OPINION: Another Initiative Against the Economic Recession. By Bamikole Omisore

Date: 2017-01-08

On Monday, the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, announced the "Made-in-Nigeria Challenge" - an offshoot of his campaign to stimulate the public's appeal for Nigerian-made goods.

Basically, the aim of the "Challenge" is to encourage local manufacturers by giving them the necessary incentive and support needed to grow and compete with their foreign counterparts.

The campaign encourages Nigerians to send in a 45-second to three-minute video promo of a product the country is currently importing, but which can be produced with at least 70 percent local content. For instance, local manufacturers of toothpicks, tomato paste, fruit juice, textiles, technological implements and products that add value to agricultural production may enter the Challenge by using the hashtag #MadeInNigeria on any social media page or by uploading on YouTube or directly sending an email to min@senatepresident.gov.ng before March 8th. The winners will be selected to participate in the Made in Nigeria Fair and Business Roundtable.

After receipt of the entries, a group of experts and industry operators put together by the Senate President will review the videos and verify the claims therein. The shortlisted manufacturers will be invited to Abuja to showcase their products at a Fair that will be co-hosted by civil society groups and some other development partners. This fair will also have in attendance guests from different government agencies and investors who will be able to address the participants on how to overcome the challenges they might be facing in successfully running Small and medium Scale Enterprises. The diplomatic community and foreign media like will also be invited to the event.

Earlier in 2016, Senator Saraki pledged to support legislation that would make it mandatory for the government to patronise local products. This promise, which was made during his attendance at the Made in Aba Trade Fair, resulted in the passage of the amendments to the Public Procurement Act. These amendments contained a provision that compels Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to give preference to local manufacturers and suppliers in all their procurements. The amendment also increased the mobilisation fee to contractors as well as shortened the number of days in the federal government's procurement process.

Additionally, last February, while speaking with representatives of Aba Manufacturers Association, led by Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe, Saraki remarked that some local products were more sophisticated than imported ones, however, more effort had to be made to ensure that such goods are patronised to allow their manufacturers to succeed.

"This is the only way we can create jobs, solve the problem of unemployment and stop the growing army of aggrieved youths who pose danger to society. We can do it. We have a population that translates to a ready market. This is how we can genuinely help our people,The chairmen of our relevant committees are being put on notice to ensure that they focus their oversight on these areas. We must make sure that government agencies patronise Nigerian manufacturers. For example, the armed forces should be purchasing and using foot wears produced in the various industries in Aba and other places.", the Senate President said.

After Saraki's appeal to government agencies to patronise local products, the army placed an order for 50 thousand pairs of Made-in-Aba boots. Also, the army ordered for armoured security vehicles from Innoson Manufacturing Vehicles (IMV) based in Nnewi. In the same vein, the Nigerian Air Force now has an agreement with the IMV for the refurbishing of its aircraft.

Saraki is not relenting in his determination to promote local industries. He in fact desires that Nigerians take over the ownership of the advocacy campaign. The present Challenge is aimed at engaging and encouraging Nigerians who have an eye for local production - goods that are ready substitute for imported ones and that can add value to the economy - in all spheres.

In this charge, in December 2016, Saraki met with Mr Sam Hart, leader of the delegation of Made-in-Aba Manufacturers and also with Mr Velcroz, a local shoemaker. And for his steadfastness in promoting Nigerian goods, the Senate President was named #MadeInAba/#MadeInNigeria Ambassador.

The Senate President is interested in connecting more local manufacturers from Osogbo, Kabba, Abeokuta, Ilorin, Mbaise and many other cities across the country with potential investors and government agencies.

It remains a strange phenomenon that Nigerians are crazy about foreign goods when the country is blessed with an array of raw materials that can be converted to finished products.

The local Adire and Kampala can replace the school uniforms of pupils in primary and secondary schools. There are different species of trees in Nigeria which makes it alarming that we continue to import furniture, matches and toothpicks. Again, we import starch when we have cassava in large quantities; we import tomato paste when our lands are good for growing tomato.

Now, with the official launch of the "Made-in-Nigeria Challenge", which is a part of the Senate's strategy to bring Nigerians into the business of law making, more efforts will be channelled into ensuring that government agencies comply with the newly amended Public Procurement Act, 2016 once it is passed by the House, and signed into law by the President. The Made-in-Nigeria campaign will also make government agencies understand the Senate's resolve to ensure compliance with the Public Procurement Act.

In this direction, the Senate will soon create a desk dedicated to making sure that the procurement law is respected by all and that Nigerians can always contact this desk if they feel they have been unfairly treated by any government agency in its procurement process.

Also, the newly inaugurated Legislative Compliance Committee, which is the first of its kind in the history of the legislature in Nigeria, was created to ensure all government agencies comply with the law and other resolutions of the Senate in an attempt to jumpstart the economy.

Taking the campaign beyond the shores of Nigeria, the Senate is poised to engage with representatives of the European Union and other development agencies and partness to find ways of giving Nigerian farm produce access to European and UK markets.

In a time when nations are moving towards self-reliance and total economic dependence as evident in Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan - Saraki's "Made-in-Nigeria" campaign is the antidote to Nigeria's economic nightmare. It is also pertinent to mention that six months after the Senate passed the law to compel patronage for indigenous manufacturers, outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama last month signed a policy which compels American armed forces to purchase foot wears for her men and officers from only American companies located within American shores. Great minds think alike.

There is no gainsaying the fact that when Nigerians buy local goods, there will be a multiplier effect on the economy. The local industries will grow, increase their capacities and employ more people; thereby cutting down Nigeria's high unemployment figure. This will increase our Gross Domestic Product, imbue international confidence in the economy, re-energise the local currency, encourage foreign investment in the economy and generally improve the standard of living of citizens.

To add to this, the upper legislative chamber is aware that infrastructure is a key part of promoting local industries; hence it has amended the Railway Act to make room for private investors to invest in the sector. Railways are essential not only for the movement of people, but also for the conveyance of goods to and from different parts of the country. The senate under Saraki is also looking at making viable legislations for other key infrastructure such as power to give local industries the elixir of growth and competitiveness.

Already, Nigerians across political divides and social classes have embraced the 'Made in Nigeria' initiative. With this, it is expected to help change the orientation of Nigerians. In fact, this is a campaign that may serve the dual purpose of boosting our collective patriotism and stregthning our pride in our motherland, Nigeria.

Omisore is Special Assistant to the Senate President on New Media.

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