How to create jobs from ceramics manufacturing

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One of the areas where there is a crying need for the change that Nigerians voted for is in the manufacturing sector. Each time the diversification of the economy is mentioned, people readily mention agriculture and mining but primary production alone is not what will bring the kind of economic leverage the nation needs now.

Increased agricultural production – whether arable cropping, forestry or livestock rearing can impact the Gross Domestic Product more where there is a manufacturing sector to absorb their products and further process them for higher returns.

The same goes for the mining industry; sale of mineral ores alone would not give the economy the quality of complement it requires now to wean itself from its current monolithic profile. The real competitive advantage comes through value-addition and that is where manufacturing also comes in.

State governments routinely lower their caps every month before a Federal Government that has no real source of sustenance, apart from crude oil. The crude oil is sold as crude and imported as refined fuel, which Nigerians scramble to distribute – with subsidy; while the banks round-trip the accruals; creating a huge percentage of hungry, unreached, unemployed people. If the gap between oil extraction and distribution of fuels and other petroleum products is bridged internally through manufacturing, a significant percentage of the unemployed would be mopped off the streets, productively engaged to generate valid wealth.

The benefits of value added venturing have been ignored for too long to the harm of the economy. The government can only absorb so many in the civil service. It is the real sector that engages unemployed persons to generate wealth.

A 2012 Central Bank of Nigeria figure revealed that the manufacturing sector contributed only a little over seven per cent to the nation’s GDP whereas in the economies of the industrialised nations, varied manufacturing activities account for close to 50 per cent of the GDP.

Mining, our best alternative to crude oil in terms of employment generation, import substitution, foreign exchange earnings and so on, presently contributes less than three per cent.

The nation is still burdened by the skewed economy created by her colonial past. The colonialists; who understandably owed and lent their primary loyalty to their homeland, Britain, crafted an import-dependent protocol that the nation must now work hard to reconstruct. The steel threads they built as railways were not meant for our development but basically for the haulage of raw commodities from the hinterlands to the coastal areas from where they could be shipped overseas. Today’s economy must now strengthen a manufacturing and processing sector that would provide finished goods for local consumption and for export.

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The recent award of 65 licenses to would-be manufacturers of refined crude oil products is a leap in the direction of progress because it represents a new determination to add value to our oil resources. The same is possible for our non-oil resources. Using the words of a former President of the Nigerian Mining and Geosciences Society, Dr. Marie-Stella Sonuga, at a 2009 NMGS Conference, “We should wake up to the fact that there is nothing like ‘technology transfer’. We should endeavour to acquire knowledge, steal technology if we must, and adapt this to our conditions.

“There is need for NMGS, COMEG and the financial sector to work hand in hand for meaningful mineral industrialisation, instead of waiting indefinitely for foreign investors. It would also be useful if the body of professionals could show confidence in the sector by investing in it. NMGS members could use our connections with the Ministry of Mines and Steel to obtain loans from organisations such as the Africa Development Bank, International Finance Corporation etc. COMEG could serve as a clearing house for any mining project to be embarked upon by indigenous entrepreneurs. This will give confidence to any financial institution as to the viability of such projects”.

One area of manufacturing that can readily benefit Nigeria’s GDP is the revival of its ceramics plants across the country. Ceramics products include tableware such as plates, mugs (some of which we call China yet we can manufacture them locally), ornamental ware like flower vases, decorative porcelains; sanitary ware {water cistern units, wash hand basins, bathtubs), floor and wall tiles, etc. It is projected that the global ceramics market would reach $408bn by 2018 and Nigeria can corner a significant share of that market.

Locally, the demand is also very high as the country currently spends about N5bn annually importing ceramic products. Nearly 100 per cent of required raw materials for ceramics production can be sourced locally.

Ironically, most of the old factories across the country were shutting down when the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja was under construction in the 1980s and 1990s. It is instructive that the nation spent billions of dollars on imported sanitary ware for the development of Abuja while local ceramics industries set up to produce those wares were shutting down.

States can learn from the Kano State government that have over the years, trained youths in the utilisation of local resources like kaolin for paint production and in the processing of gemstones.

The Federal Government, development partners, venture capitalists and willing entrepreneurs can revisit the ceramics subsector to create new jobs.

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