The downward slide of the naira against the dollar and the difficulties it presented forced the country into a somewhat frantic search for remedy. Though the president has affirmed that the naira will not be officially devalued, debate on the appropriateness or otherwise of devaluation have not completely ceased. I’ll leave that to economists. Among the various measures for strengthening the naira being proffered, the idea of buying made in Nigeria goods interests me most.
Senator Ben Bruce has been the major promoter of the current campaign to patronize locally made goods. Commendably, he backed his call by buying from Innoson Motors. The campaign has since caught-on with many citizens preaching the necessity of patronizing local goods. There are indeed many benefits to be derived from buying locally made goods. Among them is reducing the pressure on our foreign reserve and thus strengthening our currency.
But preaching ‘buy Naija to grow the naira’ alone will not achieve the desired result. At the moment, the campaign is driven mostly by shallow patriotic fervor and to some extent hypocrisy. These of course are insufficient to engineer a radical change of the people’s mentality and consumption habit. Two main factors are responsible for the reluctance of citizens to patronize locally made goods. They also will constitute the major challenges to actualizing the objective of the current campaign. On one hand is the mentality of consumers and on the other, the irresponsibility and shortsightedness of producers.
I do not know exactly how it happened or when it began, but the reality is that we have developed a seemingly insatiable appetite for foreign goods. Ours is a rather hubristic society. The worth of a person is often measured by how much foreign goods he or she consumes. Hence, for the sake of ego alone, most citizens would want to identify with foreign brands. The country’s leadership and elite has unfortunately failed to show leadership. In fact they constitute the worst culprit, recklessly advertise their obsession with everything foreign. As the call to patronize local goods continues, ordinary citizens will be looking at the leadership to lead by example. It is not enough to exhort citizens to be patriotic and patronize local goods; the leadership must demonstrate sincerity by leading the way.
Besides the reluctance of consumers, the mentality of local manufacturers is one of their worst enemies. Cronyism is a major feature of our society. One of the easiest routes to affluence is through government patronage. Hence, many manufacturers set out not really to service the need of the public but mostly to draw patronage from government. Depending on the manufacturer’s political influence, he might indeed attract the patronage and make quick wealth. However, since the business is not quite set-up to survive a competitive environment, it flounders or folds-up once government patronage reduces or is not forthcoming.
Many local manufacturers demonstrate depressing shortsightedness. Wealth should flow from value delivered and needs met. But many local manufacturers set up businesses not really with intention to properly meet a need but to make quick money. Hence, they are not averse to delivering substandard goods to maximize profit. The implication is that sooner than later, consumers come to associate the brand with poor quality and patronage drops or even ceases entirely.
An Aunty of mine resolved to exclusively consume locally produced rice after she was told that they are more nutritious than the imported ones. But she is increasingly becoming frustrated by having to spend much time removing chaff and stones from the rice before cooking, and most times not entirely succeeding. Many years ago, a friend whose father ran a rice mill told me of how stones and chaff are deliberately mixed with the rice to easily fill a bag. Of course, in the long run this is bound to alienate consumers. Local manufacturers must up their game, ensure the quality of their products and services. Mere appeal to patriotism will hardly succeed in making one buy substandard good if he or she can afford a quality alternative.
Every adversity carries with it the seed of equivalent or greater benefit. The slump in oil price certainly presents real challenge to the country. However, it also offers amazing opportunities. This is a propitious time for local manufacturers and anyone hoping to go into manufacturing. Nigerians more than at any other time are willing to try locally made goods. Hence, this is a wonderful time for manufacturers to introduce and etch their products in the consciousness of Nigerians. Smart manufacturers and would-be manufacturers ought to ride on the wave of positive sentiments generated by the buy Naija campaign. But will this great opportunity be seized?