rowing up in the seventies there was little to suggest any positive connotation with the phrase "Made in Nigeria." It was as if one should be ashamed for their attachment to anything locally made. But then, the majority of our locally made goods were unpardonably inferior, and most were made in Aba and Onitsha. Instead of pride in the ability of our brothers to copy or manufacture certain items, we scorned them for even trying, and made those who used them feel inferior.
Well, time has since past, and I have grown up. I have also been able to look back and seen things clearer than I was capable of in my teenage years. I now know what I did not know before?that no country has transformed from developing to developed nation (America included) without first going through this critical stage of manufacturing inferior goods. I'm sure we're all aware of China's problems lately.
But there is nothing new in what China is currently going through. Long before this China phenomenon there was Japan. A country, through numerous, prolonged wars and a final blow by the Americans, was completely devastated when they surrendered in 1945. Rebuilding after World War II, Japan embarked on a massive, systematic manufacturing enterprise that mostly copied existing products that were no longer cost effective to be manufactured by western industrial powers. Most of the products they churned out were grossly inferior, but with persistence and proper protective aid by the government many of these companies emerged after several decades to become world leaders in their respective industries. So successful were these companies that Japan in the eighties briefly threatened to overtake the United States as the world's number one economic power. Perhaps given their limitations, they had pushed themselves beyond their production possibility boundary resulting in a very costly collapse, but this is a different topic altogether.
Beginning in the late seventies and early eighties we witnessed another gradual emergence of some countries in far Asia, notably the so called 5 Asian tigers?Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Malaysia. Their progress mirrored that of Japan, often by copying simple items that are no longer cheap to make in the western countries where cost of labour is comparatively very high. Although these initiatives often began in the form of private enterprise, and almost always followed by foreign money, one thing was clear in all cases?their respective governments have a long-term strategy to help these local companies not only survive but also thrive in the very competitive world market.
We now know that these companies don't make inferior goods for ever. For example, while Honda and Toyota cars were something to be laughed at in the early seventies, they now rank among the best cars in the world. Malaysia made nothing more than plastic wares and cheap items like shower slippers two decades ago, now they have surpassed America as the number one manufacturer of high tech chips in the world. India, of course, is on her way and if you think these success stories are limited to Asia, perhaps you should take a look at Brazil?a third world country that has transformed herself from hyper inflation economy of the eighties to one whose GDP today has surpassed that of Great Britain and would most likely overtake that of France by next year.
I hope I have not deviated too much from my topic. I thought it was important to point out these various examples. Before we get into the situation in Nigeria, perhaps it is best that we talk about China one more time. The manufacturing boom in China today may be spreading like wildfire across that country, but twenty-five years ago it was limited to the south-eastern part of the country. The areas closest to Hong Kong have been practicing limited open market economy with numerous factories springing up all over Macao. While the rest of communist China remained oblivious to this development, their leaders recognized the economic potential and encouraged these activities even under their anti-capitalist, communist policies. The financial success that came through Macao was so infectious that the Chinese communist regime replicated that model in several areas of mainland china culminating in the unstoppable manufacturing engine that China has become today.
Aba and Onitsha could have been our Macao, our South Korea, or Malaysia. I recall the boundless energy and vision of several of these Igbo industrialists. Some spent tens of millions of dollars to build multiple factories, manufacturing every item imaginable from plastics to auto parts. Such men instead of reaping the long-term financial rewards for their gallant efforts and looking forward to seeing their names on the Forbes' list of billionaires like their counterparts across the globe, they found themselves in many ways battling the very government that was supposed to help them thrive. If you think that a government help does not matter, a glance at the last Forbes's list of 40 richest Africans that came out in October includes 12 Nigerians (not a single Igbo) Most from oil money from oil wells given to them by Nigerian government, and a couple of business men who were excessively propped by our government to the detriment of all others in the same line of business. It is an open secret in Nigeria that successive military governments, suspicious of these highly ambitious Igbo entrepreneurs, actively worked through many unnecessary regulations to frustrate and check their drive. It is indeed a shame that a systematic charade of regulations designed to hold back some people has ultimately held back Nigeria as a whole.
Fellow Nigerians, I dream of a time when thousands of small scale factories would once again dominate the landscape of Onitsha, Aba, Nnewi, etc. If they do make a comeback, I hope that we would not regard them with scorn, but rather with proud appreciation of their potential in lifting all of us out of this quagmire. Even at the current levels of over $100 a barrel, there is not enough oil money to lift Nigeria out of her state of perpetual poverty. Those who continually pride themselves as the giants of Africa may be offended by this mention of poverty. The reality remains however, that compared with the lands of the rich, we sure are the grasshoppers.
I have read several times about the 46 or so billion dollars Nigeria has saved in foreign reserve. Well, what good is all that money if it is piled up in some Swiss banks and across Europe when lack of basic necessities to foster economic growth remains endemic in the country? Steady electricity for everyone including those potential factories would be a good beginning. Water, good roads, and other essential amenities would surely be helpful.
In closing I put forward one simple suggestion. Many of those great Nigerian industrialists have since died, often without realizing their worthwhile dreams, and in many cases financially broke in the end. But their children and countless others are still here and capable I might add. There are still hundreds, perhaps thousands of such factories today in Aba, Onitsha, and Lagos struggling to survive. $20 billion of that money in reserve could make all the difference in the form of a down payment for a bright economic future for Nigeria. Instead we keep deceiving ourselves with bogus Vision 2000, Vision 2010, and now Vision 2020, 20. There are many people in this government that know what to do; they just don't have the courage or the balls to suggest the right solution.
All our government need to do, is to put together a well-structured program that would seek out and empower these thousands of small scale industries where ever they are in the country, encouraging them to thrive in the manufacturing of cheap, simple items that are no longer cost effective to make in the developed world. The opportunities are still boundless, and I'm sure that if they succeed, in time, they will spread like wildfire across the rest of the nation. For a very long time, we've looked towards the on and offshore oil fields for our economic salvation, others have looked towards Abuja. So far we have failed. Perhaps it is time once again that we look closely at that ridiculed "Made in Nigeria" tag, for I am certain that should there be any salvation for us as a nation, it will surely come over a long period of time through the efforts of those small scale manufacturers scattered across Nigeria's heartland. China is being laughed at today for the inferior state of their goods, while they laugh out loud to the bank and look forward to surpassing the United States as the biggest economy in the world in about 7 years. I can only wish that one day, we as a nation will rise to that level to be worthy of being laughed at by the world because of our "Made in Nigeria" products.