Like many African countries, Nigeria relies on imports for sustenance. Sometimes, it’s funny when you think about it. Consider the fact that while the nation is a renowned producer of crude oil, it imports several derivatives of said crude oil like kerosene, petrol, and diesel. This trend hasn’t done its refineries any good as they are moribund.
The same goes for its reliance on automobile imports. Although some local manufacturers exist, high demand for foreign brands like Lexus, Toyota, and Hyundai makes it difficult for homemade vehicles to thrive. Combating a country’s dependence on imports is difficult, but not impossible.
In faraway India, the Narendra Modi-led administration recently introduced restrictions on laptop and tablet imports. Unlike an outright ban, the new policy mandates foreign companies like Samsung and Apple to apply for a special license. The move is geared at boosting the South Asian nation’s local manufacturing efforts. By prolonging the wait time for new models through the new licensing scheme, Indians would be encouraged to patronize homemade alternatives.
Fascinated by that directive, some computer experts and analysts in Nigeria have beckoned President Bola Tinubu to consider doing the same. Interestingly, they ask for a “ban” on computer hardware imports, instead of the licensing regime formula India deployed. Before diving into the positives and negatives of this request, it’s worth having a clear understanding of how much goes into computer hardware and allied infrastructure imports.
According to research by the International Trade Center (ITC), Nigeria spent $1.09 billion on software acquisition and computer services from 2016 to 2020. Merely hearing that amount is enough to solicit a ban on imports. However, it’s not that simple.
Nigeria’s ugly history of import bans
Chris Uwaje, a Fellow of the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) and an industry expert, supported the call for President Tinubu to ban imports of computer hardware and software. He further said that the federal government should make it compulsory for foreign manufacturers to establish local production centres.
Uwaje’s opinion is patriotic, to say the least. But the government must also take necessary steps to ensure this can work out. After all, Nigeria isn’t a stranger to prohibiting the importation of certain essential commodities. Former president Muhammadu Buhari will arguably be remembered for many things. Among those things is the controversial ban on rice imports.
Although the policy was defended, its effects are still being felt by many Nigerians, especially those in the lower class. The ban was intended to make way for an increase in the purchase of locally made rice, but even that variant ended up being sold for a ridiculously high amount. Insecurity and a few other factors made significant contributions to this, though.
Early this year, many Nigerians condemned reports of a planned ban on second-hand clothes, popularly called Okrika. While the motive was to help the economy, many will argue that Okrika clothing is more affordable than its “new” counterparts produced in Nigeria.
Can local manufacturers pick up the pace?
Before heeding calls to restrict imports of computer hardware or any other item, the government must implement certain measures. The current hardship caused by the removal of fuel subsidy should be a great lesson. While the subsidy removal isn’t the worst thing to happen, maybe if it was done differently, it wouldn’t be the most criticized decision in Tinubu’s tenure.
Like the automobile industry, Nigeria has some local players in the ICT space. They include Zinox, Data House Technologies, and RLG. However, many of the home-based players are yet to attain the same popularity as their foreign counterparts. To change that, the government can invest more in the sector. Grants can go a long way to support the innovative minds of local manufacturers.
Also, reducing the number of taxes on these businesses can give them a chance to shine. Nigerians must also strive to let go of their fascination with Western technology. It won’t be easy seeing as how they arguably perform better than what’s produced here. However, the country won’t grow if citizens don’t take a leap of faith. Nigeria can only grow its economy if the government, private sector, and citizens play their respective roles. Until then, we’re just chasing shadows.
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