Copycat Manufacturing

    Every corner of Nigeria now seems to be suffused with made in China goods, from the mundane household utensil to the very complicated high tech component, even hard to reach little villages in little known distant corners of the country have not been spared. It has become apparent that most if not all members of the average Nigerian family would use something that was made in China at least once a day. Well I guess that is good. For China.

    Nigerian business men are mostly traders, trading in currency, clothes, vehicles and any thing that is tradable. We are constantly on the look out for new franchises, new products  and if a new appliance is introduced somewhere in the world this week, by next week, there’s a Nigerian business mogul importing it if only in partnership with the Indian or Lebanese who have become wise to our love for everything foreign. This is not necessary bad for business and in some way helps to percolate innovation to grassroot communities. The disadvantage is that once a product comes into high demand, Nigerian business folk actually go to other countries, usually china, to request cheap copies, many of which do not meet industry standard and therefore do not give value for the inflated amounts  for which they are sold in Nigeria. Compoiunded by bribes paid to corrupt customs officials, the price of imported tools and equipment become exhorbitant and become an avenue for waste and for depriving people at the bottom of the pyramidof disposable income, especially when the equipment or tool has been touted as a labour saving device, only to breakdown soon after use. 

    That China makes cheap copies of goods has become good for the Chinese economy. The short lead times and rapid fire mass production has become both envy and the bane of many African countries. It is evident that the Chinese have  acquired decent enough skills that have enable gradual but definite improvement in the quality of manufactured goods at costs lowered enough to make China a production destination for many manufacturers from the west.  I see a lesson somewhere in this for Nigeria.

    Taking a look at the fabrication and manufacturing traditions and practice in the south east region of Nigeria, small corners of Lagos and other towns like Ibadan, it is evident that there are talents for new technology and some have been very innovative with new products and should be presented with little challlenge for making passable copies of many labour saving devises, cheap copies of which are imported into the country. The primary disadvantage lies in thhigh cost of production that makes local manufacture way more expensive than cheap imports. Also limited infrastructure, no technical support and a very difficult environment makes it impossible to match the speed of production. Low literacy levels and a poor appreciation for the need for precision in mnufacture also create a hindrance. These factors and others such as low levels of specialisation combine to limit capacity for migrating from fabrication of the odd piece of equipment and machinery to full scale automated manufacture.

    Yet with appropriate patents and permissions enterprising traders and importers of goods can be encouraged, as part of responsible CSR, to invest in and support local artisans to make good enough copies of labour saving devises. This is important now that farm mechanisation is being promoted. the Nigerian farmer should no longer need ot rely on just brawn to till the land and manage farm production but should be able to avail of reliable local machines and tools at the right price.  

    While very little support  is given for the development of technology by the central government, a few state governments - lagos as a case in poiint - have established technology and business parks to create an environment to encourage young people to explore talents and build requite skills. However there remains a need for more active private sector particpation, especially by those business men who are already requesting little known manufacturiners to make make cheap copies of high demand equipment and machines. They could fund apprenticeships and provide investments for the establishment of equipment assembly or manufacturing plants. Long term benefits of this is the removal of transportation costs and of unofficial duties and taxes paid for importation

    Provided with the right technology, appropriate techniques and armed by copyrights and licences, factories could be established right here in Nigeria where young and not so young people will be gainfully employed, producing cheap versions of high demand products for our teeming population.

    Like China and Brazil and Taiwan before them we should progress togood quality versions and even originals in time