Reuben Abati: The Made In Nigeria Campaign

Reuben Abati Goes to SchoolThere has been renewed talk lately about the need for Nigerians to patronize locally made goods, (someone should have added… and services!). Championed by Senator Ben Murray Bruce, and supported by the Senate President Bukola Saraki, the Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Hajia Aisha Abubakar and a large crowd of online campaigners, so much ink, saliva, and emotions have been invested in this old, and perhaps boring story.

Senator Bruce, who goes by the moniker “the Commonsense Senator” even introduced a hashtag #BuyNaijaToGrowtheNaira. He hasn’t quite explained the connection, but with the exchange rate melting down and the Naira yo-yoing, everyone including our neighbourhood electrician, and his friend, the battery charger, have both become experts on the fortunes of the national currency. Senator Saraki has promised that the Public Procurement Act will be amended by the 8th National Assembly to make it mandatory for the government to patronize locally made goods. Minister Aisha Abubakar has proposed a “Patronise Naija Products Campaign.”

It all sounds so familiar but what has triggered this latest effusion of patriotism was a Made in Aba Trade Fair in Abuja, where locally made products including shoes were displayed and purchased by the snobby class now acting as great promoters of Nigerian identity and entrepreneurship. Senator Bruce and the National Assembly have also purchased made in Nigeria vehicles from Innoson Motors, a local vehicle manufacturing company. The interest that this has generated is good publicity for Innoson Motors, and it will probably provide good justification for the National assembly purchasing more vehicles. It is also an excellent advertisement for local entrepreneurship. There was a time in this country when the phrase Aba-made was meant to be denigrating, but today, corporate suits and other items made in Aba have made it to the status of a Trade Fair.

We must be reminded nonetheless, that this buy Nigeria campaign, or proudly Nigerian, as it was once called, has been promoted in one form or the other for more than 30 years. At a time, Federal Ministers chose to wear Ankara fabrics, which is supposed to be locally made, and at another time, the Federal Government only patronized Peugeot Motors, which then had a thriving car manufacturing company in Kaduna. Virtually every government has tried to promote Nigerian goods. And there is certainly no doubt that there is a lot of entrepreneurial talent out there in Nigeria, a gift for innovation and a capacity to aspire.

Given the right, enabling environment, Nigerians are willing to help government promote the objectives of diversification, backward integration, and non-oil exports which are at the root of all this talk about made in Nigeria. The YouWin exhibitions held between 2014 and 2015, showed great potential, especially in the agriculture and food sector, and the need for government to encourage entrepreneurship and manufacturing. But lessons were also learnt, and it is the same lessons that should guide the current patriotic excitement over locally made goods. In the end, Senator Bruce, patriotism is not enough, lest it turns us all as someone warned into “scoundrels”, seeking economic restoration without the right strategy and attitude.

The first lesson is that we need to truly encourage the transformation of Nigeria into a primary, productive market, and not a secondary market for the dumping of goods. We may be celebrating the fact that some Nigerians are making the effort to produce goods locally, but really how much of that local production is local? I can bet that the leather that is used for the shoes we are being encouraged to buy is not produced in Nigeria. Our local entrepreneurs import leather, manage to produce something labeled Nigerian, when in fact the entire value chain could have been truly local? Innoson Motors is well known in government circles, but have we measured how much of those Innoson vehicles is actually local? 30%?

Before Innoson, we had Omatek and Zinnox computers, advertised as made in Nigeria goods. But where in this country do we have young technicians producing computer chips and other components? We need to take a second look at the concept: made in Nigeria, and be sure that we are actually talking about the same thing. What is the answer? I think government must in the long run insist that those who seek to sell in the Nigerian market, must set up their factories here, and produce for the Nigerian market inside Nigeria. We have all the raw materials that may be needed, and we have the market, the biggest in Africa.

People come here, take our raw materials to other factories in other parts of the world, send back the products and then make profit iat our expense. We end up creating jobs in other parts of the world, and receive finish products that could have been produced here. No. If Toyota and Nissan want to sell cars in Nigeria, then they must produce the cars inside Nigeria and source their materials and labour majorly from here, and brand the vehicles Made in Nigeria and export them to other parts of the world. In recent years, there was such discussion with Hyundai and Volkswagen. Minister Aisha Abubakar should look at the records. Innoson can then compete with Toyota Nigeria, Nissan Nigeria, Hyundai Nigeria and Volkswagen Nigeria. The same argument goes for every other product in need of direct investment. The point is not about being local; it is about developing the capacity to turn Nigeria into a world-class production and economic centre.

The second lesson has to do with quality and standards. The recent debate has been about indigenous patronage as a test of patriotism. I don’t think that is the right focus. People like quality. In a capitalist system, they will make their own decisions and choices with the capital at their disposal. And we shouldn’t be talking as if Nigerians should produce made in Nigeria goods to be consumed only by Nigerians, whether good or bad. The vision, consistent with the ambition of the authors of the country’s various development plans, is to produce world-class products inside Nigeria. What we have seen is that locally made goods often fall short of international standards. They lack the competitive edge.

It is good to buy Aba-made, but our ladies who are used to Hermes and Louis Vuitton are not likely to trade their designer bags for Nnamdi bags, except the latter can compete and become a global brand. It has been reported that many Nigerian goods sent for export are often rejected overseas, for such simple reasons as packaging or basic standards. No amount of patriotism can by-pass that. We have a Standards Organisation of Nigeria and an Export Promotion Council: what is the synergy between them and the various SMEs striving to break into the export market?
The third lesson is that government must just make up its mind about this whole thing about the diversification of the Nigerian economy. It is not the responsibility of one government or administration; it is a process that should move Nigeria from being a democracy observing electoral commission rituals, into a developmental state. We were almost there under the military quite ironically, but then the military also lost it due to bad attitudes.
Once upon a time in this country, there was regular electricity, manufacturing companies, both local and foreign thrived, salaries and pensions were paid as at when due, potable water was available, the leaders sounded as if the Nigerian people and their welfare were important and there was a suffocating vision of Nigeria being the “giant of Africa”.

When students graduated from universities, teacher training colleges, and nursing schools, they were sure of immediate employment, which brought them life-long fulfilment. Brilliant students got special scholarships; every student got a bursary, our schools attracted students and teachers from every part of the world. And now, here we are wondering why? What happened? This collapse of the Nigerian standard is the worst thing to have ever happened. Younger ones may not even believe that indeed Chinua Achebe was right when he wrote that “there was once a country.”
The challenge can start with re-discovering that lost country and moving forward from that point. I mentioned services in addition to goods earlier. And I ask: how many Nigerians are satisfied with Nigerian services? Many families won’t even employ a Nigerian nanny or driver. They would rather look for people from Asia and West Africa. Builders won’t recruit Nigerian masons: they ‘d rather use artisans from Ghana or Togo. When foreign companies set up businesses in Nigeria, they bring staff from their own country, and violate the expatriate quota in collusion with our own people; they even import cement and other equipment from elsewhere and our officials look the other way. We don’t even respect ourselves as a nation. But we love slogans.

So, the matter is not as simple as just buying Nigerian goods. It is not about trending hashtags, slogans or propaganda, but a decision to move this country beyond the on-going knee-jerk, desperate elite war of position within the political spectrum, and see what can work for the people’s benefit. We want to buy made in Nigeria goods, and yet every start up business in this country is facing serious challenges; the more established manufacturing outfits are groaning. Every election season, the private sector pretends to support the political process, but once its chieftains are not allowed access, control or influence, they become closet saboteurs.

I consider that to be a subject in the heart of the future. What needs to be done is before our very eyes, but its starting point must include the education system. Very few parents these days still buy the services provided by Nigerian schools, the private ones that receive better patronage train the children to end up in foreign schools including schools in Ghana and Benin Republic. Nobody is training quality artisans either, because all the Government Technical Colleges of old have been shut down and many of our young men are more interested in kidnapping and riding okada. So, where are the critical young men and women and institutions to drive the renewal we seek? The matter is so complex; it is the reason I don’t envy anyone who is President of Nigeria.

27 Comments on Reuben Abati: The Made In Nigeria Campaign
  • lacey February 19, 2016 at 5:52 am

    Reuben Abati just shut up! I mean it! You and Metuh kept leading Jonathan on! Why didn’t you give all these suggestion to your former oga at the top! Please keep shut and stay mute!!!

    • Cocolette February 19, 2016 at 8:23 am

      Erm…but he made some sense.. to me anyways

    • Guesswho February 19, 2016 at 2:34 pm

      And your comment is sensible? It is has contributed to moving this country forward ba? Clap for yourself.

    • Damisko February 19, 2016 at 5:25 pm


      Aren’t some people tired of shouting like angry chihuahua through their computers when Reuben Abati writes. Blaming him for the downfall, shamble Nigeria is in is stupid.
      Jonathan was the president not Reuben Abati. He was just an adviser on media and publicity. His position didn’t have a strong influence to change the outcome of the country. Jonathan made his own decision bcos he has his own mind. He also made decision based on other underground people controlling Nigeria. And who told you he didn’t bring some advice, suggestion but does that automatically mean his advice is what Jonathan or others will do. Not at all.

  • Jo! February 19, 2016 at 6:34 am

    Obviously inspired by Trying to sound knowledgeable

  • Jo! February 19, 2016 at 6:43 am

    But you know, just occurred to me, don’t you miss the days when you were a “RESPECTED & OBJECTIVE” journalist?

  • chuks February 19, 2016 at 6:51 am

    He is right. It takes more than a hashtag to foster local production. If we can take the effort to create factories that process raw materials into semi finished products it would be enough. The goods should not just be made in Nigeria. The raw materials should also be made in Nigeria and the people who make it should also be Nigerian. Please keep your hateful and spiteful comments to yourself

    • nnenne February 19, 2016 at 2:42 pm

      Has Nigeria taught about venturing into solar panel production?
      Look at how much sunshine Nigeria has.
      Suppose we set up solar production factories in all geopolitical zones in Nigeria and start producing solar panels and it’s parts? More factories could be built later.
      It will cost a lot in the beginning but it will eventually pay off.
      Nigeria should look into production of spare parts, so that when we produce something, it would really be ours and not just assembling parts together. Mere assembling will not save us.

      • Honeycrown February 19, 2016 at 4:31 pm

        @Nnenne you are right o! I met 2 Caucasian guys right outta college and were into solar panel production and I talked to them about Nigeria and they were so interested in bringing light to Nigeria via solar power. So I pitched the solar power business to a wealthy family member but he brushed it off because it cost too much and he won’t see the return immediately. This was like 6 years ago and those guys have now gone far with their business in the US and working on other projects with some NGOs in other African countries. If I see that type of opportunity today, I can use it more effectively unlike back then when I was younger had so much on my plate. So many missed opportunities in Nigeria because we’re always looking for quick return. Smh.

      • ElessarisElendil February 20, 2016 at 12:50 am

        SOlar panels are inefficient and end up causing far more pollution than they prevent. You don’t that because China is currently bearing the brunt and now you want to add to our Niger-Delta and SOuth-Eastern ecological problems?

  • zin February 19, 2016 at 8:40 am

    I couldn’t agree more. The truth is that we shouldn’t just say #buynaija, but a total overhaul of all sectors and systems involved to ensure that the naija we are buying is really made in Nigeria from the scratch and worth every Naira.

  • tobi February 19, 2016 at 8:56 am

    preach it brother

  • February 19, 2016 at 9:01 am

    We have heard you moaning about his serving his fatherland during GEJ admin. It’s time to move on from that and read in between the lines of his articles.
    Nigeria is in big trouble but we don’t know that yet…we need able hands to push Nigeria forward but where are they?

  • ElessarisElendil February 19, 2016 at 9:05 am

    There was once a time when their was regular electricity in this country. Lies!!

    How can there be made in Nigeria when we have proven our selves incompetent at creating a common steel plant which the Anatolians had already manufactured 5000 years ago?

    The made in Nigeria campaign betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how markets work. Ask you self this, why those Egypt import most of its wheat? This is Egypt we’re talking about, the same Egypt that fed the world in biblical times, that was the bread-basket of Rome so WTF, why aren’t they GrowingWheattoGrowThePound?

    Because global markets, Egypt found that while in the limited markets of the Mediterranean it was the SHIT!! Eastern Europe, Anatolia and the Americas could produce wheat more efficiently. Wheat Bread is Egypt’s national diet BTW.

    So what does the above have to do with Nigeria, all this grow naira rubbish hides the fact that our products simply can’t compete. Innoson’s cars are simply less quality than its competing brands and his competitors continue to expand into more high end robotics and ship goods across the world in faster ships, he will be toiling with Nigeria’s infrastructure, meanwhile our population will still continue to have low purchasing power reducing our capabilities to negotiate helpful FDI.

    Nigeria should focus on first producing solely the things she can compete globally in, for us its Oil, Gas and Services. Let us import those products others produce better than us, our economic plan should in my opinion involve, reducing the number of people in agriculture(No don’t go back to the farms WTF that’s archaic), fixing the Niger Delta mess to guarantee our production, encourage our services sectors and use the profits from our comparative advantage to climb the ladder in some upcoming sector, maybe government owned bio-tech/nano-tech firms so we can be at the forefront of the technological revolution.

    That is what Singapore, Korea and China have done, they identified the next global phenomenon and positioned themselves to compete and WIN at it. Focusing on made in Nigeria products, on things like factories when robots are taking most of the jobs everyday is beyond sad. Let’s stop being the guys who get the joke when everybody is done laughing.

    Embrace the future.

    • Onyie February 19, 2016 at 2:30 pm

      I get where you are coming from – concentrate on our core competence this being oil and gas however we must also be able to read the global environment and markets to react to changes. Like it or not countries are beginning to take this climate change movement seriously and so alternatives to oil and gas will be their main focus in the coming years. We do need to diverse our economy from oil and gas but maybe for now since this is where our competence lies, it should be our main focus while we put necessary infrastructure in place to promote diversification.

      • ElessarisElendil February 20, 2016 at 12:53 am

        The world won’t wean itself off fossil fuels in our lifetimes. It still remains the most efficient and ironically cleanest source of energy. Comparatively for example Cow fart causes the most pollution yet you aren’t seeing people wanting to ban beef, are you?

  • Ross February 19, 2016 at 9:14 am

    Mr Abati you can TALK!!! This man can talk for two continents, but he never adds to the conversation, instead he first of all tears down what others have said or done to make his point. The problem with that attitude is that you end up sounding like you think you’re the smartest man in the room and no one can follow you cos it’s not true and your talk is all too tiring.

    There are so many angles to this conversation and Ben Bruce who you are criticising and calling a snob is one of the only people in government to even remotely address this issue.

    You have made a lot of valid points, but Ben Bruce has actually followed his talk by action.
    You want us to wait until Innoson is actually 100% made-in-Nigeria before we buy???? NO. We must start somewhere. You don’t stand on the sidelines and criticise. Get in the pit and join the fight and then we will listen when you talk.
    Buy a few shoes from Aba, and then tell the traders the next one you want, is the one where the leather is from Kano and nothing is imported. You must start somewhere. But start!!!

  • Ada February 19, 2016 at 9:39 am

    Where were these articles when you were in government? You didn’t write them then, you wrote poetry in praise of the president. Abating I will read no word of the crap you spew. I question your objectivity and your motives! By the way I hope he is paying Bella to publish these articles because frankly your opinion aren’t worth a dime right now. They were worth something when you had the power to effect change. Right now, nothing!

    • ADEYINKA Adetola February 19, 2016 at 9:48 am

      Thank you for this. He had his chance but he blew it.

    • huh February 19, 2016 at 10:06 am

      Thank You. Isn’t it interesting how he did bring up all these “great suggestions” when he was actually in a position to influence things. HYPOCRITE

    • Viv February 19, 2016 at 1:28 pm

      Ada my point exactly his articles mean nothing to me! I didn’t even bother reading it through. When he had the power what did he do with it? He supported the mediocrity of the former government because he was blinded by money. His conscience and good reasoning took a flight now it’s suddenly back and he’s looking for relevance. Thankyou oh Mr Abati pls go and rest.

  • Amaka February 19, 2016 at 10:10 am

    Abati so you have sense like this and you could not advise GEJ? If you advised him well then done, if you didn’t then Shame !!! You are busy posing infront of Said Business School ( University Of Oxford) clap for yourself!!

  • ‘Deola February 19, 2016 at 11:50 am

    There are so many writers in Nigeria that offer us their criticism of the system without offering us solutions on ways forward for the country.

    Some years ago, I remember Abati criticised Nigerian music and also got a rejoinder from Banky W. His narrow exposure, hence understanding of the benefits of what was evolving back then made him ill-equipped to offer any serious critique of the industry of the songs that were being created back then. In some ways, and regarding his critical articles, nothing has changed.

    As I see it, in value added terms, Naija musicians and actors have added more value to the Nigerian economy and society than many public servants and public intellectuals. Naija musicians and actors have created employment and have given Nigerian other sources of foreign earnings besides oil and gas. And not only that they are helping restore, to an extent, Nigeria’s image.

    I have a feeling that a revision of our educational curriculum could fundamentally alter our fortunes as a nation. That is it will create a departure from the past and this could help chart our path towards a well enlightened and knowledge and technologically primed society. It might enable us have a robust understanding of the many issues that affect us beyond the narrow grasp of issues.

  • prince February 19, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    I’ve been singing it to my colleagues since monday, patronize made in naija. but the thing is those that produce those things should also have a quality mindset.
    For example, I bought two different Pounded Yam Flour at the market, one is Ola-Ola (not made in naija) the other one that was made here looks as if it was mixed with corn flour and not pure yam. those on the production side should be quality conscious and shouldn’t compromise, if it means increasing the price a little because of the improvement in quality, do it and let people have value for their money.
    Like I always say, this is the ONLY COUNTRY WE CAN TRULY CALL OUR. Nobody will build Nigeria for us. NIGERIA WILL BE BUILD BY NIGERIANS. #buymadeinnaija

    • swagg1 February 19, 2016 at 10:26 pm

      You are right. They need to produce quality products and not try to cut corners by producing substandard products.

  • Desmond February 21, 2016 at 6:12 pm

    Yes Mr. Rueben, the insight was clear. Actually the issue is quite complex but i think we as a nation should begin somewhere, from the known to the unknown, from assembling parts to manufacturing some of the parts ourselves. I believe before we know it, year to year, from government to government we move into a complete factory and manufacturing of any goods we produce as a nation in its completeness
    Think of yourself Abati when you were a child in the kindergarten, you hardly got any word correctly but continuously you were encouraged to learn how to talk. nobody made you to speak almost immediately then; so it is with every other facet of live, nation inclusive.

  • aragorn February 23, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    They say one thing today but so easily it seems change their tongue tomorrow. For reasons often hidden from you and I; it could be due to deliberate deceit, a genuine mistake, perhaps unforeseen circumstances or maybe they become compromised and loose the freedom to do as they desire. For what ever reason politicians appear to lie, the fact is that politics and trust is like trying to mix oil and water. The two are mutually exclusive.

    Abati’s credibility notwithstanding, it is to me undeniable that the points he has penned are nail-on-the-head accurate. I am certain that these ideas are not peculiar to Abati. In order to attain these goals no one individual, credible or otherwise, can bring about the changes we need to make as a people. I am not defending Abati, for who knows his motives for saying these things and at this time, I merely state a fact. Summarily, his person is irrelevant to the issues he has raised.

    To the issues then. Ask yourself this, can you use words like valuable, predictable, confidence, reliable, stable, certain, dependable etc. to describe the Nigerian situation as it is now? Abati suggests that multinationals who wish to operate within our borders must be mandated to source and refine raw materials and parts from within Nigeria. My question is this: Is there a support structure in place such that high tech based manufacturers (electronics, automobile, chemicals, agricultural) can not only churn out products with 100% local content but can also predict the process and cost of there products from raw material all the way through to getting it into the hands of the consumer? In other words if you were an intending entrepreneur with a sound business plan, would you be skeptical and worried or would you be confident about opening shop in Nigeria?

    To encourage Nigerians themselves, not to talk of attracting foreign direct investment, the above intangible assets are indispensable. Think about inter-ethnic squabbles and other social tensions; electricity, water, roads and other physical infrastructure; education, innovation, research and development; transparency, equality and equity in every aspect of our society, and ask yourself: is this a country geared to take on the world and be taken seriously?

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