In 2015, Okezie Victor Ikpeazu Ph.D was sworn in as the democratically elected Governor of Abia State. During the campaign, the Governor made promotion of home made goods especially made in Aba goods one of the cardinal programmes that will drive his administration’s trajectory.
He didn’t waste time setting the foundations to drive that vision. In the January of 2016, an Aba development Summit, the first of its kind was put together with the support of an international multilateral institutions, Ford Foundation.
The first day of the 2 day summit was dedicated to visits to centres of production in Aba. All the delegates many of whom came from outside the state mainly from international and national bodies were taken to some production centres that made Aba the hub of MSME.
During the main session of that summit, discussants and guests brainstormed on how to re-engineer the economic and industrial giant – Aba, to once again play her dominant role in the nation’s manufacturing and production firmament.
The summation of discussions during that summit was that for Nigeria to get back on the growth path, there must be some deliberate actions by all and sundry. Top of the agreements reached was that governments at all level must mainstream the patronage of locally manufactured goods and encourage Nigerians to buy more of made in Nigeria to grow the nation’s collapsing economy.
Governor Okezie Ikpeazu rose from that summit and declared himself the brand ambassador for Made in Aba products, especially leather and garment products. This singular action caught the attention of critical stakeholders in the Aba renaissance project.
This Governor has invested time and resources to deliberately and intentionally promote goods and services out of Abia. Through several actions, speeches and policy directives, Governor Ikpeazu has given impetus to those operating within the MSME ecosystem in Abia State.
The derogatory Aba Made has now changed to a more respected Made in Aba brand. The loss of confidence in those who produced these creative and ingenuis goods have been boosted that they are now proud to put their own labels on their products.
Many young and talented unsung heroes who hitherto didn’t not have any encouragement to put more efforts in the things they were producing, now have the impetus to expand their trade. Abia artisans have had rare privileges of participating in global events to network with their peers from other centres of excellence like New York, China, Turkey, Brazil, South Africa etc.
The volume of trade and production out of Abia has also increased, also increased is the revenue accruing directly to these artisans and MSME operators. Apart from floating a Micro Finance Bank with the sole aim of supporting artisans and other MSME operators, some of them have participated in several local and international capacity building activities with a view to building their capacities and increasing their competences to match their globla peers and competitors.
Beyond the statistics that most times economists uses to confuse those not schooled in economic data analysis, everyone will agree that the surest way to grow the Naira is to boost local production that will lead to more exports that will generate the needed foreign exchange which will naturally reduce the pressure on forex and strengthen the Naira.
While there may be other strategies, the one everyone knows will work will be the deliberate encouragement and investment in local production of goods and services to satisfy local demand and have reserve for export.
A situation where bulk of the products and goods used locally are imported will continue to put undue pressure on the dollar and weaken the Naira. As a country, we must follow this simple but effective strategy of Governor Ikpeazu to encourage local production of goods and service.
Leaders must make efforts to lead the way and show by example support for those involved in the productive sector of the economy. A productive economy will address many of the challenges Nigeria is currently facing beyond the free fall of the Naira
With the high level of unemployment occasioned by the unsupportive economic climate, Nigeria will continue to remain a fertile ground for restiveness, insecurity, violence, crime, banditry and such other socio-economic challenges. What we are going through is more of an economic and social upheaval which can be resolved if the productive sector of the economy is made to work.
A country with such a young population has no business with the kind of unproductiveness being experienced across the length and breadth of the nation. The youth age is a very critical time, with bubbling energy and restlessness, youths must be empowered properly to become productive and responsible actors in the socioeconomic scene of the country.
Governor Ikpeazu has this to say “One of the biggest challenges of our country is not being able to manage the energy of our youths.” He believes that the Nigerian youth is too creative and naturally ingenious, these attributes must be properly harnessed to make them more globally competitive.
When asked by a journalist why he is so focused on promoting locally made products especially Made in Aba leather and garment products. Governor Ikpeazu responded that Made in Aba is only a metaphor used to bring attention to the creativity and ingenuity of the average Nigeria youth who is naturally endowed. He believes that youths can be properly guided out of vice and other illicit activities if government and its institutions are intentional about development.
As the country struggle under the heavy yoke of a very weak currency resulting in increased inflation, collapse of our industrial base, unemployment and other critical economic challenges, we can glean from these strategies to revamp the country’s productive sector by deliberately insisting on patronage for locally manufactured goods and services.
We must be proud of our own and promote them against their foreign competitors. We must set up structures to support and build the capacities of SMEs as the engine room of the economy to play its leading role in economic recovery and growth. We should match words with action by investing strategically and deliberately in our youths.
Demographic statistics shows that Nigeria is a very young population and this huge chunk of our population must be planned for, catered for, groomed and built up to be part of the inclusive growth the country so much desires.
While the CBN and all the fiscal and monetary policy experts continue to search for solutions for the nation’s economic woes, this low hanging fruit may after all be one solution that will lead to other solutions.