Can Nigeria breathe new life into its factories?

(BBC) – Nigeria, haunted by high unemployment and a sinking oil-dependent economy, is pushing to diversify its economy with a “made in Nigeria” manufacturing campaign. The BBC’s Martin Patience went to the northern city of Kano to see what difference it will make.

Cobwebs brushed against my face and dust covered my shoes as I was taken around the Gaskiya textile plant, a ghost factory since its closure in 2005.

Kano used to be one of Africa’s great commercial hubs. The former emirate was famed for its fabrics drawing merchants from across the Sahara.

But in recent decades, the winds of global trade have blown through the city, leaving devastation in their wake.

Gaskiya employed 5,000 people who churned out African prints and school and military uniforms until it shut.

In the face of competition from China, large-scale smuggling and high production costs, dozens of factories were forced to close their doors and tens of thousands of workers lost their jobs.

‘Things need to change’

In one section of the factory stood row upon row of weaving looms – more than a hundred in total. They took up a floor the size of a football pitch.

A former worker, who did not want to be named, showed me around the building and told me the dilapidation left him feeling devastated.

“When I was working here my country had a future, it had hope,” he said.

“I’m a product of this factory, I got an education here, I got married here and my children are from here.”

I ask him whether he thinks his children could ever work here. “Things will need to change dramatically,” he told me, “that is what we are praying for.”

Our voices echoed through a plant where the once thunderous machinery was now silent.

The roof was ripped off and the machinery – exposed to the elements – was left rusting in the sun.

The decaying factory was a poignant symbol of how far the once mighty textile industry in Kano has fallen.

Nigeria in numbers:

  • Population – 178 million – largest in Africa
  • Africa’s biggest oil exporter and largest economy
  • Oil accounts for 90% of Nigeria’s exports and is roughly 75% of the country’s revenue
  • 2014: Oil and gas output declined by about 1.3%, after 2013 decline of 13%
  • GDP per capita: $3,000 (2013), World Bank

Sources: World Bank, Opec

‘Survival of the fittest’

Africa’s largest economy is reeling from the slump in the global oil prices – growth is at its slowest pace in more than a decade.

But while it is probably too late for Gaskiya factory, there is a glimmer of hope for the industry.

The Nigerian government wants to revive the country’s manufacturing base in an effort to diversify the economy.

It is pushing a campaign of “made in Nigeria” to support domestic firms.

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