Achike Udenwa'S Idiotic Gaffe


In a story captioned "Protection of local industries, not our business", Daily Trust of 2nd April 2009 reports that Achike Udenwa our supposed Minister of Commerce and Industry speaking through a representative stated that "having joined the rest of the world to embrace globalization and its attendant tenets of open and competitive markets, we can no longer create artificial trade barriers in order to protect Nigerian industries".

He continued that Nigerian businesses should "strive to meet basic standards for products and services" in keeping with "international best practices". This is the kind of ill-thought hogwash that was responsible for Mazi Udenwa's lacklustre 8 wasted years as Imo state governor.

It's alright to superciliously sermonize on the free trade ideal that Nigerian manufacturers should step up to the plate and compete favourably with their foreign counterparts, but such idealism presupposes a fair and level playing field among competitors. Is our so-called Commerce & Industry minister unaware of the peculiar problems bedeviling Nigerian manufacturers and other entrepeneurs that undermine their productivity vis-à-vis foreign manufacturers ?

Epileptic power supply, prohibitively high bank interest rates, decrepit transport infrastructure (especially rail); insecurity of life, goods and property; leaky borders through which cheap imports are smuggled in; excessive taxation and levies by various government agencies at all levels of governance; thieving government officials who are forever devising new means of extorting our illustrious entrepreneurs, as well as custom and clearance bottlenecks that hamper import of machinery and other manufacturing inputs.These are just a few of the factors militating against the competitiveness and productivity of Nigerian manufacturers.

Instead of our pea-brained Commerce & Industries minister and his feckless fumbling boss Umar Yar Adua taking drastic measures to alleviate the difficulties faced by Nigerian industrialists so as to reverse the regressive de-industrialization that is ruining our nation; he blurts out the inanity that it is not government business to protect Nigerian manufacturers.

Pray, what is the point of our commerce & industry ministry if not to promote Nigerian businesses (especially manufacturing concerns), and protect them from unfair competition ? Unfair competition, because as already explained the odds are unfavourably stacked against Nigerian manufacturers.

Or is our commerce & industry ministry only for the benefit of foreign investors, which would be really idiotic because foreigners are unlikely to invest in our country if our own investors having it so rough and our irresponsible government doesn't care. Mazi Udenwa should immediately resign or be sacked as he obviously doesn't understand his ministerial job description.

With all the frustrating disincentives to local manufacturing, is it any surprise that Nigerian entrepreneurs prefer to head for China to import toothpicks, candles and chocolate ? Yes, chocolate made in China, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are hawked on the streets here in northern Nigeria even though none of these countries grow cocoa. They import cocoa from us then sell us chocolate. And I erroneously thought we were long past such retrogressive neocolonial economics.

It is disgraceful and disheartening that nearly five decades after independence, with more than enough stupendous oil wealth to industrialise this country, we like most African economies are still dependent on the export of primary commodities (oil, cocoa, copper, diamonds, cotton etc) for most our revenue. Hence we Africans groan miserably when the prices of these commodities fall, and whine pathetically about Western protectionism of their agricultural products at international trade meetings.

We Africans must do much more to promote (and if necessary protect) manufacturing, so that we can join the Asian tigers whose economies are no longer dependent on export of primary commodities. With Africa's largest market of about 160 million people that can sustain any industry, abundant energy reserves and other natural resources, Nigeria is particularly well placed to become Africa's industrial manufacturing hub.

To attain their present enviable level of industrialization, all the Asian tigers (Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia) implemented policies that protected and enhanced their local industries. Protectionism is also the major reason why China is emerging as an economic superpower.

Furthermore, effective protectionism (with well policed borders) is a strong incentive for foreign manufacturers to invest in local production, as they would be worse off in the Nigerian market just exporting finished goods to us. This was how way back in the 1980s, the late President Reagan by raising import tariffs to protect America's auto industry, compelled Japanese auto makers to set up production plants in the US of A.

Thus it should be obvious to our nitwit commerce minister that other nations have no qualms about protectionism if it is in their national interest, GATT and other international trade agreements notwithstanding. That is why America recently voted 25 billion dollar bailout for her three largest indigenous auto manufacturers (GM, Ford & Chrysler), even though there are other foreign auto manufacturers in the United States.

Contrast America's protectionist bailout of her big three auto-makers with the collapse of virtually all Nigeria's auto assembly plants. Way back in the late 70's and 80's Volkswagen, Steyr, Leyland and Anammco all had auto assembly plants here in Naija, but they have all been shut down. Going by current news reports, Peugeot automobile in Kauna, Nigeria's sole remaining auto assembler is also about to become an industrial carcass.

And it's not just Nigerian automobile assemblers that are afflicted by the de-industrialization bug. Berec once manufactured batteries in this country, but that is no more thanks to cheap Chinese imports and epileptic power supply amongst other chronic problems our inept corrupt leadership have been unable or unwilling to fix.

Then there is the ad nauseum oft-repeated decimation of our textile industry, the belated ineffective federal bailout notwithstanding. Unilever and several other manufacturers have already indicated intention to relocate from Nigeria to our more industrially friendly neighbours. Many of the other surviving industries operate well below capacity.

Nothing better underscores the stupidity and ineptitude of our so-called leaders, as the fact that for decades we have been wastefully flaring natural gas that could have been used to generate abundant cheap electricity for robust economic growth. Instead we chronically suffer from incessant power outages that have crippled our industries and rendered our economy prostrate.

Without a sound manufacturing industrial base, all the unintelligent gabble in government circles about promoting small & medium enterprises (SME) won't amount to much. Hence all the poverty alleviation programmes over the last decade have been ineffective and failed to achieve desired economic impact because of the undue emphasis on SMEs. Large and heavy manufacturing industries on the other hand, with their exponential multiplier effects tremendously boost SMEs.

Thus someone in the corridors of power should please drum it into the thick skulls of our lousy minister and his bungling imbecile boss, that an underdeveloped de-industrialized economy like ours requires protectionism, direct government investment and enticing incentives to revive and expand manufacturing, which as earlier stated has numerous beneficial multiplier effects ÔÇô poverty alleviation, eradication of unemployment with its associated ethno-religious strife, economic prosperity and technological advancement among others ÔÇô all of which are instrumental to the success of the hyped Vision 2020.

Nafata Bamaguje

Daura, Katsina state