Still on the ‘Buy Naija To Grow The Naira’ palava

Sometime in 2014, the Indian government realized the country was in a mess. Hot, economic mess. Of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) nations touted as the world’s fastest emerging markets, it was suffering the worse and could hardly meet projections.

Something had to give. And it did.

In September of the same year (2014) the Prime Minister announced an initiative called ‘Make In India’. The initiative was primarily setup to attract foreign investors and create low-skilled jobs. Now, the government didn’t just mouth it, it actually got to work. It revamped policies, promised tax breaks and basically did everything possible to make the country appealing to foreign investors — especially those leaving China who, at the time, was already promoting its own locally made goods with an initiative called ‘Made in China’.

In February last year, it was announced that Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflows rose by 40%. And only yesterday, I read that Apple has now decided to start manufacturing phones in Bangalore, India.

The country was in need; the government sat down to think of a smart plan; and it followed it through with transparency and deep faith.

Now, let’s bring this home.

For the whole of last year, the buzz word in Nigeria was definitely ‘Buy Nigeria’. The ‘Buy Naija To Grow The Naira’, a campaign meant to spur Nigerians into buying locally made goods, trended on social media for weeks.

Those involved, including the Senate President Bukola Saraki, berated Nigerians for their appetite for foreign goods, without bothering to investigate what informs the appetite and why life is generally hard for local producers.

If you get to speak to one (and I urge you to try), you would know that online promotion is the least of their worries. Things like power, good road network and meaningful economic policies that both helps trade and leaves the general populace with disposable income are what really hinders growth in Nigeria.

If these things are in place, local producers would produce products that can compete both in terms of quality and cost. Because, in most cases, they usually have to make a choice between good products that no one would buy because they are too expensive, or a cheap, inferior one that the consumer would likely not pick up again after the first trial — in order to earn profit.

(Punch recently did an editorial on how some of Nigeria’s exported goods end up being banned by the European Union.)

But all of these is if Nigeria, like India and China, truly wants to drive competition and innovation — and not to completely eliminate it so some of their friends can thrive.

We saw it happen in the cement and textile industry and only recently, the CEO of Erisco Foods pushed for the same. Throughout last year, the man raised genuine concerns about how the economic policies of the government was ruining business but his solution leaves one wondering what his true intentions are.

Instead of calling for the government to help it compete by creating an enabling environment, he wants the government to grant his business special consideration and also help it kill competition by banning the importation of goods similar to those he produces. He even threatened to relocate if his desires aren’t meant.

If this guy gathers enough money to fund the election of a politician (say the opposition in 2019), don’t be surprised that his desires would be met and the default justification would be that they are “protecting a Nigerian” business. It is what made Dangote and several other billionaires you see in the country. A government created and sustained monopoly that leaves Nigerians at the mercy of a few guys who are guaranteed profit whether or not their product is innovative or even up to par.

Local manufacturers in India are compelled to compete with the foreign investors. To break even, you have to out-think your competitors. In such environment, all that separates everyone is the quality of their ideas. You engage brains, create jobs and improve living standard.

The Indian Prime Minister could have created an illusion of activity by tweeting pictures and hashtags. He could have even paid influencers and overlords to help drive the campaign so it climbs to the top of trending topics. But I’m certain he must have figured out that India’s road and power problem will not read the tweets and fix themselves. Someone really had to fix them.

If our government truly wants to help local producers, it has India to learn from. History is, in fact, replete with lessons. But if the status quo means that Dangote and Alhaji Mangal can donate billions of campaign funds, then who lesson epp?