First, a weak currency is a questionable basis for pursuing Import-Substitution-Industrialization (aka ‘buy naija’) policies, just because ISI requires long-term commitment, and who knows? Oil prices and the Naira may improve in 3 years. Then what?
Two, ISI does not necessarily lead to a lower import bill because products have a value chain, and producing in-country begs the question – what part of the value chain are you planning to domesticate? It’s hardly ever the whole thing. Most times, we’re fixed on the end product. So, ISI often means we stop importing cars from Belgium and start importing, from the same Belgium, everything we need to assemble cars in Naija. Honestly, what difference does that really make?
Three, ISI usually goes hand in hand with import controls and trade barriers, which are used to artificially raise the prices of foreign imports so as to give locally produced goods (typically lower in quality and, paradoxically, higher in price) an edge in the market. But trade barriers come with a whole host of problems – running into trouble with WTO rules, throwing regional integration in reverse, encouraging smuggling over porous borders and, most damaging of all, insulating local producers from the only real incentive there is to innovate and get better, namely, competition.
Honestly, no magic bullets here. For Trade – and that includes Import Trade – creates as many jobs for our people as Factories do (as my brothers in Ochanja market know very well). And, conversely, ‘buy Naija’ can consume as much forex as buying the stuff abroad and shipping it in (as the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria can testify to today). Point? Development can be a tricky concept to get one’s head round.
Yes. And if you are not careful, you will already have been conditioned into thinking that it (Development) is simply the path already taken by Others; meaning you don’t have to think, just copy. So, repeat after the Teacher, “as ‘1 plus 1 is 2’ so Importation is Bad and Industrialization is Good”. In truth, it depends. In truth, Development is not an object, whether locally produced or imported, but a capacity; THE capacity to figure out the right turning at every junction you come to. They don’t teach this in any Economics class, I tell you, but Development is really a mind thing.
So, will ‘buy Naija’ work? Not simply because it is the ‘right’ policy, no. In fact, at this junction we are standing at right now – with our grossly inadequate Public Infrastructure and Banks which, no matter how much liquidity you inject into them, refuse to lend at accessible rates to the real economy – ‘buy Naija’ will first destroy a lot of the jobs ‘buying abroad’ has already created without adequately replacing them, in the short to medium term at least.
Yes. So, let us stop acting as if our country will be launched into ‘Developed Nation’ category the day after we start manufacturing our own toothpicks. What? There will be hell to pay first. And, tell me, would it be worth all that ‘structural adjustment’ trouble if all it achieves is to change Emeka from ‘importer of shoes from Italy’ to ‘importer of shoe assembly machines from Italy’? Eh? For, unless the ability to THINK – creatively and independently – is included in whatever part of the value chain we decide to domesticate with this our campaign, I tell you, ‘buy naija’ will only ever be a Nigerian hastag that once trended on an American social media platform. True.