Soludo’s campaign and the made-in-Nigeria prospect

Soludo’s campaign and the made-in-Nigeria prospect

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It is no longer news that Charles Soludo, erstwhile governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, and erstwhile member of President Buhari’s Economic Advisory Council, is now the governor of Anambra State. This is no longer news because becoming the governor of any state in Nigeria does not tell any democratic story in the political experience of Nigerians. Almost all Nigerians are familiar with the regular narratives of electioneering campaigns and the sordid practices that characterise winning or losing electoral offices. Once a person wins an election, like Soludo did with the Anambra governorship position, Nigerians watch to see whether the person will succeed or fail. In most cases, the Nigerian public justifiably expects failure as success narratives belong more to the fictional imaginative genre in our clime. However, once the elected official begins to do the unusual, either in positive or negative terms, that is where the news resides. Governor Charles Soludo comes with a credential that is uncommon amongst the new generation politicians or the acclaimed in Nigeria of today, with the size of the pocket or the charisma of the godfather sponsoring as diviners of eligibility. His credentials place a burden of responsibility on his aspiration to govern and transform Anambra State.

Usually, politicians make a series of campaign promises and pledges which they begin to flout on assumption of office. In his inaugural address, Governor Soludo made reference to what he calls “pan-African market progressivism,” an ideology that combines market competitiveness with social democratic values. This ideology would be the foundation of a “people-centered governance.” A fundamental tenet of that “people-centered governance” is the patronage of local goods and products. According to him, “if you can produce it in Anambra, I will be your chief marketing officer, provided that your standard meets the “Anambra standard”—which is excellence. The Anambra State Government will only patronise Made-in-Anambra products and services unless such goods or services are not currently made in Anambra, then made in Nigeria, Africa, etc., in that sequence.’’

And so, apart from his akwete dress, Soludo picked an Innoson vehicle that brought him into the Government House. The coming years will provide the proper framework within which to assess the performance of Soludo and the “Soludo Solution” for Anambra State. But for now, we have the visible actions of a governor who is determined to make a critical statement that speaks to the ideological possibility of making governance works in ways that tangibly affects the people.

The “Made-in-Nigeria” narrative is a fundamental part of the good governance initiative in Nigeria. In recent news, the Federal Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation reported a massive N5.03trn saved by Nigeria from import reduction. This was made possible by paying a significant amount of attention to local products, like technologies for local start-ups, indigenous medical remedies for local hospitals, and local agro-raw materials for the agricultural sector. However, this piece of good news does not derive from a firm policy base that would have made such a strategy the foundation of a bigger news concerning Nigeria’s productivity profile. The reason is that there is still a stark disconnect between Nigeria’s productive capacities and her dependence on foreign products through an extraverted consumptive pattern. One example suffices: while Soludo opted to patronise a local manufacturer of vehicles, Nigeria’s lawmakers decided on a foreign manufacturer. This preference pervades almost every sector, from health to sports. Nigeria depends on others to produce what her citizens consume. Though Nigeria is the 11th largest oil-producing state in the world, its finished crude oil products are imported from other states. Thus, Nigeria’s global comparative advantages in agriculture, mineral production, automotive industry, oil and gas, textiles, petrochemicals, and many others have not translated into any productivity advantage.

On the contrary, Nigeria’s monocultural economy is driven by what has been called a negative production dynamic. This implies that Nigeria’s productive capacity is so weak that the country imports what it has the capacity to produce to feed its growing consumptive patterns. This counterintuitive economic dynamic is further aggravated by several others. Nigeria’s mounting debt profile—now at N38trn as at the third quarter of 2021—is fast tracking the country’s economy to the edge of the precipice. This is more so when Nigeria’s oil revenue has been steadily dwindling due to the fate of crude oil in the global market. This fiscal gloom is not limited to the oil sector. The cost of doing business in Nigeria is alarming. And Nigeria’s excruciating cost of governance is fueled not only by our culture of waste and redundancies, but also by the underlying prebendal and clientele orientation that undermine meritocracy in jumpstarting the capacity readiness of the country to make things work for governance and development.

While Nigeria is celebrating the huge amount of revenue earned from import reduction, that advantage is almost stifled by several news reports about structural bottlenecks that inflate the cost of doing business, encourage import dynamics, and strangulate local enterprises and initiatives. Without any domestic value addition, and no governance ideology to guide policy initiatives, Nigeria essentially remains a consumerist economy that imports everything from refined oil and generators to toothpicks and toothbrushes. The neoliberal capitalist ideology that underpins the Washington Consensus, the policy initiative which Nigeria subscribes to, ensures that Nigeria is left at the mercy of global economic flows and ebbs, exchange imbalance and price shocks. And more importantly, under this neoliberal ideology, Nigeria’s national development planning is stifled by the burdens of governance conditionalities.

This is a dismal economic and governance context within which to situate Soludo’s attempt at refocusing Nigeria’s economic diversification imperative. Is there something to learn from this strategy of a tested economist with a solid track record of banking consolidation reform, and a serious experience with national development planning? What sense of culture change is he communicating with his promotion of the local content slogan of “Made-in- Anambra,” backed by an already significant action that patronises local fabric, cuisine and vehicles?

Given the persona of Soludo that he has cultivated since he began his career as an economist, till he became the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, it becomes a bit difficult to think his “Made-in-Anambra” strategic brand communication is a mere political ruse. With his current action, two significant issues coalesce into a direct message that speaks to the Nigerian project: it is only the considered action of a focused leader that can take Nigeria out of the grip of the death-grip fixation with a monocultural economy. Soludo’s branding of “Made-in-Anambra” resonates firmly with Nigeria’s need for economic diversification away from a pigheaded dependence on oil to the opening up of the economy so that local enterprises can flourish. To drive home the significance of this point, the theme of the Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria’s 50th anniversary is “Building a Resilient and Competitive Manufacturing Economy.” Such competitiveness is founded on the imperative of supporting local content, as Soludo is determined to do.

The local content imperative has the significant function of restructuring the production and consumption frameworks and patterns of the Nigerian economy. This inevitably shifts attention away from crude oil to viable and sustainable non-oil sectors, from oil and gas and agriculture, to manufacturing and Nollywood. This diversification of Nigeria’s economic base makes it possible for Nigeria not only to refocus on her comparative advantages, but also more importantly to turn these advantages into a competitive edge. For instance, with his “Made-in-Anambra” campaign, Soludo has thrown the challenge that ought to stimulate a sub-national competition around innovative local content. A similar campaign from other states could facilitate a serious discourse around the Local Content Act in ways that will stimulate the Federal Government to reconfigure its policies on small and medium scale enterprises and businesses.

In the final analysis, developing local content and the instigation of economic diversification points attention at the capacity of a state to become developmental. A developmental state is one that is able to harness its critical human capital in fashioning national development planning that will transform the policy architecture in ways that positively affect the citizens. When a state adopts an ideological orientation of self-reliance, the way Soludo has done, it is a signal that such a state is intent on looking inward for the critical elements that will drive its productivity profile. In Anambra State, and if this campaign can be kept alive, one can only imagine the ripple effect of Soludo’s Solution on the manufacturing of, say akwete cloth, on youth unemployment, and on the development of small and medium scale enterprises. Further imagine that many governors attach themselves to this campaign. The “Made-in-Nigeria” project is not only thereby consolidated, the economic diversification project becomes a significant possibility.

Soludo is on to something fundamental for reassessing the Nigerian project, and the conditions for its possibility. All things being equal, we can only hope for success.

  • Prof. Olaopa is of the NIPSS, Kuru, Jos, Plateau State

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