By Austine Asadu
Before independence and the subsequent upsurge in oil exploration and production, Nigeria was the envy of most countries in the African region and even in the global arena as the country was a major exporter of agricultural produces, with the Northern Region producing groundnuts and kolanuts, the Western Region also weighing in with an equal tonnage of cocoa while the Eastern Region exported palm produce to markets such as Asia and Latin America.
Indeed the mainstay of the nation’s economy at that momentous period was agriculture and the different regions vied with each other to double and even triple their annual farm output in order to earn much needed foreign exchange for the development of their health, educational, road, water, power, industrial and other physical infrastructure.
And with the increase in agricultural output came massive development, thus the Western Cocoa House, the Ahmadu Bello University, the Nkalagu Cement Factory amongst other physical infrastructural exploits were as a result of the export driven economic activities that characterized the respective regions of the country.
However,following the oil boom, the country’s agriculture driven export base was seriously eroded as the nation’s policy makers diverted their attention to the proceeds of oil as the basis for development and fast track economic growth, while policies favouring agriculture was driven to the back burner and ever since the country has never recovered from being a laggard and persistent under performer in this crucial sphere of the nation’s economy.
Alas it is not all policy makers or administrators that are comfortable with the nation’s present status as a mono-product economy relying mainly on oil for its foreign exchange earnings. Indeed at the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), a reflective Mr Olusegun Awolowo, the Executive Director/CEO is determined to take the bull by the horns in order to reverse the ugly trend by making the country a major exporting nation in tandem with its enviable pre-independence status.
However unlike many other chief executives that crash into administrative leadership,only to unceremoniously crash land later, Mr Awolowo is cut from an entirely different cloth as he asks questions before unleashing a volley of accurately aimed policies and programs all aimed at taking the export promoting and advancing dynamics of the nation to the next level. Indeed together with his trusted and highly motivated team Awolowo burned the midnight oil, deliberating and brainstorming on a series of proposals, platforms and blueprints all designed to turn the country into an export power house along the lines of the famed Asian Tigers and the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) industrial giants.
Some of the creative policies put in place by Mr Awolowo to energize the exportation dynamics of the nation as part of the Zero Oil plan initiative that targets 40-50% non-oil exports includes the National Strategic Export Products (NSEPs), the One State One Product (OSOP), the Nigerian Diaspora Export Programme (NDEX) initiatives.
NSEP targets the promotion of certain export products that can replace oil exports and ensure that lost national revenue is recouped within a reasonable period of time. These products are being promoted for increased exports as they are seen as viable and can be marketed in sufficient commercial quantities. They are divided into 3 areas, Agro Industrial (palm oil, cocoa, cashew, sugar and rice), Mining Related Products (Cement, Iron ore/metals, Auto parts/cars/Aluminum and Oil and Gas Products (Petroleum products, Fertilizer/Urea, Petrochemical and Methanol). The foregoing 13 NSEPs have witnessed increased export promotion drives by NEPC in order to meet the required targets that can replace crude oil export earnings to a sufficient degree.
On the other hand, the One-State-One-Product (OSOP) initiative requires individual states to target at least one strategic export product that each has comparative edge or advantage over the other states for instance, Ondo State could be said to have an edge over others in terms of cocoa production. Therefore those states could increase their investment or production of that product and the aggregate effect is that exports would rise exponentially and be evenly spread throughout the federation.
Also states can engage in the exportation of more than one product if the comparative advantage exists in other export products.
The NDEX programme takes advantage of Nigeria’s large diaspora population abroad which can serve as a ready made market for Nigerian goods and services and it has the following components; Nigerian Heritage City (HCC), a business and cultural enclave that can highlight the nation’s positive social and cultural values thus encouraging others to patronize Nigerian goods and services; Nigerian Cuisine Beyond Borders (NCBB), another aspect of NDEX showcases world class and internationally accepted Nigerian cuisine at restaurants situated in key commercial and business centres worldwide.
It is also a mandate of NEPC to encourage investments by Nigerians in the diaspora that can boost exportation of goods and services for instance, Nigerian fashion industries abroad would require the exportation of Nigerian textile and leather products to serve as raw materials for the fashion houses in the diaspora. And the response to these initiatives has been quite encouraging and salutary for instance the Nigerian Heritage City (HCC) and Nigerian Cuisine Beyond Borders (NCBB) programs has had a marked degree of success as the demand for related goods and services is very high and evenly spread. On the other hand, there is a need to increase the quality of the goods exported in terms of labeling, packaging and SPS related issues. Also rather than just exporting the goods in their raw state, it is necessary to add more value to them before export as this would increase the price and marketability of the commodity.
In collaboration with the relevant export regulatory authorities, the NEPC has been able to reduce at lot of the administrative bottlenecks and stifling tariff regimes that has militated against smooth and seamless exportation of Nigerian goods and services. The NEPC under Mr Olusegun Awolowo’s deft guidance has seen a lot of in-house bureaucratic hurdles dismantled. With the way policies, issues, programs and ideas are positively unfolding in the new NEPC under Mr Awolowo’s able leadership, it seems only a matter of time before Nigeria reclaims its past glory as the exporting hub of the West African sub-region and indeed African region. Without doubt glory days are gradually setting in again.