Why Buhari Should Embrace Abaribe’s WAND – By Emma Agu


This Administration has decided to turn the economic disaster‎ that we inherited to a blessing by diversifying our economy”…Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s minister of information and culture.

If the above statement credited to Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s information minister should be taken seriously, Nigerians could begin to heave a sigh of relief, that decades of criminal neglect of other sectors, on account of the oil boom, is about to be redressed. But Nigerians are likely to be skeptical, not because our own dear Lai is a liar but because they have long been accustomed to such dramatic statements oozing out of the mouths of politicians, only for their hopes to be dashed. The consolation, however, is that Lai Mohammed does not have a reputation for empty statements.

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Complementing this optimism is the breath of fresh air emanating from the legislative branch, an arm of government that has long earned the dubious distinction of according too much attention to matters of self-preservation. In spite of this distrust of the legislature, many still trust that our lawmakers can rise to the challenge of the moment through radical legislation and rigorous honest oversight that can enact fundamental changes in policy and political behavior. It is against this background that we should consider and commend the recent motion by Senator Enyinnia Abaribe advocating mandatory patronage of made in Nigeria goods especially by government.

By the way, being an economist, Abaribe, who represents Abia South in the Senate, is intellectually and philosophically equipped, to understand the state of the national economy and situate it within the wider dynamics of the social exchanges that exist within and among nations. To him, therefore, a seat in the Senate is not simply a platform for filling a void in his life, nor is it an opportunity for self-validation. Perhaps, we should mention that at the start of the fourth republic, Abaribe was elected deputy governor Abia State on the same ticket as Orji Uzor Kalu as governor. Prior to that, he had had a distinguished career in the private sector where he manned managerial positions for SCOA and NICON Insurance before becoming CEO of Integrated Mortgage Finance in 1993.

While that is now history, it is instructive to note that those assignments placed him in a vantage position to witness the apogee of Aba’s industrial greatness and the subsequent sad denudation that afflicted the city’s industrial capacity, an industrial hub that was once described as the “Japan of Africa”. That Abaribe had to preface his motion by first conducting the Made in Aba Trade Fair in Abuja underpins the conscious effort on his part to orchestrate an industrial renaissance in Nigeria by returning to the basics.

Was it not nostalgic recalling the great days of agro-based industries when cocoa, oil palm, cotton, hides and skins fuelled an explosion of food processing, textile, pharmaceuticals and furniture industries, employing hundreds of thousands of skilled and unskilled workers? Was it not nostalgic recalling the strategic insight that went into the farm settlements, marketing boards, regional economic and developmental agencies such as Western Nigeria Development Corporation (WNDC), Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation (ENDC) and Northern Nigeria Development Corporation (NNDC): economic powerhouses that incubated viable industries, first class bureaucrats and industry hands? What is the relevance of these to Nigeria’s present economic situation?

Let us face it: for far too long, this country has been shooting itself in the hip by avaricious consumption of goods that we cannot produce, indeed goods we cannot afford given that only a tiny percentage of the total population consumes these goods while the vast majority wallow in abject poverty, disease and other forms of disenfranchisement. With the oil burst, the chicken has come home to roost. And with Abaribe’s motion, President Muhammadu Buhari’s quest to diversify the economy, as unequivocally pledged by Lai Mohammed above, has received the legislative boost it requires. Will the President rise to the occasion?

Nigerians will expect him to embrace this patriotic proposition. Buhari is a tough man and has the political will to push any project he endorses. If anyone is in doubt about that, the person is free to check out the calibre of economic crime suspects that are routinely herded daily into detention by the EFCC. But that in itself does not translate to an economic program or action plan. On the contrary, to give executive backing to Abaribe’s motion, which he presented on the floor of the Senate with great brilliance, infectious patriotism and consummate skills, will amount to an action plan by the Buhari Administration. What does this entail?

Abaribe set the ball rolling through two significant prayers contained in his motion: First, the motion urges the Federal Government to initiate and implement the First Option Policy on the purchase of locally manufactured products for any government procurement in all arms of government and any public funded organization.

Second, it urges the Senate and the House of Representatives to amend the Public Procurement Act to ensure that as a matter of law, agencies of government and public funded institutions adopt the made in Nigeria goods First Option Policy and where consideration is given to the local industries before others.

Nobody needs to be told that, if implemented, these resolutions will kick start a revolution that will cut across the broad gamut of national life and fast-track the nation’s economic recovery by creating jobs, reducing youth restiveness and juvenile crime, boosting the value of the naira through reduced imports and upscaling local industrial capacity as home-based manufacturers scramble to meet orders from clients.

But let no one think that this will be a roller coaster. To start with, our importers whose businesses stand to suffer could pursue the path of sabotage as we are witnessing in the oil sector. Meanwhile, the epileptic power supply that has been the bane of our industries remains unabated just as skewed policies that place primordial considerations above competence and national survival continue to subvert honest attempts and local industrial capacity. We should also not ignore the arguments that seek to hold us captive to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). As obtains in other countries, it is the responsibility of policy makers to find a way round these conventions. Nigeria first!

Perhaps, this campaign could not have started at a more opportune time. Some will argue that Abaribe is driven by the need to revive Aba’s dormant industries. That, in itself, is a good way of justifying the mandate he received from people of Abia South. But beyond partisanship, in the instant case, what is good for Aba is good for Nigeria. We need to get all our industries back on course: the textile mills, the cocoa-based industries, the other agro-based industries, the wood-based industries, etc. In his quest to address the issue of quality of goods and access to equipment and markets, Governor Chuba Ikpeazu of Abia State has taken the practical step of facilitating partnerships between manufacturers in Aba and their counterparts in Turkey. But Buhari can and should turn the campaign to patronize made-in-Nigeria goods a national movement starting from the primary schools. Details of how to achieve this can be worked out by an inter-ministerial team but the National Orientation Agency can be charged with the specific task of achieving national benchmarks within the next two years.

We cannot afford to prevaricate any further. We can take a cue from the contribution of Nigeria’s rising legislative star, Senator Ben Murray Bruce who commended Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu for patronizing made in Nigeria cars. His suggestion that it be made compulsory for all public officers to use made in Nigeria cars needs to be given official stamp by the President. If public officers are looking for SUVs, they should not look beyond Nnewi in Anambra State where Innoson Motor Manufacturing Company is providing practical evidence of patriotism, focus, determination, quality and national pride.

What is left is for Buhari to muster the political will to give effect to this patriotic proposal because there is, in fact, a precedent to serve as guide. As military head of state in the seventies, President Olusegun Obasanjo had made it mandatory for all public officers to use locally assembled Peugeot vehicles. We need to reenact that now. Same should go for furniture, school uniforms, military and paramilitary uniforms, etc.

We must act fast. The disturbing evidence is that our descent into recession is fast approaching the experience of Greece: we can’t pay workers and pensioners without feeling the stress; social services have been in disarray for decades, prices are shooting into the roof while at every point, Nigerians jump at the opportunity to flee the country. Put succinctly, we should stop living in denial.

Who bells the cat? Abaribe has pointed the way out: the way to the change we desire. It is not significant that his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) never held up change as its mantra. Lest we forget, the challenge of the moment is not partisan; hunger, unemployment, naira decline, decaying infrastructure and disease, among other societal ills, do not recognize political parties or ethnic and religious boundaries. The same goes for the Abaribe Action Plan: the huge opportunities promised by implementation faithful implementation of a buy made-in-Nigeria campaign transcend cultural and traditional boundaries, are gender neutral and blind to region, age, creed or political party affiliation.

At moments like this, when there is a fundamental life changing opportunity, nations unite behind their leaders to do the work at hand. But the President should set the stage by assuming ownership of this laudable initiative. Call it the Abaribe Action Plan or since the President is accustomed to wars, you can call it Buhari’s War against Nigeria’s Decline (B-WAND) and it will provide the magic wand Buhari needs to bring about the CHANGE Nigerians want.

Emma Agu is publisher of Zest Traveller magazine and CEO of Gavinta & Associates Ltd, an Abuja-based integrated media relations outfit.

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