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Consolidating made-in-Aba initiative

It all started like a dream. Former Deputy Governor of Abia State, whom you can appropriately refer to as an “Aba Boy”, took off with the annual made-in-Aba Trade Fair organised in Abuja as soon as he became a Senator representing Abia South. His vision was to showcase the ingenuity of the Aba manufacturer to Nigerians in Abuja and even foreigners that throng the city.

The programme, which started as a Constituency Project of the Senator, was domiciled within the budget of the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency (SMEDAN). Each year, Senator Abaribe’s constituents from Abia including leather manufacturers, fashion designers, footwear makers, bead makers and traditional wear designers would pack their wears and land in Abuja for the week long Trade Fair. The venue initially was the This Day Dome in the central area of Abuja. Later it got shifted to the Investment Park, besides AGIS office in Area 11.

The 2016 version received more official interest with a high-powered delegation of the Senate. Senate President Bukola Saraki, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce and Dino Melaye participated fully in the opening and the closing ceremonies. They also bought wears from fashion designers and freely displayed the same on the cocial media.

From that point onwards, the Senate President, who declared at the opening ceremony that he was orchestrating a review of the Procurement Act to further accommodate made-in-Nigeria goods became an advocate of made-in-Aba, just like Abaribe.  Within weeks of the 2016 edition of the Trade Fair, the Senate passed amendment to the Procurement Act and sent the same to the House of Representatives for concurrence.

The first green light appeared to have been given by the Nigerian Army, which has ordered a huge number of boots for its officers and soldiers from Aba manufacturers.

So last Thursday, it was with a heart of gratitude that the made-in-Aba project headed by Chief Sam Hart visited the Senate President and the office of Senator Abaribe.

The made-in-Aba project, accompanied by members of the Leather and Allied Products Manufacturers Association of Abia State (LEAPMAAS), thanked Saraki and Senator Abaribe for projecting their goods and making the nation realised the need to buy Nigerian goods.

Hart told the Senate President on behalf of the manufacturers: “We are here to express our gratitude for your support and show appreciation on this project. Today, we confer on you the title of the Ambassador of made-in-Aba goods. We also commend Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe and the entire Senate for supporting the passage of the amendment to the Public Procurement Act. By this singular action, you and the Senate have institutionalised the buy made-in-Nigeria campaign.

“We commend you for your tireless propagation and advocacy for made-in-Aba goods. We use this opportunity to assure you and the Senate that we shall continue to improve on the quality of made-in-Aba and indeed made-in-Nigeria goods. Goods produced in Aba are indeed of high quality. There is nothing that can be manufactured elsewhere which cannot be produced in Aba.”

Saraki also told the gathering that the Senate would do more as the Federal Government spends at least N2 trillion on procurement of all sort of items in a fiscal year. He said that a huge chunk of that amount should be spent locally.

He said: “I commend you for your determination and creativity. When I came for your trade fair in Abuja earlier in the year, I promised you that with the support of my colleagues here in the Senate, we will make the campaign to buy Made in Nigeria go beyond a trade fair and become a national agenda for all Nigerians.

“Today, we have made it a national project. I also promised you that we will amend the existing law to give your efforts a solid legal backing that will ensure patronage for your products and that of other local manufacturers. That has also been done with the amendment of the Public Procurement Act.

“Government agencies must necessarily and compulsorily patronize locally made goods.  It has started with the order made for booths by the Army.

“If the army is doing that, I also challenge all the other agencies to follow suit. I challenge all the Senate committee chairmen to ensure that all the other agencies, whether it is Air force, Navy, Customs,  even the Road Safety, Civil Defence, NYSC must follow suit. We should include that as part of the conditions when they come to defend their 2017 budget. They must show evidence that they patronise and purchase locally made goods.”

Now that the Senate is leading the way to instutionalising made-in-Nigeria, the executive also needs to elevate the discourse from mere talk to action points. For instance, it can’t be a funny idea to see

the Federal Government award multi-million naira contracts for procurement of foreign-made electricity meters whereas a number of meter manufacturers are domiciled in Nigeria.