The current economic situation has finally forced us as a nation to accept the truth that a monoculture economy that is almost dependent on crude oil exportation is not in our collective interest. Our dependence on oil revenue is only rivaled by our unrealistic and unsustainable culture of importation, to the extent that a fruit like banana that grows in abundance here is imported. Both variables have in large measures been responsible for the pressure on the naira thus the chant has been strident in promoting consumption and usage of made in Nigeria products.
This growing awareness and support for locally made goods is great, but the reality is that years of neglecting indigenous manufacturing has stunted domestic capacity to produce, even some industries have collapsed totally or simply relocated to neighbouring countries. Reviving or re-establishing such industry will entail importing machineries at the current prohibitive exchange rate of the Naira to the dollar, which will consequently translate into still ending up with overpriced products. So in practical terms, while the movement to promote made in Nigeria products has grown, the capacity to meet any resulting demand for local goods is to a great extent left at the theoretical stage, we all know it should be done but no one agency or grouping of agencies has taken the initiative to make it happen on a larger scale as much as National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI) has done.
All is however not lost as the present situation presents opportunities that can be harnessed to great advantage. A suggestion to save the day is to get all relevant government agencies and organisations working together to actualise this vision of embracing made in Nigeria goods and ensure there is no shortage of locally made products when people’s confidence in them increase and they are ready to buy. The repositioned NASENI can be the nucleus for this particularly in the wake of President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive that this agency should explore ways of converting all its technology products, innovations, machines and equipment to achieve industrial revolution for the country.
NASENI, under the Vice Chairmanship of Professor Mohammed Sani Haruna, has unveiled an array of products that it developed in conjunction with local partners. These products can be deployed towards boosting local manufacturing. They will also serve the purpose of reducing the number of heavy machineries to be imported for jump starting the ‘made in Nigeria revolution’.
For instance, a promise by the Bank of Industry (BOI) to provide support fund for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) operator that adopt technological innovations developed by NASENI should be revisited. Activation of such programme will leave all parties as winners: BOI gets to fulfill its mandate of growing the industry, NASENI provides the technology, and the SMEs get funding and affordable technology, while the economy gets a boost. Other financing schemes for SMEs should key into this idea for the sheer possibilities it offers the nation to get out of the woods financially.
Similarly, without prejudice to the several bilateral and multi-lateral trade pacts that Nigeria is signatory to, the relevant agencies like the Nigerian Customs Service should consider updating its import list to factor in products that NASENI has developed. Professor Haruna had once hinted that such step could help the NASENI M1 motorcycle gain ground. The 80C engine motorcycle, which has been successfully tested was locally conceived, designed and manufactured by Nigerian engineers at the National Engineering Design Development Institute (NEDDI)-one of the nine research and development Institutes that NASENI supervises. There are a host of other innovations developed at NASENI whose production can be scaled up in conjunction with the private sector to reduce our dependence on importation.
It is visionary on the part of Professor Haruna to have gotten a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Coscharis under wrap over the NASENI M1 motorcycle as it demonstrates to other companies in Nigeria that the agency has been positioned to fully collaborate with indigenous firms. This is what the other government agencies can replicate as we collectively push for a Nigeria with increased local manufacturing capacity. It would have been pointless to develop an innovative product only to have it manufactured abroad and shipped back to Nigeria. Should this happen, we would have lost the potential to save on the forex and also the jobs that would have been outsourced to the manufacturing country. The NASENI example should thus be emulated by companies in the private sector that currently contract their manufacturing to other countries when the local capacity is there.
Even on the security front and considering how much the country has to spend on procuring arms with the attendant difficulties occasioned by international protocols and conventions in buying arms, NASENI has equally proven that it is strategically positioned to contribute towards addressing Nigeria’s problems with sourcing arms to fight the Boko Haram insurgency. If the light arms the agency has developed can be locally manufacture, it will also save the country some forex that is badly needed at this point in time. The realization of this must have prompt Mr President to ask NASENI to partner with the Defence Industries Corporation to manufacture the light weapons it has designed.
Since President Buhari had also urged NASENI to do more to publicize its inventions for the benefit of Nigerians, the National Orientation Agency (NOA) and its supervising Ministry of Information have to step in to create awareness about the products that the agency has developed. They should promote the products to the various state and federal government empowerment programmes that often need to set up youths in small and medium scale businesses.
Now that we have found an agency to champion the ‘made in Nigeria revolution’, it is important to ensure that NASENI does not succumb to the plague that had crippled other promising government ventures in the past. A thriving organization is automatically seen as a gold mine that is soon plagued with internal bickering and nepotism driven interference. This is why President Buhari should insulate the current leadership of NASENI from any form of distraction for it to be able to deliver on the directive he has handed to the agency. Mr President must also impress on the other organization he has asked to collaborate with NASENI the need for them to ensure that it gets all the support needed to succeed.
Odoma is President, Africa Arise for Change Network writing from Abuja.