While unveiling a newly launched ceramic product-Royal Marble in Abuja recently, the Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Abubakar Bawa Bwari affirmed government’s commitment to restoring the economic viability of the ceramics industry. ABAH ADAH writes
The expression of commitment by the Hon. Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Abubakar Bawa Bwari, while unveiling the new product, to many hearers, was like vouching to do everything possible to get someone who is already dead back to life. Like the other productive sectors, the ceramics industry in Nigeria has been abandoned for decades, and even to the point of being forgotten.
Nigeria can boast bountiful mineral resources that can support a vibrant ceramics industry capable of helping its transition to a non-oil economy. But the country still projects ceramics products’ importation to gulp $800 million, about N287.7 billion, this year, up from $600 million (N215 billion) in 2014.
As if this is not bad enough, the country is said to be opting to double its ceramics imports to $2.1 billion, about N755 billion, by 2025, driven by rising domestic consumption, particularly in real estate market.
The global construction industry is said to be growing rapidly with a major contribution from emerging countries, including Nigeria, where urbanisation is expected to drive market demand for ceramic tiles over the forecast period.
For instance, reports had it that in 2016 alone, revenue generated by the global construction industry reached approximately $8.82 trillion, from $7.91 trillion in 2012. This is expected to reach approximately $14.98 trillion by 2025.
The emerging countries accounted for 51.9 per cent of total contribution in the construction industry in 2016, and are estimated to contribute approximately 62.5 per cent by 2025. The governments of these regions are investing significantly in residential homes, owing to rapid urbanisation.
A former Deputy Director in charge of Solid Minerals, Ceramics and Electroplating Technologies at the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO), Mr. Patrick Sonny Irabor said that a lot of opportunities in ceramics business awaits Nigeria, adding, that “about 85 per cent of the raw materials that would be needed could be sourced locally.”
The CEO, Epina Technologies Limited, Professor Patrick Oaikhinan, agreed, saying that apart from Nigeria’s real estate market that has created a huge demand for ceramic tiles, demand from semi-urban and rural areas is also expected to rise in the coming years.
He however regretted that despite its resource endowment and strong demand, Nigeria does not have a vibrant ceramics export market to claim its share of the global market for ceramic products projected to reach $59.17 billion by 2020.
Oaikhinan said Nigeria occupies eighth position among the top 18 emerging economies for ceramics trade. Unfortunately, Nigeria is the only country that does not export ceramics, in spite of the enormous solid mineral resources embidde in its soil.
While stressing that the ceramics industry has the capacity to stimulate industrialisation, diversify the economy and create jobs, he said the industry is currently gasping for breath, requiring deliberate and strategic policy push to revive it.
Indeed, the local ceramics industry has been a shadow of itself. LEADERSHIP Weekend learnt that the fortunes of the industry, which enjoyed a boom before the 1980s, have since nose-dived.
Then, ceramic companies such as Richware Ceramics (Lagos), Modern Ceramics (Umuahia), Nigergrob Ceramics (Abeokuta), Ceramic Manufacturer (Kano), and Quality Ceramics (Shagamu) held sway. Today, many of them have fizzled out from the industrial landscape.
Out of 21 ceramics companies spread across the country, over 15 of them are moribund. In fact, while speaking, Oaikhinan said that only four local ceramic manufacturing firms were in operation, producing mainly tiles and sanitary wares.
The few struggling firms, he added, are producing below installed capacity, because of shortage of professionals with generic and technical skills in ceramics manufacturing business coupled with dearth of infrastructure, particularly electricity supply.
Oaikhinan also said the industry was hit by the absence of avenues for people interested in ceramic manufacturing business to pursue their ambitions, absence of training programmes in ceramic science, engineering, and technology in the universities and polytechnics.
Oaikhinan, who is Nigeria’s first and perhaps the only professor of Ceramic Engineering told journalists in Lagos that creating a business friendly environment for existing small and medium-sized ceramics enterprises (SMEs), and potential entrepreneurs should be one of the country’s main industrial development objectives, as this could attract foreign direct investment into the sector. According to him, less than three per cent of Nigerians would like to set-up ceramics small businesses because of unfriendly market environment for local products, compared to 51 per cent of people in the U.S. and China. Lamenting that local production is not up to one per cent of the domestic market, he said Nigeria’s economic growth and job creation depend on its ability to support the growth of enterprises, particularly ceramics if the huge unemployment gap must be bridged.
Concerned experts had come up with a number of policy options that could put the industry back on track, some of which is coming up with legislation to set up a National Centre for Ceramics Entrepreneurship by which means ceramics clusters may be established across the six geopolitical zones of the country, and the inclusion of ceramic courses in the nation’s educational development policy, not leaving out the need for strong global partnership.
Thus the assurance of continued support for the ceramics industry by the Minister, Hon. Abubakar Bawa Bwari while unveiling the Royal Marble could not have come at a better time.
The Minister congratulated the West Africa Ceramics company for using such a unique technology which according to him is among the best in the world, adding that the government would support all efforts targeted at adding value to whatever is mined or harvested in the country.
He commended the determination of West Africa Ceramics for continuing to operate in the face of adverse economic conditions and their support towards the economic diversification efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
“The fact is that if this country must realise its dream of economic diversification, the ceramic subsector has a crucial role to play since the main raw material, clay, is found in every nook and cranny of the country”, he noted.
He condemned the continued importation of ceramic wares in the country which he said has resulted in loss of massive foreign exchange.
Earlier in his welcome address, the Executive Chairman, Royal Engineered Stones Limited, Alhaji Lawal Idirisu, said in more than three decades since he made debut in ceramic tile and sanitary ware production, the Royal Brand has become a phenomenon in the lives of all stakeholders in the built environment.
He attributed the success of the stakeholders’ launch of the new extension: Royal Engineered Stones Limited and consequently the new product line- Royal Marble themed ‘Harnessing Engineered Marble for Value Creation in the Built Environment’ to the immeasurable supports received from Nigerians.
Idirisu said Royal Engineered Stones Limited is a wholly indigenous brand manufactured in Nigeria, by Nigerians and for Nigerians, bearing in mind the peculiarity of Nigerians as regards appreciation for aesthetics and sophisticated finishing.
In his remark, the President of the Nigeria Institute of Building, Bldr. Kenneth Nnabuife Nduka saw the launch as another milestone in the foreign investment calculus for the exploration and exploitation of locally available natural Mineral resources.
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