By Christopher Ekpenyong
The untold hardship being experienced by Nigerians today due to the high cost of food items, goods and services and high rate of unemployment is an issue of serious concern.
A recent World Bank report said the rising prices of food items pushed an estimated seven million Nigerians below the poverty line in 2020 alone and accounted for over 60 percent of the total increase in inflation.
Today, the economy of the giant of Africa is at the point of collapse.
All over the world, no country has thrived on reliance on a mono-product economy. Therefore, like always, I am reiterating my stance that we must diversify if we must guide Nigeria’s ailing economy out of the woods.
Agriculture must be accorded a top priority. It is time to return to agriculture.
There is also the need to revive our moribund and abandoned industries littered in all parts of the country.
Notable and critical examples among them are the Ajaokuta Steel Industry, the Paper mills, Tyres manufacturing companies, and even the Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON) in Ikot Abasi Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State.
The Ajaokuta Steel Company located in Kogi State was established in 1979 with the capacity to create over 600,000 jobs. Currently, the Steel industry in Nigeria is as good as dead with only a few workers left on the ground. It is pathetic!
Also, as of 1986, Nigeria had three Pulp and Paper mills located across the country. There was the Nigeria Newsprint Manufacturing Company (NNMC), Oku-Iboku, in Akwa Ibom State, the National Paper Manufacturing Company (NPMC), Iwopin, Ogun State; and the Nigeria Paper Mill (NPM), Jebba, Kwara State. Those industries which had combined capacity to employ not less than 100, 000 people are all now moribund.
It is disheartening that over the years Nigeria imports over N400billion ($1.2 billion) worth of paper annually. Even in 2020, I read a report by the Chartered Institute of Professional Printers of Nigeria saying that Nigeria is importing printing papers at N3trillion.
Unfortunately, the nation has no forest with pulpwood in sufficient quantities to meet the demands of the paper industry. A few decades ago Nigeria was into vehicle assembling.
There was Volkswagen assembly plant in Lagos, the Peugeot assembly plant at Kaduna, Leyland in Ibadan and ANAMCO in Enugu that produced our buses and trucks then.
Also, there was Steyr at Bauchi, producing our agricultural tractors and Exide in Ibadan, producing the batteries, not just for Nigeria but for the entire West African sub-region.
Recall that Isoglass and TSG in Ibadan were producing windshields while Ferodo in the same Ibadan was producing brake pads and discs.
The Dunlop in Lagos and Michelin in Port Harcourt were into manufacturing of tyres sourcing raw materials from our rubber plantations located in Ogun, Rivers and Cross River State.
The clothes we wore then were also produced from the UNTL textile mills in Kaduna and Chellarams in Lagos with raw materials from our locally planted cotton.
Also, Nigerian Airways which was the biggest carrier in Africa is no longer operational. Sadly most of these industries failed after Nigeria returned to civil rule in 1999 due to financial mismanagement, corruption-ridden system.
Indisputably, past and present administrations have launched several reforms and Programmes aimed at improving the economic situation of the country.
Under the present administration we have programmes such as the N-Power, National Cash Transfer Programme but have not helped to get the country out of the woods either; hence, the untold suffering and rising unemployment and poverty rates in the country.
Government and leaders at all levels, as well as the citizens, must wake up to the realities on the ground that if our industries are not working we cannot be talking about improving the economy, or eliminating poverty in our society. If they are not functioning how are we going to diversify our economy?.
We must be thinking about returning to Agriculture. Nigeria fared well when Agriculture was the mainstay of the country.
Then cocoa in the West, groundnuts in the North, and palm produce in the Southeast were the three major agricultural produce that sustained the economy of the regions from 1954 to 1966 before the regions were balkanized after the Nigeria Civil War.
Nigeria is endowed with a massive landmass from the North to South that will help in large scale agriculture. And this will also help the country to move from a consumer country to a producer country.
It is sad that today Nigeria is importing over 500 metric tonnes of palm oil annually to meet the demand for the product locally when we have palm plantations lying waste in some states.
Indisputably, the alarming rate of unemployment and harsh economy in the country has largely contributed to the worsening security and crime rate such as armed robbery, kidnapping, banditry, militancy and even cybercrimes. Just like the old saying goes, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop”.
These are reasons any society should be worried if it fails to provide employment for its young population that constitutes a larger proportion of the workforce. When their energies are left untapped, they could dissipate them on criminal activities and anti-social behaviours that are inimical to the larger society.
And the diversification of our economy, and restructuring, remain solutions to Nigeria’s ailing economy.
*Ekpenyong, a former deputy governor of Akwa Ibom State and current senator representing Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District, writes from Abuja.