President Goodluck Jonathan has launched an industrialisation plan that is aimed at turning Nigeria into one of the top 10 economies of the world. But while the country has all it needs to become a major industrial nation, it has so far repeatedly failed to do so. Will it be different this time around? Report by Anver Versi and Frederick Mordi.
The term ‘industrialisation’ is the current African flavour of the year – virtually all countries are either embarking on industrialisation programmes or producing master plans for them. Nigeria, not to be outdone, has also launched its own “most ambitious plan yet” – in the words of President Jonathan Goodluck. The Nigeria Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP) was announced in February amid much fanfare.
There is nothing new about efforts to turn Nigeria into an industrialised economy. It was the most industrialised country in West Africa immediately after independence, specialising in processing agricultural products, the manufacture of household items, foods, confectionery, drinks and vehicle assembly.
The sector was ticking over very nicely and keeping even the small-scale informal businesses busy.
That was before the oil fever struck and billions were squandered on white elephant projects such as giant steel mills that produced nothing and dams that served no purpose apart from lining the pockets of Nigerian politicians and their foreign partners.
As everyone scrambled for a share of the oil pie, other sectors, including agriculture and manufacturing, were banished to the back of the room. Today the landscape is littered with carcasses of once-flourishing industries that have succumbed to the harsh operating environment.
Those that have survived operate at low capacity, crippled by obstacles such as poor power supply, multiple taxations and double-digit interest rates. Previous governments have always vowed to ‘revitalise’ the industrial sector and diversify from oil but apart from fine-sounding speeches, nothing has happened.