Government should return the ban on the importation of textile products

The Federal Government last week lifted the ban on the importation of textile materials into the country in a move that exposes our textile industry, which is currently in a severely weakened state to existential danger. The textile industry has been in very bad shape for years and exposing it to ruthless competition from cheaper but lower quality Chinese-made African prints puts the industry in a very dangerous situation. In fact, this move if not reversed, can snuff life out of our local textile industry.

In the 1960s, the Nigerian textile industry was one of the most vibrant in Nigeria. It was one of the biggest employers of labour, arguably bested only by the agricultural sector. Traders from other African countries came down to Nigeria to purchase and export our African prints popularly known as Ankara. We had a plethora of textile mills churning out textiles in different parts of the country.

Presently, eighty percent of those mills no longer exist, and this is in large part due to Chinese manufacturers who now emblazon Nigerian designs on cheap Chinese-made fabrics to lure Nigerian traders and customers. Some unscrupulous Chinese entrepreneurs even go to the extent of putting Made-in-Nigeria tags on their products, all in a bid to get around the hitherto existing ban.

This is what the Nigerian textile industry has been groaning under. Now that the ban on imports has been lifted, the competition is expected to become even fiercer, and if Nigeria is to recover its textile industry, what it needs now is more protection, not more vicious competition.

The last time textile imports were unbanned in 1997, within months; foreign fabrics flooded the markets in the country. By 2002, as a result of that deluge, more than 60 textile companies had closed up, with nearly 100,000 workers losing their jobs. Just before the lifting of the ban in 1996, the industry could boast of 136,000 workers.

By the time the government returned the ban on the importation of printed fabrics in 2002, importers had devised Machiavellian means of smuggling their materials into the country.

Today, Nigerian companies producing African prints are not up to five and there are less than 20,000 workers left in the industry, and most of the “Made-in-Nigeria” Ankara prints in our markets are actually cheap but substandard foreign products that have been smuggled into the country.

Having realized its mistake, the Federal Government in 2009 instituted a N100 billion fund, the Cotton, Textile and Garment Intervention Fund, to help revive the companies that had closed down.

But just as the ailing sector struggles to find its feet, the Federal Government has once again relaxed the ban on the importation of all textile materials, opening the doors to stronger foreign textile companies to pressurize the industry more directly.

Industry experts predict a new deluge of Chinese fabrics in the next few months with potentially catastrophic implications for our local industry. We call on the Federal Government to return the ban so as to save the country from a new destructive flood in its textile industry. The Federal Government should also go further by making it a policy that all Federal uniform-wearing agencies patronize locally made textile products as a way of creating a bigger market for the local industry.

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