Mr. Godwin Emefiele, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), started a “war” last year by placing a ban on the allocation of forex for the importation of 41 items. Opinion is still sharply divided on the policy. The consensus among free market economists is that he should have liberalised the currency market instead, but I guess Emefiele was trying to apply an emergency brake to stop the foreign reserves from hitting rock bottom in the face of dwindling oil revenue and mounting import bills. With no cabinet or economic team in place then, the CBN was carrying all the policy burden, and it just had to do something instantly and desperately.
Emefiele’s gospel of “Made in Nigeria” was a child of circumstances, born by the oil revenue crunch and the need to protect our forex reserves. His “vision statement” — if he were to develop one — would be: “crush imports”. In branding, this is called competition-focused vision. It would necessitate an aggressive strategy to make the local industry grow and snuff life out of imports. If it works out well, imports would reduce drastically and domestic industry would grow phenomenally. It could lead to an export boom. But with a population of 182 million, Nigeria actually has a big consumer market such that exports may even be a bonus at the end.
Don’t be surprised by “aggression”: in the 1960s, the vision statement of athletic wear makers, Nike, was: “Crush Adidas”. Their aim was to displace Adidas, then the dominant player, by providing a better substitute. Today, Nike, with a brand value of $15 billion, is the most valuable company in that sector, compared to Adidas’ $5 billion. Another example of a “hostile”, competition-focused vision statement is that of Honda, the Japanese makers of motor engines and cars. In the 1970s, Honda’s vision statement was: “We will destroy Yamaha.” The visions of Nike and Honda had an aggressive tone. We too can promote “crush imports” with aggression.
“Crushing” imports and promoting “Made in Nigeria” are conceptually excellent, but I will show you a more excellent way. In the 1950s, Sony, the Japanese electronics makers, had a very instructive vision statement: “Become the company most known for changing the worldwide poor-quality image of Japanese products.” At the time, “Made in Japan” was the butt of jokes — as we now say of “Made in China” and “Made in Taiwan”. Japanese electronics were poor imitations of American innovations. Sony envisioned changing the narrative. Today, nobody talks about American electronics again. “Made in Japan” now means “excellent”.
What am I driving at this early morning? It is one thing for Emefiele to think about “crushing” imports and promoting “Made in Nigeria”, but it is a different matter altogether for Nigerian producers to rise up to the challenge. How many Nigerian products are export quality? How many of them are properly packaged and presented in a very appealing way to the consumer? I try to separate the issue of “quality” from “colonial mentality” — that thinking that anything foreign is better than anything local — because I have come across many Nigerians who would like to buy local goods but are simply put off by what they see.
How much attention is paid to the detail in the production process? What is the quality assurance for the consumer? My generation and the generations born after me are obsessed with quality and beauty. The packaging is as important as the content. If you want me to stop eating Kellog’s cornflakes and settle for Nasco’s, let it not be on the basis of nationalistic sentiments alone. Make Nasco of the same quality such that it can be sold in any market in the world. That way, asking me to buy Nasco will not take too much marketing. The moment I can feel the difference with my teeth and tongue and throat, I will choose Nasco above Kellog’s any day of the week.
I will now go on to prove my argument that if Nigerians find quality in a product, they will not resist it. As kids and teenagers, we were obsessed with American pop music. Our favourite artistes were the Michael Jacksons, the Shalamars, the Lionel Richies, and so on. Even when Nigerian artistes such as Kris Okotie, Felix Liberty and Jide Obi came on the scene with amazing creativity, we still believed something was missing. But as we can see today, Nigerian youth would choose PSquare and WizKid above Kanye West and R. Kelly — and Asa above Tracy Chapman. Our artistes have upped their game. They are connecting very well with the Nigerian taste in quality and in presentation.
I have been hearing about “Fly Nigeria”. But a traveller who has enjoyed quality service from British Airways and Virgin Atlantic would find it very difficult to fly Nigerian airlines on international routes. To start with, our airlines don’t keep to time. The service is from poor to average, even if the planes are in good condition. After all, you will get both safety and service from BA and VA, so why compromise your comfort just for the emotion of “Fly Nigeria”? Our airlines must, therefore, step up in order to compete and enjoy the needed patronage. Travellers who want to opt for Nigerian airlines on international routes need to be persuaded it is worth their shekels.
I do not by any means suggest that all Nigerian products and services are poor. That would be a reckless exaggeration. Many products have matured and are now of export quality. Five Alive, an imported juice, used to dominate the market until President Olusegun Obasanjo restricted the importation of juice in 2003. WTO would not like it, but our own Chivita, which used to be of lower quality, took advantage and moved up the ladder in content and in packaging. It is now export quality. I can’t remember the last time I tasted Five Alive, even though it is now produced here. Clearly, Nigerians are ready to consume Nigerian products if they can feel the quality.
And I do not also suggest that it is easy for Nigerian products to attain export standards. I can list a thousand and one obstacles that have kept our local industry retarded and struggling for decades, reasons including the very hostile business environment lacking in infrastructural backbone, financial power and political support. We know all these things. But my focus today is on the quality of what we produce. Even if the age-old problems are resolved, how many of our products can begin to compete globally? That is my point. As we pay attention to monetary and fiscal policies, we must also pay attention to the capacity and capability of the Nigerian manufacturer.
We can actually “crush imports” as Emefiele wishes, but the CBN is just one of the agencies needed to make it happen. We need to implement, not just conceive, pro-Made in Nigeria policies that will fertilise the growth of industry. We must make policies on trade, tariffs and taxes to our own advantage. We need infrastructure and cheap capital. We need border security to curb smuggling so that we don’t gain on the right and lose on the left. Above all, Nigerian companies must dream like Sony to change the poor-quality image of “Made in Nigeria”. It is one thing to market a product with sentiments — it is another thing for the consumer to be satisfied and keep asking for more.
“We can actually ‘crush imports’ as Emefiele wishes, but the CBN is just one of the agencies needed to make it happen. We need to implement, not just conceive, pro-Made in Nigeria policies that will fertilise the growth of industry”
The economic direction of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is gradually unfolding, going by what was made public after the National Economic Council (NEC) retreat. I took many things away — especially national targets for self-sufficiency for identified crops: tomato paste by 2016, rice by 2018, wheat by 2019. I also love the phrase “import competition” rather than “import substitution”. There is a lot of emphasis on agriculture: states are encouraged to promote two crops in which they have comparative advantage. We should take this as a skeletal framework and await a more comprehensive, strategic and reassuring document in a few months. Encouraging.
Ladies and gentlemen, what is going on at Queen’s College, Lagos? I understand a student complained that she was sexually harassed by a teacher. The school authorities refused to investigate, forcing the girl’s mother to consider withdrawing her ward from the school. As people mobilised to force the school to do the right thing, the authorities organised a counter protest, forcing the other students to carry placards declaring the teacher innocent. That is the height of nonsense. Guilty or not, the teacher needed to be properly investigated first. That is the fair thing to do. The authorities were simply irresponsible. Sickening.
This is an urgent call to Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, the minister of transportation. I cannot wait for the Rivers elections to be over so that our airports can begin to engage his attention. The Murtala Muhammed International Airport is falling apart. It is becoming a joke for a country that keeps talking about becoming a major tourist destination. I know Rivers elections are very, very, very, very important to his political future, but Amaechi has a national assignment that should equally engage his passion. The tales of woe at the nation’s flagship airport are getting out of hand. Worrisome.
There is a way good behaviour encourages good behaviour — just as bad behaviour also replicates itself. Say whatever you like about former President Goodluck Jonathan, but his singular action of accepting defeat and congratulating President Muhammadu Buhari after the presidential election last year was novel and remains commendable, no matter the subtext. He was not the first African leader to do so, but he bucked a trend. In nearby Benin, Lionel Zinsou, the prime minister, accepted defeat in the election last week and called up the winner to congratulate him. There is hope for democracy in Africa, after all. Sportsmanship.