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Boosting Nnewi’s manufacturing sector to realise its potential as the ‘Japan of Africa’

Boosting Nnewi’s manufacturing sector to realise its potential as the ‘Japan of Africa’

By Kingsley Obiukwu

Nnewi, a city in southeastern Nigeria’s Anambra State, is often heralded as the “Japan of Africa” due to its remarkable industrial prowess and entrepreneurial spirit. This bustling commercial hub has carved a niche for itself as a centre of manufacturing and innovation, particularly in automotive industrial activities, drawing parallels to Japan’s post-war industrial miracle.

A legacy of entrepreneurship

Nnewi’s manufacturing prowess is deeply rooted in its history. Known for their business acumen and resourcefulness, residents have fostered a thriving community of trade and industry. The city’s transformation began in the 1970s and 1980s, when local entrepreneurs heavily invested in manufacturing, laying the foundation for a diverse industrial sector producing automotive parts and household appliances.

Read also: Nigeria’s manufacturing growth slows to 1.49% in first quarter

The automotive hub of Africa

One of the most notable aspects of Nnewi’s industrial landscape is its automotive industry. The city is home to several indigenous manufacturers, most prominently Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company (IVM). Founded by Innocent Chukwuma, IVM produces a range of vehicles—including cars, buses, and trucks—used not only in Nigeria but also across Africa. Additionally, Nnewi is renowned for its automotive spare parts market, which plays a pivotal role in the continent’s automotive sector.

Diverse manufacturing base

Beyond automobiles, the city hosts factories producing a wide variety of products, including plastic goods, textiles, pharmaceuticals, and electronics. Local entrepreneurs have consistently demonstrated an ability to identify and exploit niche markets. For instance, Cutix Plc, a company founded in Nnewi, specialises in the production of electric cables and has become a leading player in Nigeria’s electrical industry. Similarly, Ibeto Group, another major industrial conglomerate based in Nnewi, is involved in the production of lead-acid batteries, cement, and various other products.

Innovation and self-reliance

Nnewi’s success is not just a result of industriousness but also of innovation. The city’s manufacturers often adopt and adapt technologies to suit local needs, creating products that are both affordable and suited to the African market. Nnewi’s industrialists have embraced a philosophy of self-reliance, building their infrastructure in many cases, including power generation facilities, to overcome the challenges posed by Nigeria’s often unreliable public utilities. This independence allows them to meet the demands of their customers.

Challenges and the way forward

Despite its successes, Nnewi faces several challenges that could impede its growth. Infrastructure remains a significant concern, with inadequate road networks and erratic power supplies being major issues. Additionally, access to capital is often limited, constraining the ability of businesses to expand and innovate further.

Realising Nnewi’s full potential as the ‘Japan of Africa’ requires strategic improvements across various fronts. Here’s how the federal government, Anambra state government, private sector partners, and philanthropists can further boost Nnewi’s manufacturing sector to cement its status as Africa’s industrial powerhouse:

Strengthening infrastructure

Transportation: Upgrading road networks and developing rail links would facilitate the smoother movement of goods and reduce transportation costs. Improved logistics would also attract more businesses to the area, enhancing the overall industrial ecosystem.

Power supply: Addressing power shortages through investment in renewable energy sources such as solar and wind could provide reliable electricity. Encouraging public-private partnerships to develop power infrastructure can also help mitigate current power challenges.

Read also: Formulate inclusive policy to drive local manufacturing Union urged FG

Enhancing access to capital

Financing: Encouraging banks and financial institutions to provide low-interest loans tailored to the needs of manufacturers can spur growth. Introducing government-backed loan guarantees might also reduce the risk for lenders.

Incentives: Offering tax incentives and grants for businesses investing in high-priority sectors like technology and green manufacturing can attract both local and international investors.

Fostering innovation and technology

Research and development: Establishing R&D centres in collaboration with universities and technical institutes can drive innovation. These centres can focus on developing new products, improving manufacturing processes, and creating sustainable practices.

Technology adoption: Providing subsidies or tax breaks for companies that invest in modern machinery and digital technologies can enhance productivity. Encouraging the adoption of Industry 4.0 practices, such as automation and data analytics, will position Nnewi at the forefront of modern manufacturing.

Skill development and education

Technical education: Enhancing the curriculum of technical schools and universities to align with industry needs can produce a workforce adept at modern manufacturing techniques. Partnerships between industry and educational institutions can help tailor programmes to specific skills in demand.

Continuous learning: Implementing programmes for continuous professional development will ensure that the workforce remains up-to-date with the latest technological advancements and manufacturing best practices.

Government policies and support

Regulatory environment: Simplifying regulatory procedures and reducing bureaucratic hurdles can make it easier for businesses to operate and expand. Establishing a one-stop shop for business registrations and permits can streamline processes.

Export promotion: Developing policies that encourage the exportation of Nnewi’s manufactured goods can open new markets and increase revenue. This can be achieved through trade agreements, participation in international trade fairs, and providing export incentives.

Building a sustainable ecosystem

Environmental practices: Encouraging environmentally friendly manufacturing practices through regulations and incentives can ensure long-term viability. Implementing waste management systems and promoting the use of sustainable materials will help mitigate environmental impacts.

Community engagement: Involving local communities in the development plans can foster a supportive environment. Ensuring that the growth of the manufacturing sector benefits local populations through job creation and infrastructure development is crucial.

Conclusion

Nnewi has already laid a solid foundation as a manufacturing hub, but realising its full potential as the ‘Japan of Africa’ requires concerted efforts across multiple areas. By strengthening infrastructure, enhancing access to capital, fostering innovation, developing skills, and implementing supportive government policies, Nnewi can elevate its manufacturing sector to new heights. Embracing sustainability and community engagement will further ensure that growth is inclusive and long-lasting, positioning Nnewi as a true industrial leader in Africa.

 

Kingsley Obiukwu is a businessman and socio-economic specialist with extensive expertise in real estate and hospitality.