The slogan for Nigeria’s development ought to be in the words of Booker T. Washington in 1895, at the Atlanta Cotton States and International Convention, during which he called on Blacks to “Cast down your bucket where you are.” It was the story of a ship lost at sea that sent passionate pleas to a friendly ship at a distance to send water. The friendly ship knew where the lost ship was and that fresh water was everywhere around it, so he ordered the captain of the lost ship to cast his bucket where they were. The captain of the lost ship cast his bucket where he was and lo and behold, there was fresh water for everybody.
Life for Nigerians is very challenging in 2017, perhaps worse than it ever was since independence. Those of us who lived in Biafra even think that Biafra was much better. It is probably not so but the idea that we were at war and that the war would end soon made adapting to prevailing conditions tolerable. Nigeria is not really at war in the same vein as 1966-1970.
Current Nigerian governments and enterprises are going about development in the wrong way. They think big when they should be thinking small. They think about large airports, and best hospitals, and fancy hotels and mega industries like iron and steel. They think of skyscrapers and dual carriage ways and modern railroads, and car manufacturing. All this are “good-to-have ideas”. But they are difficult to implement.
They are difficult to carry out because of technological obstacles and foreign exchange. To build most of these projects foreign nationals will be involved and the cost of their services is not cheap. Nigerian employees may be denied knowledge of how to continue after the initial construction because of the fear of technology transfer and impending patents. The country does not have sufficient foreign exchange.
The above makes it essential that Nigeria casts her buckets where they are.
Take food for an example. Nigeria imports rice, a stable food item that Nigeria has been producing from time immemorial. How did we get to importing rice in the first place? I do not know but if Nigeria were to stop importing rice and if our governments and entrepreneurs were to invest in the production, preservation, and storage of rice, Nigeria would be self-sufficient in a mere five years. Nothing needs to be imported; from the agricultural tools, the building of storage places and other things. Maybe trucks could be imported for distribution but that would be all.
In many hotel bars, and in “high society” events hard liquor (whiskey, gin, bourbon, rum, etc.) are served. They were purchased at high prices from abroad. When the white man came to Nigeria they told our people that our home-made gins, (akamere, ekpeteshi, oologoro) were contraband and banned them. I have tasted this local brew and tested the imported stuff and cannot tell much difference. Imagine how many jobs would be created if we allow our Warri and Ikwerre brethren to make these gins legally and establish mechanism for quality control and fancy labelling. Ikwerre Dry or Warri Scotch will have no apologies to offer for the European and American Kentucky Bourbon.
Why are we not making bicycles? I doubt that there are any patents on the production of bicycles. A modest investment in the manufacture of bicycles will ease a good deal of our transportation difficulties. In the 50’s and 60’s China made bicycles before graduating to automobile manufacturing. I can remember when Honda the giant automobile manufacturer, made only motor cycles. Why is Nigeria not making these “simple products”? A bicycle plant at Achi, in Oji-River would provide ample jobs to the youth of the area. It will take a very modest capital investment.
And talking about Oji-River, the best pottery makers (china, dishes and plates) in the world are natives of Achi and Inyi. A N5 million investment in pottery in Inyi where pottery clay is easily available would create wonders. Egwusi soup served in oku-Inyi tastes much better. With proper marketing these plates would quickly displace the imported brands.
How about chocolates? Western Nigeria was once the cocoa capital of the world of cocoa production. Nigeria sold the raw material and imported chocolate drinks and snacks. Hershey is multi-billion-dollar corporation. Why is a cocoa factory in Ibadan or Ado Ekiti a bad idea?
Former President Obasanjo upon receiving some shoes made in Aba proclaimed them as good as anything made in Italy or elsewhere. He should know. Why are Aba shoe makers not supplying Nigeria defense forces and police foot wears? The leather from the north and the technology on the ground in Aba could easily create 50,000 high paying jobs overnight.
There are possibly a million other goods and services that could be made from Nigeria’s raw materials and Nigerian technologies and with a minimum of foreign development assistance. And without the need to beg for technology transfers. These intermediate industries would serve as the breeding grounds for managers, accountants, sales force, etc. that would take over once Nigeria graduates to automobile, aircraft, jet, etc., production.
“Cast your buckets where you are” is not a bad advice.
Benjamin Obiajulu Aduba
February 9, 2017