By Yusuph Olaniyonu
Don’t be surprised if the salesman you will see in your neighborhood next time is a six-footer, smooth-looking and well spoken man. His face will look familiar because you have encountered him physically or through the media, particularly television, the print and online. You will wonder if he is not the man holding that top public office. What does he want? What is wrong with him? What is he selling? Or are you mistaking him for somebody else?
As you ponder on the questions, you probably will realize he is the person you actually thought of. The number three man in the country. That is the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki. What is wrong is the fact that Nigeria’s economy is in a bad shape. There is therefore the need for change of attitude and positive, practical actions to save the nation, rebuild its economy and put its youth back to work.
Saraki as the head of the nation’s legislature has identified his role as a lawmaker who is constitutionally charged to focuss on oversight responsibility on executive bodies and also advocating for the direction that will bring overall development to the country. He has also decided to offer himself as the salesman for Made in Nigeria Goods.
The Senate President has at various fora articulated the viewpoint that the right response to the falling value of the Naira against the dollar (N358 to $1) is for the country to increase its productive capacity and change from an importing, foreign goods-crazy and oil dependent country to a nation which is self-reliant, with many buoyant local industries and hundreds of thousands of youths gainfully employed.
He envisaged that the employed youths will become tax payers. Thus, domestic taxes will become a veritable source of revenue for funding infrastructural development and social services.
These positions have been espoused by the Senate President in many prepared and off-the -cuff speeches he made at different fora, particularly while receiving many of the numerous groups, organizations, foreign missions and individuals that have paid courtesy call on him in his office.
Recently, the man has decided to put his words into action. First, when a group of artisans and local manufacturers from Aba town in Abia State sought to pay him a courtesy call and their contact man, Senator Enyinanya Abaribe, said the visit was to promote their locally manufactured products with the Senate President coming to open their trade fair, they got an immediate appointment.
It was during the visit that the Senate President unfolded his plan to immediately initiate the amendment of the Procurement Act, particularly Section 34 of the law which gives discretion to government agencies about patronizing locally produced goods. He added that the word ‘ may’
will become ‘shall’ to compel agencies to only buy locally made goods. In cases where there is no option to imported items, the said agency must get clearance from the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP).
“This is the only way we can create jobs, solve the problem of unemployment and stop the growing army of aggrieved youths who pose danger to society. We can do it. We have the population which translates to a huge ready market. This is how we can genuinely help our people.
“The chairmen of our relevant committees are being put on notice to ensure that they focus their oversight on these areas. We must make sure that government agencies like the Armed Forces can patronize the shoe making industries in Aba and other places”, he said.
Saraki went on to declare open the Made in Aba Trade Fair at the Area 10 Playing Ground, Abuja, where he gave assurances to the local producers that they have an ally in him and that he has dedicated himself to fighting their cause through legislations, oversight and advocacy activities. He promised to personally speak with heads of security agencies to stop importation of their foot wears and other kits as they can be easily produced in Aba and other towns.
Saraki on his twitter handle thereafter call on Nigerian manufacturers to send him a twit of products they are producing and their addresses so that he can re-twit. Immediately the offer was made online, many young Nigerians entrepreneurs responded. And thus, the Senate President became an advertising platform for Made in Nigeria products.
Perhaps taking a cue from the comradeship demonstrated by Saraki with the Aba manufacturers and other local producers of goods, the owner and management of Innoson Motors based in Nnewi quickly approached the Senate President that they will want to meet and acquaint him with their products as the only local manufacturers of automobiles in Nigeria.
Less than 48 hours after they sent words to him, they got an appointment. Spokesman of Innoson Group, Mr. Sunny Nwosu commended Saraki and the Senate leadership for the prompt response to the request for audience sent by the company, an opportunity that had eluded them in the past.
“In less than 48 hours of contacting the Senate President, we were told to come over. We are encouraged by your views on Made in Nigeria goods. What we need is the support, encouragement and inspiration from decision makers like you”, he said.
Their host however said he was only doing his job and exhibiting his passion by identifying with them. He said one of the actions government should quickly take at this point to save the national economy is to ensure that local industries are patronized by government agencies so that Nigerian manufacturers can enjoy the advantages accruing from the big market that her population offers.
“That is why this eighth Senate is determined to amend the Procurement Law to ensure that government agencies patronize Made in Nigeria products. I am sure the House of Representatives is in support of this. It is our joint responsibility to ensure that you succeed. If you are successful, a lot more small and medium scale enterprises will draw inspiration from you and they will become successful.
“That will help to create jobs which is one of the mandate presented to us by the youths of this country during the last elections. We in the legislature will look at all laws and help to create an enabling environment for local businesses to thrive in Nigeria”, he said.
The Senate President said using laws to protect locally made goods is not peculiar to the country as it has been done in the United States under President Herbert Hoover in 1933 while China and South Africa have also enacted similar laws in the past.
He lamented a situation where a company like Innoson only sold about 3,000 vehicles in 2015 when Nigerians buy about a million vehicles annually, adding that If Nigerians patronise Made in Nigeria cars it will force foreign manufacturers to set up plant here. The Senate President further promised Innoson Group that he will get in touch with them as he has collected the price list and the information booklet on the automobiles produced by the company. He also had a short drive in one of the SUVs produced by the company, thereby providing a testimonial endorsement for the Nigerian manufacturer.
With the plan to amend the Procurement Act of 2007, Saraki and his colleagues are seeking to reenact the Buy American Act signed into law on March 3, 1933 by Hoover which compels US government and its agencies to prefer US made products in their purchases. Section 217 (3) Of the South African constitution provides a framework for the policy of preferential procurement for government agencies. Also, the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act 5 of 2000 and the regulations published under it in 2001 prescribed requirements regarding Black economic empowerment considerations.
In China, Article 10 of the Government Procurement Law provides that domestic goods, projects and services must be used for government procurement except when the required goods are not available in China, the objects of procurement are for use outside China or it is specified otherwise in other laws and administrative regulations.
Thus, what Saraki and his colleagues seeks to do with the Procurement Act is putting the law on the same pedestal with what obtains in some developed economies.
Shortly after the Innoson Group left Saraki, a group called South East Traders Association visited him and pleaded that he should help them intervene on difficulties they are facing in their importation business. The Senate President did not mince words in telling them that he is not in support of importation. He enjoined them to start producing some of the goods they import locally and they will have his total support.
The pattern that is emerging from all these encounters by the nation’s chief legislator is that the man has become the Ambassador of Made in Nigeria goods. Call it protectionism. Call it backward integration. Or local content and backward integration campaign. These are some of the concepts that we have heard of in the past. What Saraki seemed determined to achieve is to put the weight of his office, the influence of his name and the richness of his personal and official resources into helping Nigerians who have dared to be different by undertaking production of goods that will offer quality alternatives to their fellow country men and women..
This definitely is a noble campaign. It is also an idea, as Victor Hugo said, whose time has come. We pray that he succeeds in this endeavour . So, when next you see this suave, prominent and determined salesman of Made in Nigeria products in your neighborhood, don’t be surprised. Just support, accept and encourage him. It is another way of salvaging a country in economic crisis, particularly outside the hallowed legislative chambers.
Olaniyonu is Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to the Senate President.