For the past few weeks, social media has been agog with a campaign spearheaded by prominent Nigerian legislators such as the Senate President Bukola Saraki and Senator Ben Murray-Bruce representing Bayelsa East Senatorial District.
With the employment of the hashtag #BuyNaijaToSaveNaira, the campaign is quite well-timed considering the pressures the Naira has come under relative to the dollar, as demand for foreign exchange far exceeds supply.
Although Nigeria as at the last available data had a trade surplus of N19.7 trillion as at September 2015, our exports are predominantly crude oil, its derivatives and natural gas, while our imports are predominantly refined petroleum products, and food items like rice, wheat and sugar.
The import list has traditionally caused a lot of anger among Nigerians as these are items that the country ought not to import: the 8th largest producer of crude oil importing refined petroleum product and a country harnessing only 10% of its arable land importing food it can grow is bound to make any people angry.
However, the Made-In-Nigeria campaign, rather than focusing on these items on the import list that Nigeria can produce rather than import, is choosing to focus on other finished goods in which we don not necessarily have a competitive advantage.
Not only that, the campaign is based on the erroneous assumption that Nigerians prefer foreign-made goods over local ones. Contrary to that, Nigerians do patronize a lot of locally-made goods that meet their quality and it is affordable to them.
It is enough to ask Nigerians to buy goods which are of sub-standard quality or out of their economic reach by appealing to nationalist sentiments; and surely, passing a Public Consumption Law that will mandate government to prioritize locally-made goods over foreign ones as it is rumored to be in the offing, will only benefit a few large companies who ought to be targeting the larger Nigerian market and export by making the government their sole customer.
The senators are better off looking for ways to solve structural barriers that hamper the growth of Nigerian businesses, especially small and medium-scale ones either by legislation, passing of resolutions or better oversight of government agencies that have a direct impact on these businesses.
For instance, in the last Assembly, the Movable Asset Registry Bill that will create a movable asset registry and allow businesses borrow money against these assets as against using only fixed assets and securities and a Warehousing Receipt Bill that will allow farmers warehouse their farm produce and access bank financing borrowed against the produce rather than being forced to sell the harvest immediately, were allowed to languish until the expiration of the assembly.
These laws when passed will enable millions of small businesses and farmers to access financing that will enable them to grow their businesses and invariably improve their quality and price advantage.
Not only that, companies seeking certification from regulatory agencies such as the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) routinely complain about how it takes an insanely long time to get approvals for their products while they get approvals for same products faster in other countries.
Another battle that Nigerian manufacturers have faced is the influx of products which are smuggled in through porous borders.
According to this report by Chatham House [pdf], a lot of this smuggling is attributed to the fact that it takes way longer time to clear goods at Nigerian ports because of poor infrastructure compared to neighboring ports in Lome and Cotonou. Not only is that, tariffs set on goods in order to spur local production are not realistic as our borders are poorly-policed.
While the solutions to these particular problems are the purview of the executive, the legislature can wield its power of oversight in ensuring that they seek a solution to the problems.
Lastly, it is not by buying locally-made goods that our currency will be strengthened but by spurring exports. That said, the Senate should look at what hampers increased export of locally-made goods: poor warehousing, poor packaging, high export tariffs, etc.
The campaign by Senators Saraki and Murray-Bruce on the surface look noble, but it goes about solving a valid problem in a wrong manner. They and their colleagues should seek a more holistic way to