By Abdulyassar Abdulhamid
This week I have taken the trouble of digging deeper in search of an answer to what seems a philosophical question of why industries in the north are dying, with a special attention paid to those industries that folded up with the demise of the pioneer industrialists.
The decision was first informed by the decline of a number of industries in the region, amidst terrible economic challenges facing it and the country as a whole.
In the 1980s, Kano and Kaduna States, for instance, used to be a haven of textile industries in the country. The textile industries that dotted the states offered employment opportunities to more than 50,000 workers. Then the industry was the second largest employer of labour and the economic mainstay of the region.
According to statistics by the Federal Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry, as cited by many findings, textile industries used to generate an average of $2 billion yearly when the business was at its peak. But unfortunately between 1980 and 2016, for instance, more than 145 textile industries in the north folded up due to harsh economic situation, among other reasons.
Similarly, there were many attempts in the past especially by the late Umaru ‘Yar Adua administration to bail out the nose-diving textile industries in the country and humongous amount of money was earmarked for the purpose. Yet the problem persists.
In order to fact-check the assertions made on the pitying condition some industries in northern Nigeria are in, on Monday I toured Bompai, among motley of other areas, the supposedly melting pot of industries in Kano State. Many of the folded up industries have become parking spaces for heavy duty vehicles, dog kennels, dens of criminals or refuse dumping ground of some sort – taken over by reptiles of all kinds.
As the fact-checking intensified, something like a rivet caught my attention. It was a household name that dominated most of the discussions on textile industries not only in northern Nigeria, but also in the whole West Africa sub-region.
As I approached it, the maroon gate was ajar. The weathered walls were lifeless. I could see three men chit-chatting in front of a residue of the textile industry perhaps to kill the time. As I drew nearer, the overgrown grasses that sprouted throughout the building sandwich the various departments that make up the factory.
But for the humming sound of birds and revving of machines in a neighbouring company, the deafening silence was killing. One needs the aid of medical grasses to read the fading inscription on the gigantic gate that spells out the name of the company. It is the remnants of the famous Gaskiya Textile Factory.
To quench my curiosity I desperately search for an ex-worker of the industry, precisely someone who had risen to an important position in the factory.
Lucky of me! An admin staff of the defunct Gaskiya Textile Factory, who sought for anonymity, took me into the memory lane of the glorious days of the factory. He said:
“In Kano alone there were about 150 functioning textile industries; but unfortunately now only three are in full operation. The rest had given up the ghost. You can imagine the bitter economic setback for the region.
“Among all the textile industries in Kano, Gaskiya Textile Factory stood out for only one reason. It was probably the only textile industry that consumed cotton to produce finished textile materials. It converted fibre into yarn, yarn into fabric, dyed, printed and then fabricated into clothes.
“The industry had the capacity of 5000 workers. Before it wounded up in 2005 for some reasons, it had over 3500 workers,” he said.
Most of the factories I toured are either in bad shape or have been disfigured by negligence. Their roofs were torn off by the wind and the walls drenched by the rain for year, with some parts falling off. Why?
Below is an interview with a seasoned ‘worker’, Kabiru Abdullahi Achidamu, on why industries die in the north with a special attention paid to factories that folded up with the demise of the pioneer industrialists.
Achidamu is clocking his uninterrupted 27th year as a factory worker; and is one of the administrative members of a company (name withheld for diplomatic reasons) in Kano State.
May you tell us of yourself?
I am a factory worker with an uninterrupted 27 years of experience. I have risen to an important position in the factory I am working with.
Industries in the north have been folding up. Why?
Well, it is true industries have been folding up in the north, with many attendant consequences on our economy and population. Those who are familiar with industry processes will tell you that the economic hardship Nigerians, especially the north, are in is largely caused by the collapse of industries. But this is for some reasons.
One, the never-ending inadequate power supply is one of the main culprits that lead to the decline of our industries. Some people may tell you yet the industries do survive in the South. Yes, they do. By many means the south has some advantages compared to the north by virtue of its being closer to the port.
Production using diesel is very costly. For this, many industries have to throw in the towel. Those who survive the challenges are either able to set up their own power plant to ensure reliable and flexible power supply or diversify.
Not only factories owned by northerners, even those owned by expats had to relocate because they cannot cope with the harsh conditions. Our factory, although owned by an expat had to diversify, otherwise it would have sunk in.
Two, trade liberalization is indirectly related to the first cause above. Nigeria in the 80s could boast of established industries; but competition from superior and cheaper imported materials led to their collapse.
For instance, if the cost of production of a finished textile product is N600, similar product from China will pour into the country at a lower price, say N400 and Nigerians have appetite for imported products however of lower quality.
Third, when you speak of industries collapsing with the demise of pioneer industrialist, you are talking of how poor organizational management and unaccountability impinge on our industries.
Bad management leads to decrease in profit. If the management fails to supervise its personnel properly and balance the factory budget, the business inevitably fails.
In addition to this, inter-family feud upon the demise of the pioneer industrialist also plays a role. This is what led to the collapse of one important textile industry in Kano that I don’t have to mention its name.
What are the solutions?
We have to understand that successive administrations have made some attempts to rescue the collapsing sector. The National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) document paid a special attention to the revival of private enterprises. The ‘Yar Adua administration earmarked over N100 billion to bail out the sector and this administration must definitely be doing something about it.
Then where is the gap? All the above must be followed up with a genuine political will. Huge investment in infrastructures, especially electricity, must be ensured. Reforming the power sector will significantly reduce the cost of production thereby improving competiveness.
However, importation of some non-essential foreign goods must be stamped out completely or regulated. Simply put, this means that our borders must be closed to encourage domestic production. But before then the needed infrastructures must be put in place.
Last but not the least, a high level of good management and accountability should be entrenched in the northern industries. It should no longer be a business as usual where people run their industries as though they were market stalls.
Abdulhamid wrote via firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Sky Daily