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Party politics aside, Nigeria must industrialize Now

Refinery

By Ugo Nwagwu

The best time for Nigeria to industrialize was 35 years ago. The second best time; NOW!

Pre Independence Malaysia was rich in natural resources such as porcelain, spices (which were then traded as currency) and large deposits of Tin. As part of the British Empire, the British took over administration of the economy and also introduced Rubber and Palm Oil trees for commercial purposes and then brought in Chinese and Indian expats to work the fields and mines instead of locals. Pre 1970s Malaysia had an economy completely dependent on natural resources exported while basically everything it consumed was imported. Sound familiar?

Today, Malaysia though still state oriented, has a newly and open industrialized market economy. This is because in the 60s and 70s, the Malaysian government took painful and costly steps to industrialize their economy. The Malaysian government committed itself to a transition from being solely reliant on mining and agriculture as an economy to a multi-sector economy. Mining and agriculture dominated the economy up until the 80s and since then, it’s been the industrial sector driving growth. It took 25 years for the turn around.

If you read the papers and follow the news concerning all things about Nigeria’s economy, three things continue to drive the headlines: Oil prices, Nigeria’s insatiable appetite for FOREX (Dollar, Pounds, Euros and now potentially, Yuan) & diversifying to Agriculture.

One thing we still aren’t talking about is how to push past the politics of now, and blame shifting to chasing after real solutions that will benefit our children and their children. We are a nation of traders. We have always been a nation of traders and even if we exploit more of the agricultural sector, chances are that we will take the traders approach.

As we diversify into agriculture, the tendency will be to treat its produce as we’ve done with oil. Right now, Nigeria remains one of the largest crude production and exporting country but what plagues the average Nigeria today is the availability of refined crude. We continue to import refined crude at an amazing rate negating whatever balance of trade that could have been helped by crude export. Even if the state’s 3 refineries were working to capacity, it won’t produce enough to support a population of 180 million and growing.

Now we want to take the same mentality into agriculture by “mining” produce and then exporting the raw produce without any thought to a “National Vertical Integration” whereby we keep all our “raw produce” and process them here to first serve the immediate need of the population (limiting imports of those processed goods) and then exporting them. Simply put, if we grow tomatoes, we should be able to process every part of the tomato into everything Nigerians need from a tomato i.e. canned tomatoes, ketchup, tomato sauce, tomato paste, tomato puree all in Nigeria. This goes for every single agricultural produce we grow or plan to grow.

That’s one example but it can be applied to every sector in which raw materials are found. Palm oil is used in over 50% of everything found in a supermarket and you know which country has one of the world’s largest palm oil production potential? Nigeria! As a nation we need to invest not just in mining gold, lead, zinc or whatever metals are beneath the soil to smelting them and turning them into actual products that we can then export to other parts of Africa and the world thereby controlling all parts of its margins.

This level of industrialization would pump millions of jobs into the economy and lead to economic growth unrivaled in any part of Africa in its history.

How do we start? First we must resist the urge to turn the Naira-Yuan swap into another level of shopping binge for cheap Chinese goods but instead import heavy machines and power plants to build factories and manufacturing plants. We must continue to attract foreign investments that solely act to serve Nigeria in an industrialization master plan.

The Federal Government can pursue public private partnerships with matching investments and use the capital markets as part of their exit strategy thereby also providing a return of investments to shareholders. This is certainly more productive than subsidizing fuel consumption.

We don’t need more retail outlets and companies selling us high priced alcoholic beverages. We have enough cheap clothing and shoes coming in droves from all parts of the world.

If we do this and leave the politics and tribalism that only serves to separate us and shift our attention from the selfish ambition of today’s politician from the Local Government level to the Federal Government and all ministerial staff, then maybe in 25 years, we too would serve as an example for other countries to follow. If we get this done and done right, no one would be as concerned about the price of $1.

To borrow a phrase from one of Nigeria’s senators from Bayelsa, Senator Ben Muray Bruce, my name is Ugo Nwagwu and I just want to make common sense.