Why Nigerians prefer foreign building materials
Indications abound why the drive to source building materials locally by Nigerians cannot be possible. Nigerians are known to have penchant for foreign goods and so anything labelled Nigeria, no matter the quality, is regarded as inferior. The worst aspect of that is that even if a Nigerian starts anything good, government will do everything possible, whether within or outside the law, to frustrate the person. This is what experts see as reason for the backwardness of the economy as well as the sole dependence on oil.
For obvious reasons, government has veered off the local content policy. However, to confuse those who may not understand, they keep voicing the policy and using it as a ploy to get those they target. There are some building materials you simply can’t put any price on due to the sheer number of varieties, qualities, and categories. Therefore, this list includes the major building materials of broad category.
Statistics obtained from the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) showed that between 2010 and 2015, Nigeria spent N13.6 trillion on the importation of raw materials, especially building materials, that could have been sourced locally if some more rigorous work had been put into the country’s import substitution strategy. According to some experts, this is correct, yet government officials and those who read such things in the universities that are appointed leaders on account of their speciality abandoned them for easy and finished products. Statistics also show that Nigeria in 2016, spent about another N5.89 trillion on the importation of similar raw materials, thus bringing the total sum spent on the importation of primary raw materials into the country within the seven-year period to N19.5 trillion. The imports in 2016 included some finished products. This means that on the average, the country splashed N2.79 trillion every year in the past seven years to import building materials and other raw and finished materials.
However, the most expected of the problems that needs attention is the fact that so much has been spent on research yet nothing tangible has been achieved as more Nigerians are entering the import circle without looking inwards to see what could be done homewards. Some experts argue that if half of the resources put into importation is directed towards construction of factories and companies that can do what is done abroad, Nigeria’s problem of importing building materials would have been a thing of the past.
Despite being a large country, one wonders whether any successive governments have considered how big the building and construction materials business in Africa really is? For one to venture into such things means looking for solutions on how to procure them locally. At this point, discerning minds begin to ask whether government is not aware that high building and construction activities are often signs of growing economies. This is because when the economy looks good, the demand for residential, commercial and all kinds of real estate usually goes through the roof.
The Federal Government levies Customs duties on most imports but these duties were substantially reduced in 1986 and in 1995. The import duty varies from 5 per cent to 60 per cent, averaging 12 per cent. All imports are also subject to a 7 per cent port surcharge and a 5 per cent Value Added Tax (VAT). The paperwork necessary for exporting and importing is lengthy.The taxation system has been widely avoided and valuations are arbitrary. The implication is that since authorities prefer making some stipends from charging imported materials, they prefer Nigerians to do more importation than exportation. This, some experts adduce as reasons Customs officials chase goods into the construction sites because they are imported. They prefer to be zealous in things that would bring them aggrandisement instead of growing the economy.
From government archive, prohibited exports include raw hides and skins, timber and building materials, raw palm kernels, and unprocessed rubber (to protect building and processing industries) yet the will to convert them into finished products here in Nigeria for use is lacking. They rather prefer to have them finished abroad and brought to the country as foreign goods for Nigerians to patronise them. Again, most goods produced in Nigeria may be freely exported, although prohibited imports include live chicks, flour, vegetable oils, gypsum, mosquito repellent coils, plastic domestic articles, used tires and weapons.
The NBRRI was part of the West Africa Building and Road Research Institute jointly established in 1952 by building professionals in Ghana and Nigeria. When Nigeria attained independence in 1960, the Nigerian members pulled out while their Ghanaian counterparts formed the Building and Road Research Institute linked with the Ghana Academy of Arts and Science. In 1978 the NBRRI became a department in the Ministry of Works and Housing.
In the most recent past, the Executive Director, Royal Pacific Group, promoters of Fraser Suites, Abuja, Mr. M G Nasreddin, stressed the need for government to increase investment in property industry or better still support private investment with enabling environment. He believes that such opportunity will also encourage local and international private investments, thus creating wealth down the value chain, boosting the economy and complementing the effort of government in the provision of quality and affordable housing for Nigerians and employment.
This, if seriously analysed, could be the route to finding solution to manufacturing of building materials here in Nigeria as the private investors to be attracted will not wholly depend on imports for their jobs. Manga time, they will use their technical know-hows to bring about the manufacture of some of the materials they use. With this, little by little, they will creep into the Nigerian space.
Over the years, the NBRRI has conducted researches into materials for constructing roads and houses. Under President Shehu Shagari, the institute acquired a site and built its headquarters on the Ota-Idiroko Federal Highway.
The need to be close to the seat of power necessitated relocation to Abuja, and the establishment of zonal offices in each geo-political zone. The sprawling complex in Ota was then designated National Laboratory and Production Complex. The institute has also done much work on the use of cement for road construction in Nigeria. This is essential as it is known that the world reserves of heavy crude (which yields the bitumen base for asphalt) is dwindling. Limestone is abundant in Nigeria and cement manufacturers are promoting the use of cement for road construction.