepreneurship in the country as the cost of product protection, monitoring, serial litigations and distracting interaction with the security agencies took a heavy toll on the wealth and fortunes of genuine owners of the successful brand!   

  However, this ugly scenario changed drastically when NAFDAC partnered with associations and genuine manufacturers in the food and drug subsectors in the fight against adulterators and fakers.  There is no doubt that NAFDAC's engagement sanitised the field and reduced the cost of litigation for genuine manufacturers.  These local manufacturers reciprocated NAFDAC's gesture by submitting themselves to NAFDAC registration and adopted best manufacturing practices in their operations.  The general welfare of Nigerians became enhanced by the healthy synergy in the relationship between NAFDAC and the local companies , especially since NAFDAC ensured a level playing field by demanding that imported food, drugs and cosmetics have also to be similarly registered by NAFDAC and must go through the same process of inspection and certification for good manufacturing practices and similar qualities that NAFDAC demanded from local companies .  

  This arrangement, of course, as it should, favoured local manufacturers, as the cost of annual inspection, registration and regular renewal of approvals was obviously less for local companies.  Thus, in spite of the burden of the local inadequacy of infrastructure and high cost of funds, a good number of SMEs thrived and in the process provided employment and income for hundreds of thousands of Nigerians, either as factory and administrative staff or in the product distribution and marketing chain with the beneficent linkage effects on the advertising, printing, packaging and plastics industries !  In other words, NAFDAC's principled position on equal treatment for both local and imported products actually engendered a healthier economy as well as people!  

  However, a cursory stroll through any of our major supermarkets and indeed, traditional markets today, would reveal a whole legion of imported products, particularly in the food and cosmetics subsector, which have no NAFDAC certification!  In fact, the supermarkets now discriminate against local products on their shelves.  Indeed, for every 10 imported unregistered products you will probably observe one local equivalent!  

  In other words, these supermarkets are now more inclined to support the economies of the countries from which these imports come than their host nation, Nigeria.  Thus, while increasing number of Nigerians are losing their jobs, the patronage of these supermarkets for imports is creating employment in other countries.  But the much more fundamental question is, how did these huge array of products enter into the country to be openly displayed and sold without NAFDAC approval and registration?   

  Investigations by some of the local sectoral associations of manufacturers have revealed that NAFDAC appears to have been arm-twisted by 'powerful' Nigerians and government agencies including the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council (NIPC) to grant potential so-called foreign investors who wish to establish supermarkets or shopping malls with a blanket approval for the products they needed to import to stock up their shelves!  In other words, while the small and humble Nigerian manufacturer is kept under the rigid gaze of NAFDAC, with regular inspections and the payment of annual fees for product revalidation, changes in labeling or packaging sizes and strict compliance with good manufacturing practices, the supermarket investor only needs a single general approval without NAFDAC's physical inspection or validation of product content, and no additional payment of  fees for modifications to size or packaging at any time. Not surprisingly, it has since become obvious that these supermarkets do not serve only retail customers who come through their doors as expected, but also sell to wholesalers from Oke Arin, Idumota, Onitsha, Kano , Port Harcourt and Aba!  Nigerian manufacturers are certainly now under siege as more of these imported products are also smuggled in and merchandised on the shelves with those covered under the blanket approval from the global listing of supermarket products by NAFDAC!  

  So, the once harmonious relationship between NAFDAC and associations of industrial subsectors have gradually become tested by what these local industrialists see as the uneven handedness of NAFDAC, which now threatens their businesses, their livelihood and employment creation in the country.  It cannot be justifiable for government agencies and policies to create costly obstacles to local industrial growth while facilitating the enhanced welfare of people in other countries with concessions which are not reciprocated to the export of Nigerian products abroad!  It appears that NAFDAC's approval for the global listing of supermarket products is a silent killer of Nigerian entrepreneurship and our quest for reduction of unemployment and promotion of industrial growth in this country!  

  If the federal executive is happy to standby and idly watch this ugly scenario unfold, it behooves the Nigerian Labour Council and the Federal Legislature to step in and call NAFDAC to order!  It does not require knowledge of rocket science to run a supermarket or shopping mall, to warrant a policy of open borders as concession for such investments which not only jeopardizes industrial growth, employment, and social welfare, but also serves as a big conduit for the outflow of valuable foreign exchange for consumer goods which can easily be produced by local businesses!  Indeed, if imported food and drugs are also subjected to the rigorous discipline of NAFDAC as is the case with local industries, the Agency will be better positioned to reduce the importation of fake and adulterated drugs, which kill our people.  

By Les leba