THE industrial edge of the North is long gone! It’s like an earthquake struck and wiped away all the blossoming industries that used to dot the length and breadth of the region and produced enormous wealth for the natives.
From footwears industries to fabrics manufacturing and essential goods-producing entities, the North is now bereft of going industrial concerns, leaving many in wanton poverty, prolonged joblessness and underemployment in a region that once boasted of all the robust and high-paying jobs anywhere one turned.
The North took its pre-eminent industrial position apparently because the Premier of defunct Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, ensured that Kaduna, its capital then, was patterned like a mini Manchester, an industrial hub in England.
His ambitious industrial plan for the North worked out well because before his death, Northern Nigeria was not only the envy of the other regions in Nigeria in terms of agro-allied industries but was also a source of attraction and model of development to some independent countries within the British Commonwealth of nations. For instance, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and many African countries benefited from the North during their early post-independence years before some of them pushed on to economic growth and prosperity.
Sardauna’s Kaduna, for example, according to history, had textile mills that were second to the Northern Nigeria Civil Service in providing employment to the citizens. Agriculture was so robust that very few Northerners found migration to the major towns and cities for the proverbial white-collar job, attractive. As it were, every province in the region was encouraged and empowered to fully utilise the benefits of its comparative advantage in production.
For that reason, Northern farmers were prosperous because they were allowed to enjoy the price their agricultural products deserved in the markets. Consequently, multi-national corporations were in all major cities in the North and their wholesale and retail outlets such as Leventis, Kingsway, UAC, Bhojsons, Chelarams, UTC, Peugeot, Mandilas, Steyr, Tate & Lyle, Yamaco, NASCO, etc., flourished immensely.
It was a good business climate as the Northern economy propelled people from all walks of life to patronise such corporations until the gradual decline of its splendour about three decades. Some of these mega stores began to shut down mainly due to low patronage and other factors. A few other industrial concerns that struggled to stay afloat could hardly do more than producing and selling confectionaries and groceries up to the late 1990s before winding up the business.
What went wrong? Economists and immediate past Emir of Kano, Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, believes that unfavourable competition arising from the World Trade Organisation Treaty was responsible for the collapse of industries in Nigeria. Sanusi contends that: “No country in the world can survive industrially with such an unfavourable competition and I have been having this argument with the World Bank and IMF in New York and we cannot accept such unfavourable competition”.
Although that was in a lecture he delivered some time ago at a dinner in Kaduna, Sanusi has also suggested that concrete steps must be taken to protect local industries from such hostile competitions from foreign products if the dream of reviving local industries and creating employment opportunities were to be realised. He premised his argument on the fact that the British had previously protected their markets with gunboats.
“Today, everybody, including the World Bank and IMF, is using Malaysia as a model, but their leader was vilified when he refused to accept such conditions in those days. No economy has ever developed through dependence on primary products. There is no way primary and manufactured products can compete on equal terms under the existing terms. Nigeria must learn to pay more attention to agriculture as a way of developing the economy because, while agriculture contributes about 46 per cent of the country’s GDP, it attracts only one per cent of bank lending.
“The nation’s industries, particularly the agricultural sector cannot attain the desired growth until genuine efforts are made to go beyond primary production and subsistence levels and there must be urgent actions on value chain production strategy whereby considerable income and employment are generated at every stage which will result in sustainable growth,” he said.
As at now, agriculture in the North is under threat. From Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Adamawa and other adjoining states are known for their contributions to animal production that supplied meat, milk, hides and skin for many leather and shoe factories across the globe, the story is no longer the same. The incessant criminal activities by rustlers and conflicts worsened by terrorist attacks have made farming and animal husbandry unattractive.
Within the central region and in the Northwest cities of Kano, Kaduna, Zaria, Gusau, etc, textile mills are now a sorry sight. They are as silent as a graveyard. According to a Kaduna based titleholder who grew up in the Kakuri industrial area in Kaduna, Alhaji Sabiu Danmaliki Sabon Garin Kakuri, the first textile industry in Northern Nigeria was established by the then Premier of the region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna Sokoto in 1957.
It was learnt that the establishment of Kaduna Textiles Limited, KTL, led to the establishment of other textiles industries in Kaduna, Kano, Funtua and Gusau. In Kaduna alone, there were over 10 flourishing textiles companies that were operating at optimum capacity. The same was equally true in Kano, Funtua and Gusau.
He said that in the 1980s, these textiles industries provided about 500,000 direct jobs. “The textiles then were the second employers of labour after the government in the region. However, the story is no longer the same as all the textile companies in Kaduna and other parts of the region have folded up. Findings gathered that only the United Nigeria Textiles Limited, UNTL, which got a life-line from the Bank of Industry in 2010 and Chellco, another garment factory that produces blanket, are operating in Kaduna. In Kano too, only one textile company works.”
He said big Northerners had preferred importing textile fabrics from Asia and Europe than encouraging the growth and survival of textiles in the North. Low-income earners in the North were also alleged to have preferred buying imported fabrics than those produced in the country.
Labour leaders, Comrade Isssa Aremu and Comrade John Adaji, have consistently explained that Nigeria’s liberalisation policy killed the sector as the influx of finished textile goods from abroad, which were substandard but cheaper, found the hearts of Nigerians, while on the other hand, the textiles companies could no longer produce the higher-quality fabrics they were known for.
The porosity of Nigeria’s northern borders with the Niger Republic, Chad and Cameroon, coupled with alleged complicity by Federal and state operatives at the borders, contributed in turning the North into a dumping area for substandard foreign good, junks, scraps and overused cars from Europe and the Americas.
Danmaliki says: “Smuggled textile goods found their way into our markets and until government stands firm on this, it might not augur well for the textiles sector.
The issue of raw materials is another problem. Cotton was the major raw material and was cultivated in the North but unfortunately, the quantity produced could not meet up with the demands of these factories,” he said. Another big problem that should be of concern is the invasion of even smaller businesses and the cottage industry by Asians in the North. This, if left unchecked, will definitely sound a death knell on the dwindling local Northern economy.
Now with the dearth of industries and continued job cuts in government ministries, agencies and departments, teeming unemployed youths in the region were left with no option than to compete for the available job openings in the Nigerian Armed Forces.
Sadly, hundreds who were not that lucky have remained hopeful, while others who could not resist the influence of drugs and alcohol to ward off boredom have formed an irregular army of sort ready to be manipulated during political campaigns and other unwholesome acts. With these, the North lost its pride as the industrial hub of modern Nigeria.
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