Obinna Uche Uzoije is the author of ‘Child of Industry’ – a provocative book which advocates for industrial revolution. The thought provoking and eye opening piece of work has been accepted by a wide percentage in functional education. It has also metamorphosed into an annual Essay contest with an aim to help guide students’ perspective on Nigeria’s economy and to provide a working solution for generations to come. In this interview, Uzoije admits that the book can be classified as a part of his memoir as he shares his experience through research and field work. He opines that Agriculture is the bedrock of every economy but just farming does not bring the needed economic result and this is where industrialization comes in. Read below as he further explains his perspective:
Tell us about you briefly
My name is Obinna Uche Uzoije from Abia state; I am the author of the book Child of Industry – Advocacy for Industrial Revolution. I am the third in 5 children and I did most of my schooling in Abia state too. My elementary school was at Model II Primary school, World Bank Housing Estate Aba, Secondary school at Ngwa High School Abayi Aba and I am a baccalaureate of Statistics at the prestigious Abia state University. I have the skills of graphic artistry and poultry farming.
Were you always a Child of Industry? When did you come to this understanding?
I have not always known the idea of industrialization through processing of raw materials but I have always known that there is a very high rate of unemployment in a place that is littered with very important raw materials. But then, knowing these things did not bring about the Child of Industry; it only became a tangible idea when I started researching by visiting a lot of institutions where these resources which we see in our environments were being processed to value added finished products. I noticed decadence and that a lot of relevant industries that employed even 25% of our workforce have been shut down. A place like the Aba Textile Mill which employed 8000 people as at 1989 when our fashion industry wasn’t worth much is shut down today that we have a fortune in fashion industry. A lot of things have removed the word “process” from the culture of our society. Again I noticed that our education has been de-industrialized. How? In the 70s people could graduate as certified tailors, plumbers, painters, farmers, bricklayers etc. Courses like that can instantly give an average person the necessary skills to work and economically eke by the society. School systems that feature skills such as the aforementioned and more were designed to create a concentration of skills in the society and by that create a productive people. But these courses have gradually been taken away from our schools. They have been replaced with courses that hardly tap into these natural resources that we have and courses that do not inspire the average Nigerian child to be productive. Our schools do not teach skills any longer, instead we learn the same thing that our fathers learnt and still hope to have a future where jobs will not be hard to find. I looked into the policies too with which the governments have contributed to this societal decadence; how have they encouraged local productivity through education, infrastructure and tax laws? How create have that sector been? All these questions pulled up to form the COI – Child of Industry.
How much of the book – Child of Industry is your Memoir?
All of it. Any part of the book you pick up has a relation to something I’ve done or thought of in the past. From Low Levels of Education to Skill and leadership, all the chapters tell a good story of me, the things that I have noticed through deep study and research, and solutions that I proffer to them. When I built a poultry farm in my hometown, I had the product and I lacked customers. I planned a lot of value added services that made easy my reach to customers and vice versa – one would applaud this creativity but it still remains a problem that in a country with more than 180 million people, it is difficult to sell out a very good product. So when I didn’t see this as normal, I pulled up some analogies.
One of which is this – If Aba Textile Mill was still functioning and has 8000 employees, a farmer like me who has read the book Child of Industry will try to process the meat a little. Maybe to Chicken Suya or to Chicken Pepper Soup. I will also try to get a stand in front of or inside the Industry which will give me a pool of 8000 potential customers who are employed and financially empowered to buy my chicken. But now, no major industries, no good roads through which the chicken can be transported and sold, no electricity to store ready meat and save funds that will be added to keep the chickens in the farm. So the next generation should know this. They should start seeing the solutions to this now and even working on more solutions that are in accord with their civilization.
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In your opinion, what are the major misconceptions that held us back as a people and as a nation?
The major unbecoming an average Nigerian should go through is that of the Consumer Mentality. This mentality dates back to the colonial era where value added finished products were brought to us and raw materials were exchanged for them. We now overlooked the processing and fell for the economic activity of barter trade that has metamorphosed to buying and selling of today. Most times nothing new is produced but we do more of importing from nations that produce and sell to ourselves at very high costs. The enlightenment of our people must come from our people. Before this time, we were processing Palm oil to body creams, soaps, etc. we processed Cassava to Fufu, Tapioca, Garri, etc. but when we saw that we could easily give out the cassava and maize to colonialists and get Cerelac in return, we stopped processing them. The misconception of economic creativity for economic activity has held us back. We do more of assembling now than we do produce. And people who produce go to places of low standard infrastructure just to run away from hiked tax costs from the government. And so, they under-produce.
In your book, religion had a lump share of the blame when it comes to industrial development as a nation; should we put that much blame on religion or on the people?
People who follow religion are people who do not know God. And as we can see on the chapter – Purpose has no Religion, a quote from Mahatma Gandhi that says – God has no religion. In our country, religion has got the biggest platform and so statistically speaking, it has the highest contribution to our different mindsets. Everything we see in life now started with a thought and God plants these thoughts in our minds that we should process them. If we do not work on them, we may not earn a living or serve the living. When most of us were introduced to God, we did not get a creativity mentality that comes with it. We did not know that people should buy our products because we are using our products to solve their problem but we understood that people will buy our products because we serve God. God gives grace and favour yes, but He too has given us ideas to carry out world class projects that are of great service to the family of mankind.
Now a person may have an idea of setting up a car plant that has never existed before in his community. We are a 180 million people that do not produce cars but we import cars and go to the church to give testimonies of how God has made it possible to buy an imported car. On that platform people rejoice with and bless that fellow; but when will the platform support and bless the fellow who plans to produce and employ the people through this industry? When will this platform start talking about the needed leadership that will harness the productivity of the people? When will this most reverenced platform build industries that employ her members and cause a huge percentage to step into the middle class? However we look at it, this platform has the power to affect many facets of the society positively and direct the younger generation to a better definition of who God is.
You also touched on mental slavery. There is a dictionary definition for almost everything. So in this case and in relation to bettering our economy as a nation, could you define mental slavery and how we can begin to gain freedom from this form of slavery… one generation at a time?
Any time I talk on this topic, all I mean is building confidence in a people. In the a book written by Lee Kwan Yew titled Third World to First, he stated clearly that the best thing Singapore did as a nation is building a confident citizenry. They were confident that they could be a first class people and thusly, they became, they were confident in the superiority of what they produced and today they serve a lot of finished products to the world. This confidence in a people can be built through education and this is most of what Child of Industry is injecting into the education system. It is mental slavery when we have set our minds to the notion that anything made in a foreign or western country beats what is made in our nation. Because of this, our local producers in places like Aba hardly brand their products with local brand names. They prefer using the names of foreign brands with the belief that people will prefer the foreign brands. All these started in our schools when we referred to our local languages as vernacular and even punished students for speaking our language within the school premises. Mental slavery started setting in gradually. So in this topic that is related to productivity, mental slavery relates to how we perceive that which we have locally produced and how we plan to improve upon them.
You also wrote about the difference between exporting raw materials vs finished products. Your book would awaken any progressive thinking individual to do more. Considering the business environment, do we have the capacity?
We have the capacity to process raw materials to value added finished products. We just need a well poised government that is haunted by the need to provide the people with the fertile environment for innovativeness. When countries that do not have these resources that we boast of turn out to have huge industries that process them, how much more our country that is blessed with all the raw materials that is potent enough to make a country great? We just need leadership that can make us recognize the capacity that we have.
Where would you rather place focus? Agriculture or industrialization?
Agriculture is the bedrock of every economy but just farming does not bring the needed economic result – this is where industrialization comes in. The products we get from the farm will not be put to maximum economic use when we do not employ the machines of industrialization. We end up wasting things that we cannot process or exporting them in a raw form to countries that will process them to value added finished products and then send them back to us at exorbitant prices. Agriculture will only keep employing few people in rural areas as long as we do not think of industrializing the practice. Here Cassava only attracts customers that use Garri and Fufu but with an industry that processes Cassava, we will not only make Garri and Fufu, but we will make Ethanol, Starch, Disposable Plates, make protein from the Cassava leaves etc. Now these different industries employ many other people apart from just rural farmers. Agriculture is good but industrialized agriculture is metamorphosis in the right direction.
You are a religious person who believes in the power of anointing and the grace of God. But some will say one of the major problems of the country is religion. How can we solve this problem?
The problem may not be religion. But the problem may be that our churches have ignored most avenues that can be addressed and changed for the better. Our churches should begin to raise leaders for both the political spaces and otherwise. We should not ignore that. The church should preach hard work that leads to success and soft pedal on always preaching about miracles to our people. We know miracles happen but they do not build a society. Only a responsible citizenry builds a society and that citizenry can be built through our churches. I am not a religious person, I am a Christian that believes totally in God and overly highlights the fact that God wants us to be creative, productive and innovative.
Are there plans to distribute this book to teenagers and youths who are the leaders of tomorrow? What advice do you have for them?
Yes, there are plans to this effect. The foremost and most functional plan is the Child of Industry Essay contest which is an annual competition that gets every student that registers the book and the workbook. It then inspires them to write on the processing of a particular raw material into a value added finished product. Then the student also writes about good government policies that can be put in place to make the production of this good thrive. With this method alone, the Child of Industry have reached about 500 students and in the year 2020 we plan to reach about 2000 students. In the process of these contests, they are ignorantly won over to the side of industrialization.
All the advice I have to give is embedded in the COI. The younger generation should start asking questions and seeking solutions. The only enlightenment that can set the black man free is the black enlightenment and so we should not be pointed to divergent directions by any foreign establishment whatsoever. We should have a common goal of attracting financial resources from all over the world and we should plan this through the platform that we give to education. Our education now should concentrate our hands with relevant skills. We should all be good with tools. We should study finance and time management, family planning, waste management and everything that is geared towards building ideal economies and societies.
We should all upload a new value system to our present ideologies about life, leadership and education. We should see them all as platforms for service.
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