Is the textile sector beyond redemption?

What has remained as the last of the Mohicans in the Nigerian textile industry, the United Textile Limited (UNTL), appeared to be going down again after its ceremonious revival in 2010.

While other textile factories across the country, including the bubbling one based in Asaba, have breathed their last, the UNTL which was the flagship of the industry, employing more than 10, 000 workers and providing hundreds of thousands of indirect jobs, has continued to struggle for survival.

Established in 1964 as the largest textile factory in the West African sub-region, the UNTL which was an amalgamation of Suprertext, Funtua Textile, Zamfara Textile, Unitext and Nichem Text first suffered a major setback in 2007 or thereabouts. Consequently, it began to shed its workforce as a result of harsh government policies, culminating in closure of its operation and it remained in comatose for three years.

By December 3, 2010, the factory sneezed back to life after it accessed a loan facility from the federal government headed by former President Goodluck Jonathan. The reopening ceremony was witnessed by the then Vice President, Alhaji Namadi Sambo, who is an indigene of Kaduna sate and was believed to have played a major role in the revival process. The federal government had put in place N100bn Cotton, Textile and Garment Development Fund through a bond issued by the Debt Management Office (DMO) in that year.

With the new lease of life, the factory gradually returned to running shifts, operating three of them round the clock. Cotton farmers, ginneries and other value chain also sprang back to life. But the jinx did not go away. The party lasted for only three years before the bubble burst again. No thanks to poor patronage and the unhindered importation of textile materials from the Asian nations like China and India.

One of the factors working against the industry is the unavailability of cotton. This is because cotton farmers have abandoned their farms as a result of the current security challenges posed by armed bandits and kidnappers that constantly raid farmlands to harvest victims for ransom payments.

The UNTL is believed to be operating far below its installed capacity with less than 1,000 workforce compared to 10,000 in its heydays. Of the 1,000 staff, the factory recently disengaged about 300 of them. Another constraint facing the factory is the epileptic power supply which makes running the machines on generators unprofitable.

It is a great pity that federal government has not been able to sustain its commitment to get the employment generating sector out the woods. Besides the N100bn bailout of 2010, the Buhari administration reportedly set aside N51bn in the 2017 budget to promote the development of the Cotton, Textiles and Garment (CTG) industries in the country in the administration’s efforts at economic diversification, massive job creation and increase the patronage of made-in-Nigeria apparels. 

The initiative was disclosed in Abuja by the then Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Mrs. Aisha Abubakar, who stressed that the federal government was mindful of the importance of the sector in creating jobs and reducing poverty.

She said as part of efforts to promote the development of the sector, the federal government had decided to dedicate three out of the six special economic zones to be created this year to the textile and garment sector.

Statistics from the ministry at the time revealed that between 1980 and 2016, about 145 companies operating in the textile sector had shut down owing to harsh economic climate.

The sector also passed through various phases of growth and until the 1980s, it was one of the most vibrant in the world. At its peak during the period, the industry provided about 500,000 direct jobs with over 250 functional factories and was renowned as the largest employer of labour in the manufacturing sector.

The sector, however, started to witness some decline in its fortunes at the turn of the millennium with the closure of some major factories while some others relocated to other countries within the sub-region.

As at the dawn of the millennium, only about 25 textile companies were functional in the country with widespread concerns that even those functioning were barely managing to survive as the operating environment was, to put it mildly, utterly unfriendly.

From the looks of things, the institution of a N100bn Intervention Fund for the CTG industries by the immediate past government in 2010 as well as the N51bn initiative under current administration have failed to revive the textile sub-sector.

Blueprint challenges the federal government to do everything humanly possible to breathe life into the sector if its commitment to generate employment as a panacea for the youth restiveness. It should renew measures towards reviving not only the nation’s ailing textile industries but other sectors of the nation’s economy by creating conducive environment.

The CTG sub-sector, which hitherto generated 25 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product and contributed 20 per cent of corporate taxation revenue in Nigeria, also has the potential of taking the economy out of its current recession and form the bulwark to lift over 100m Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years as envisioned by the administration.

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