Do We Ever Learn? by Henry Agbonika

Do We Ever Learn? by Henry Agbonika

In the last two months I have visited two of Northern Nigeria’s oldest investments: Arewa Textiles PLC established in 1965 and the Bauchi Integrated Meat Company established in 1964. Arewa Textiles is dear to my heart as I had the opportunity of working in one of its factories in the early nineties. It was a platform of some sort for me. Before going into the details of my visit, I would digress a little in history as captured by Ampiah K., 1997.

Due to the huge balance of payment in favour of Japan, and as a result of the competitiveness of Japanese textiles in relation to local textiles, the Government of Nigeria(GoN) in 1965 invoked article 35 of the GATT proceedings against Japan. Two years earlier, in December of 1963 to be specific, the administration of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa had conveyed to the Government of Japan through its ambassador to Nigeria ” that if his country could not manage to purchase more of Nigeria’s export, a total embargo might be placed on Japanese goods.”
Ampiah states that the level of diatribe against Japan over the question of lopsided trade relationship was phenomenal leading Japan to set up investments in Nigeria without expanding its import from home. in 1975, the GoN found it necessary to withdraw the invocation of article 35 of the GATT proceedings against Japan in recognition of the efforts mAde by the Japanese government towards improving trade relations with Nigeria.
Arewa Textiles PLC along with two other textile companies were the products of muscle flexing by the then GoN. Arewa represented major Japanese investment in Nigeria, undertaken to protect the overseas market of a consortium of ten leading Japanese Spinning firms who had 44% of the equity. The local investor had 40%, while some other foreign firms held the rest. Within five years of operation, the company embarked on two phases of expansion totaling £3.5 Million. To cut the long story short, by the nineties, we were close to 3,000 men working in the factories of this great company.

Fast forward to May 18, 2015. In the factories of Arewa Textiles PLC, I was greeted by an intimidating presence of darkness and as revealed by the flash light of my camera, debris. The factory set up in 1965 had disappeared. It had been stripped of everything valuable. What ever happened to the total investment in this factory which I conservatively put at over £150 Million? Where are the over 3000 men who I once shared destiny with? Couldn’t find Mama Ene and her community of informal traders who made sure the “Masaka” worker never worked on empty stomach with or without money. There used to be a huge service industry made up of informal and formal businesses supporting the textile companies. What ever happened to them?

In its glory days, the Nigeria textile industry was responsible for over 60% of textile activities in West Africa. It had hundreds of thousands of Nigerians in employment and supported over a million families across Nigeria’s six geopolitical regions.
In that darkness, I was transfixed.

Can Arewa Textiles be revived? NO, NO, NO. Better to build a new textile factory from the scratch.
Before we rush to build or attempt reviving, let us go back to history and learn a few things. How was the government of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa able to compel the Japanese into investing heavily not just in our textile industry, but in other intermediary sectors? It is not common sense to say, we can bring back the glory days of manufacturing, when attempts by successive governments since 1999 have all failed. It is common sense to look at lessons learnt and undertake some after action reviews with the view to charting a way forward.

Henry is a development expert from Abuja

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