Most businesses operating in the country are not generating new wealth for the economy- they are either servicing those who milk the nation’s oil wealth or recycling and distributing the same. This is a self-inflicted problem; the price we pay for not developing our natural resources. Practically all the money we spend is squeezed from oil. The government gets subventions from the oil money to pay itself and the suppliers of goods and services – mostly imported. In turn, they use their cheque to pay salaries, build their homes, fund their children’s education, buy imported food and clothing, and pay for travels – in imported aircrafts or cars – and it goes on.
So, those who drift from the villages to join in the hackneyed redistribution-rat-races called businesses in Nigeria’s large cities continue to increase; occasioning the congestions, elbow shoves, harassments, destitution, crime and other socio-economic headaches. Yet, there can be more opportunities for upward mobility if genuine attention is paid to other natural resources of the nation to diversify, to grow the indigenous economy. As trite as it sounds, new wealth for Nigeria today can only come through the rediscovery of the agriculture and solid minerals sectors.
It is also important to note that primary production alone is not enough. Today’s entrepreneur, especially the more educated ones would need to foray further into the deployment of science and technology to process commodities into industrial raw materials and finished goods.
For example, the Director-General of the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Dr. Gloria Elemo, presented to the Senate in 2013, that it had developed well over 250 viable research and development outputs since inception; many of which are still on the shelf awaiting adoption by entrepreneurs. Indeed, the genuine industrialisation of Nigeria now lies in our hands and we have to embrace it to get ourselves out of an avoidable recession.
FIIRO asserts that they have the technologies for the production of high-nutrient foods and drinks that can save lives in the IDP camps and contribute to the upcoming school feeding programme and entrepreneurs need to take advantage of these opportunities.
I once saw an importer of fabrics on television calling on the government to support her business, which was fast shrinking because of the activities of the Chinese. According to her, the Chinese bring in cheap imitations of the fabrics she claims she imports from Europe; gradually knocking her out of business. The presenters of the programme were genuinely moved by her appeal and amplified her pleas; urging the government to support the woman and her colleagues first, because they are Nigerians and also because they were helping the economy by employing other people. Manufacturing would employ many more hands than her few exclusive shops would.
Truth is, while the woman could be congratulated for being industrious, her kind of business is not what would help the country out of these recessive times. This is why more Nigerians, including entrepreneurs, need to take a keener interest in trending economic issues and policies. If either the woman or the presenters of the programme had been at the Kaduna Cotton Summit 2006, where stakeholders in the local textile industry had gathered to demand loudly for the ban on the importation of fabrics, they would have understood that supporting import of textiles cannot be the government’s priority considering the nation’s economic challenges.
It would necessarily pay the textile merchant on that TV show better to plough part of her obviously substantial capital (before it gets swallowed up by the unfair competition she is already battling) into areas that will support the growth of the local economy; to her benefit and to the benefit of generations yet unborn.
There is a practical example from the solid minerals subsector where some pioneering efforts at the processing of bentonite now saves the nation a lot of foreign exchange; creating jobs in a new venture area; oil drilling in Nigeria commenced in 1951 using imported bentonite. Previously believed to occur only in temperate regions, geological findings show that Nigeria has abundant reserves of fossil na-bentonite occurring in different parts of the country including Edo, Nasarawa, Plateau, Anambra, etc.
In spite of this well-advertised fact, drilling mud was 100 per cent imported into the country, mostly from the United States until 1992 when the former chairman of the defunct Nigerian Mining Corporation, Mr. Inuwa Morrow, and geologists in some Nigerian universities vehemently protested the situation with scientific evidence that Nigerian clays could, with some amount of processing do the job and save the nation millions of dollars annually expended on importation of the products.
A university don turned entrepreneur, Prof. William Emofurieta, doggedly fought on until almost 10 years later when he was given an opportunity to prove his claims at Shell EA Project Wells in 2001. According to him at a 2010 World Association of Industrial and Technological Research Organisations / Raw Materials Research and Development Council forum, “they were using the wrong mud and the rigs were getting stuck every day. In six weeks, I set all the rigs in Shell free.”
It therefore goes without saying that what presents as a recession today, is really a fresh opportunity for Nigeria to not only farm, but process its agricultural and mining resources for improved revenue.
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