Worried by the collapse of industries in the North, Alhaji Mohammed Abdurahman, a former Secretary of the Political Committee of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), in this interview with Regional Editor, HASSAN IBRAHIM, proffers solutions to the problem. Excerpts:
SOME concerned Northerners are disturbed that the Federal Government plans to grant waiver to an Indian firm to import cars into the country, they felt it could pose a threat to the only surviving auto assembly in the country, Peugeot Automobile Nigeria. What is your take on this?
Well, you see I can only brush this question on the surface in the light of the larger picture, the Nigerian interest. Nigeria has not gone any way that would indicate that it actually wants industrial development, we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t produce, and we consume more than we produce. So, if you look at the Peugeot Automobile in the light of the amount of production that keeps it in the scale of balance of trade and our total development in terms of unemployment and so many of other things, you would really know why industries like PAN will not create any advantage for Nigeria. The focus of this present government with which I hold some solidarity, is to create job opportunities, to allow balance of scales in efficiency, to boost production so that we can strengthen our currency. You will find out that our currency have been manipulated, we had so many Central Bank governors that came with an agenda. We donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have Central Bank governors that are apolitical, they make so much noise, run out of ideas and start bringing ideas that every social activist can criticise. Somebody who is interested in Nigerian development, somebody who cares about giving the better to the people and serving the people, would not come up with an idea of cashless society. What they read in textbooks, you know we do have textbook, arm-chair economists and textbook experts. Nigeria doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t need that. That is why I always advise a lot of people to listen to Professor Aluko. We were award winners during the NACCIMA AGM in Warri some years back. Two Nigerians they felt, we have paid our dues.
You just talked about the proposition of a cashless society which the Central bank says would begin any moment soon. What is your view on this development?
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not about fancy talk. In fact, in the first place, the whole idea about cashless society should not be raised at a time like this, the enlightenment had not gone round enough because we are not sophisticated enough in terms of information dissemination and the reasons. Another thing is about our business orientation, the business itself as a whole in terms of banking and business, nobody has cared about that. They have not addressed the issue of exchange rates in the banks; they have not addressed the issue of interest rates, and other issues. If you look at it as a whole, we are not organised at all as a country as far as allowing issues like funds in circulation and all that be an element of our growth but the problem is that every CBN governor comes in and tries to make a mark. Charles Soludo was an adviser on Economic Matters to the President. At that time we were all on the issue of AbachaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s loots, as he had taken a lot of funds from the system and they were lodged there in Switzerland, France and all these places. These intellectual mercenaries just came in and start telling us about what class, best practices, and methods they would use to turn the economy around but they only used them to mess up the entire economy. Each time the budget came around, you heard them doing IPO, those who were in government stole our money, stole our budgets and used them to buy money and put in the banks.
Look at it, why is it that those ideas and policies they are giving have not moved us forward if they were real?
Nigeria should have been a producing nation now, an industrialised nation. We are still deep into the Third World, we have not even found our feet and that is what the Jonathan government is looking at very seriously. The issue about the privatisation or public enterprises issue, we are looking at it again. It is going to be about competence and efficiency, not about giving what belongs to the whole nation to a few individuals. President Jonathan is interested in making sure that 90 per cent of our national wealth that is in the hands of 10 percent of the people should be spread out so that Nigerian economy would be in more hands and maybe, we can energise growth. Through that, because of commitment, because of efficiency, not because of individual people who feel they want to hold our nation in vice grip and make all the policies, with the budget as their own bidding. Government informs economy in Nigeria that means the private is handicapped. We want the private sector to inform government so that we would stop the situation where the government sneezes and the entire economic profile catches cold. That is why the whole idea of private public sector partnership came up but it was done wrongly. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s selected people that fraudulently packed our national patrimony into their private hands in the name of privatisation and public private sector partnership.
How best do you think the government can come in to resuscitate industries, especially the textiles in the Northwest region?
Well, the whole programme, from YarÃ¢â‚¬â„¢AduaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s plan to reposition the textile industries, has been a case of putting the cart before the horse. We should look at the major ingredients of textile manufacturing, cotton wool. Cotton farmers and obsolete equipment, their equipment are absolete, if we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t address these too, textiles would never come back. It means the smuggling elements, the smuggling institution would continue to prosper because nobody is going to produce textiles that would be used to fill up warehouses with people not buying. So if you look at the public in terms of demand habits and motives, they are talking about the design of the textile, the quality and so many other things. If we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t address the equipment and we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t address the cotton farmers, then forget textiles in Nigeria.
But most people have fingered smuggling activities as the major obstacles to the resuscitation efforts.
Smugglers are successful because the price they attach to the quality of the material is a better deal to the buyers. That is why they smuggle goods at cheaper rates. When Nigeria confronted the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria on the issue of smuggling of textile materials, he told us that itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s our own smugglers not Chinese smugglers, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Nigerian businessmen. He didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t call them smugglers, he called them Nigerian businessmen, who went to China to order materials and that if there is any China man who brings in defective goods or substandard goods into Nigeria and he is caught, they would execute him. But when you look at it, the China Chamber of Commerce within China says that they produce at three levels. They produce sub-standard goods to meet the market demand; they have poor people in China. They have the worldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s largest population. So if they produce things for their own country, they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even need to export to satisfy their people. They are not like Nigeria where our businessmen donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t care about satisfying the people. They just want an insane capitalism that we are practicing here. You must produce to a target market. They are producing to their target market at three levels. Medium, high and low so that all their people can feel served. The peasant farmer will have clothes to wear. So when our businessmen go there, they order from the 3 levels. As far as China is concerned, they have been absolved of any act of fraud or dumping and for GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sake you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even call it dumping because our people are buying the goods. The standards for which our people want to talk about dumping donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even exist within Nigeria, we are not producing to those standards and the per unit cost of production in terms of labour wages, and in terms of the cost of production is so high, they cannot even compete with the imported goods which they call dumping and smuggling. So we have to get things right, we cannot just shout on protection when we are not doing it right.
So, what would you recommend as solutions?
The latest trends in textile manufacturing are like printing journals, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s like newspaper publication. The equipment are not large and they are swift, they do a lot of things at the same time and it reduces production cost. When the Sardauna, Sir Ahmadu Bello set up these machines in the textile companies in the North then, they were the modern things but now they are obsolete. They melt the machines and give it to the foundries, sell it to foundries and buy new ones, or stay out of the market.
Those in the textile companies, when they could have been able to create a depreciation aspect of their manufacturing toward exchanging the machines for more modern machines, they never did it.
They killed the textiles industries; they were buying houses abroad, living big like lords and were dictating the price of cotton to the farmers. So out of frustration, the farmers would plant cotton this year, and when the price is down they move into planting sorghum, groundnut and so on and they forgot about the cotton. Now the textiles industry merchants were no longer interested in the farmers because all these processes of foreign exchange and taking money out was okay for them if they imported the cotton. The farmers need to be taken care of if the textile industry is to be resuscitated and sustained.