I remember that growing up, the fabric from which my school uniform was made was manufactured in Nigeria, and that the ankara that was the aso ebi when my aunt was getting married was also made in Nigeria. If it were now, it is almost sure that the aso ebi would be made from imported fabric. I can also remember that by the nineties we had started seeing a steady increase in the influx of ‘China’, such that white fabric for school uniform came in different kinds, a particularly popular one of which was simply called China. At this point, consumption of textile products in Nigeria was shared between imported fabrics and locally produced ones. Sometime between then and now, Nigeria managed to lose the textile industry, an industry that, according to some sources, was the second largest employer after the government.
One of the ready culprits for the problem with the industry is the inflow of imported products into the country. Before I go on I probably should mention that the Nigerian government prohibits the importation of textile products into the country, so whatever textile product you see in the market that is not made in Nigeria is actually not supposed to be there. Therefore, when people point to the influx of textile products into the country they are in effect pointing to smuggling as the reason for the problem with the Nigerian textile industry.
In an interview with Punch newspapers last year, Mr. jaiyeola Olanrewaju, the Director-General of the Nigerian Textile Manufacturers Association said that about 90 percent of the textile in Nigerian markets are imported, and that 80 percent of that 90 percent is from China. (Do I need to point to Hitarget and its various incarnations?) This means that 90 percent of the textile products in the country is smuggled. Alarming, right? Anyone who needs to get a better understanding of this should spend some time at the Dantokpa market in Cotonou. Most of the textile products imported into Benin come from China and almost all end up in Nigeria.
Singling out smuggling as the biggest problem for the textile industry is very comfortable, but it is also misleading. One has to consider the reasons that smuggling is viable, in the first instance. This is of course because the importation of textile products is completely prohibited in the country. The standard argument for the prohibition of the importation of certain products is that it is an instrument for the protection of local industries. However, the route that many countries often take to protect the local industry is the imposition of high tariff on the importation of the products whose industries the government chooses to protect. This has the advantage of protecting the local industry on the one hand, and of being an actual income earner for the country. Imagine how much the government would be making if import duty were paid on the 90 percent of textile products in the Nigerian market.
I was going through my notes when I came across a short article I wrote last year on the efforts of the government to revive the industry. It was an initiative that came towards the end of Mr. Obasanjo’s presidency. The investment bank arm of the United Bank of Africa Group was asked by the federal government to source 70 billion naira through bonds of five year duration. The money was termed the Textile Development and it was to be given to the Nigerian Export Import Bank (NEXIM) for further lending to actors in the textile industry. In that article, I wrote that the federal government should factor into any initiative that would resuscitate the textile industry an acceptance of the role that smuggling plays in the whole mix. Factoring in smuggling does not mean that the government should simply fold its arms, but that the government should look towards making policies that would make smuggling less attractive. This of course would include reviewing the total ban on imported textile products, and working towards a general improvement of basic infrastructure in the country.
Just as I was thinking of these issues I came across a report in the Vanguard of July 8. It says that the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Industry, Mr. Solomon Agidani, said that the United Bank for Africa was unable to source the fund. And that was it; nothing more. I was so disappointed that I could only wonder whether it is simply that the federal government has not realized the potential that the textile industry holds for the country, or that it is totally unconcerned by what is happening to the industry.