The death of Nigeria’s textile industry

Nigerians love naturally dyed fabrics especially those with patterns and designs with many prints based on traditional motifs.

In the northern part of the country, it is common for the fabrics to be in single colour, such as indigo while across the southern section, bright colours and patterns are popular.

In some parts of Nigeria, special garments are made from strips of woven clothes, known as ‘aso-oke’ among the Yorubas, where weavers are often commissioned to make special patterns for certain families or for special occasions.

Before the 1990’s, Kaduna and Kano States were the haven of textile producers in the north. Kaduna, at the time, could boast of about eight textile mills that employed over 10,000 workers. The mills mostly located at the Kakuri Industrial Layout in Kaduna South Local Government Area were pacesetters, as allied industries sprang up with as much as 20,000 auxiliary workers.

After the neglect of the popular groundnut pyramids in Kano, the textile industry was the next economic mainstay of the state and the second largest employer of labour in the country. Farmers were encouraged to produce more cotton as they had ready buyers who in turn sold the produce to the textile manufacturing mills. This led to Nigeria becoming the major supplier of good quality wax-resistant textiles popularly called Ankara to the world.

However, since the early 2000s, cheap imitations of these products have been finding their ways from China into Nigeria and other West African countries. The unscrupulous Chinese manufacturers with their equally crooked Nigerian collaborators go as far as labeling their cheap exports Made-in-Nigeria.

Considering its importance to the economy, it is disturbing that the Federal and State Governments in Nigeria watched helplessly as the textile industry’s fortune nosedived, moving from its boom years to the present moribund state.

Figures from the Federal Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry shows that the textile industry used to generate an average of $2 billion annually across the value chain in its boom years. For instance, in the 1980s, there were no fewer than 175 textile factories employing about 600,000 workers in the country. Notable among the thriving textile companies were the Aba Textile Mills, Afprint, Arewa Textile Mills, Gaskiya Textile Factory and other textile factories in Kano, Kaduna, Zamfara and other parts of the country.

In 2009, the Federal Government under late President Umaru Yar’Adua announced that it had earmarked N100 billion to bail out the ailing textile industry, but the fact remains that the problem is not only that of funds. There is also the problem of the absence of reliable public infrastructure. Again, the black oil, known as LFPO, which is the main product needed to drive operations in the industry is not readily available and whenever it is, the price is scandalously high.

There are also indications that the intervention fund may have been misapplied or misappropriated. Stakeholders unanimously agree that the special intervention funds have made little or no impact on the sector.

As good as the intention of the presidential intervention funds may have been, there are a lot of bottlenecks that need to be addressed if the gates of the 35 remaining textile factories across the country are to reopen for production. These include poor electricity supply, obsolete equipment, unskilled labour and high cost of borrowing. The issue of porous borders and corrupt security operatives posted to man the various entry points into the country are also critical to reviving and sustaining the textile industry.

If the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is truly desirous of addressing the high rate of unemployment in the country, it must begin to earnestly address these problems.

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