Our comatose textile sub-sector


Recent statistics released by the Federal Government have revealed a near-collapse of the textile industry with over 776,000 job losses and only 24,000 Nigerians in gainful employment at present in that sub-sector.

This represents the worst figures in decades in a sector that a few years ago employed over 800,000 workers with a fixed investment of N640 billion, second only to South Africa in the continent.

This shocking statistics made public by the Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Dr Samuel Orton, at a stakeholder’s retreat for the textile sub-sector in Abuja, is not surprising, considering the manifold problems that hamper the industry. These have been made even worse by lack of a sustainable blueprint to revive the industry. Statistics can only be meaningful if used as a guide to chart a roadmap to economic development. But, that is yet to happen.

It is disheartening that successive governments in the country have paid lip service to the textile and garment industry in spite of its pre-eminent position as a significant catalyst for economic growth in the past.

Statistics also show that in the past, Nigeria controlled 63 percent of the market share in textile manufacturing in West Africa with over 175 fully functional mills that employed almost one million people across the country. The reverse is the case now.

Painting a gloomy picture of the sector as the Minister did is not enough. Anything short of a comprehensive blueprint and clarity of purpose in policy implementation will continue to keep the sub-sector in the doldrums. Indeed, the statistics reflect the many troubles of the manufacturing sector in the country.

Two years ago, a survey by the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) showed that 1.9 million workers were laid off in the sector between 2002 and 2009, with the textile and garment industry recording the largest number of jobs lost. MAN’s survey was based on 300 industries that had direct employment generation.

Government should stop playing the ostrich, pretending to be oblivious of the harsh operating environment which has rendered businesses, including the textile industry, extremely unprofitable.

In recent years, it is no secret that due to Nigeria’s unstable socio-economic environment, buffeted by energy crisis, high influx of cheap products, devaluation of our currency, high interest rates, many industries have been forced to close shop and some relocated to neighbouring countries in the sub-region. According to MAN’s survey, about 834 of such industries were affected between 2002 and 2009. The figure must have increased substantially in the last two years.

Of course, one outcome of this suffocating business environment is the current troubled state of the textile industry. Although government says its aspiration for the sector is to revive its job creation potential, with a target of 60,000 new jobs, and an increase in the share of the domestic market from the present low position of 12 percent, to 25 percent in 2020, we advise that the first step should be to put an action plan that will revive economy, which will then dovetail to the textile industry and its entire value chain. In this regard, stable power supply and other infrastructure must be guaranteed.

To succeed, government must get the fundamentals right. Any revival plan for the comatose textile industry should also factor in areas that Nigeria has comparative advantage for domestic utilization, while stakeholders in the sub-sector should be encouraged with incentives to support and expand their businesses.

Government needs to realize that there is currently a global recognition of the textile industry as a vital catalyst for economic growth, and less emphasis on oil as the main revenue earner for the country. It is also necessary to fine-tune the new import policy with priority attention to boost local textile and check the present decline in capacity utilization with its attendant shutdowns and lay-offs.

It is one thing to formulate good policies, and another thing entirely to see to their actualization. Policy inconsistency remains the bane of government economic plan, including policies specifically meant for the textile sub-sector.

Any country that fails to protect its local industries is killing its economy softly. Clearly, trade liberalisation has made the textile industry unable to compete successfully. Therefore, a deliberate policy that will address all the weak linkages in the industry is crucial.

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