FOR so long, the textile, apparel and footwear industry played a dominant role in the manufacturing sector of the Nigerian economy. With a record high of over 140 companies, Nigeria witnessed a boom in the textile manufacturing industries in the 1960s to 1970s with companies such as Kaduna Textiles, Kano Textiles, United Nigeria Textiles, Aba Textiles, Texlon Nigeria Limited, First Spinners Limited, among others, employing about a million people, contributing about 15 percent of the manufacturing sector earnings to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the Nigerian economy and accounting for over 60 percent of the textile industry capacity in West Africa.

The story, however, changed for the industry in the 1980s. Following the discovery of oil and the subsequent oil boom, the government became reliant on oil and abandoned agriculture. The neglect of the agricultural sector had an adverse effect on the textile industry. The production of cotton, the basic raw material used for the manufacture of clothes regressed rapidly as its production capacity declined by 50 percent.

In addition, the economic regression meant that manufacturers could not afford to import sophisticated modern equipment which could have facilitated the production processes. Similarly, textile manufacturers and fabric designers who could afford to import raw materials procured these at astronomical costs which had effects on their businesses. This meant the textile industry had insufficient and, at times, no raw material to work with.

Also, the trade liberalisation polices adopted in 1986 following the implementation of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), saw the flooding of imported fabrics and finished goods, thereby degenerating the manufacturing capacity of the industry. By the 1990s, the degradation of infrastructure, especially the lack of stable electricity supply, affected textile manufacturers as they could not keep up with the strains of production and this led to the closure of a number of textile companies, with hundreds of workers rendered helpless. By 1998, the industry was operating at a capacity of just 28 percent.

The abysmal performance of the textile industry and, indeed, the entire manufacturing sector is, indeed, a sad tale. The sector, which played a major role in boosting of nation's economy and development, is suddenly a shadow of itself as the country's manufacturing capacity, especially the textile industry, is at an all-time low and its poor performance is having a bearing on the Nigerian economy. Despite the fact that oil, Nigeria's major source of income, is in a declining state and its overall contribution to the economy has reduced drastically, the manufacturing sector unfortunately lacks the capacity to provide relief to Nigeria's ailing economy as it only contributes a paltry seven percent to the GDP of the economy, with the textile, apparel and footwear industry contributing about N1.8 billion of that in 2015, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) report.

It has, however, been proven that the textile industry is, indeed, a driver of growth and employment globally. For example, the exports of the textile industry in Hungary edged up to 3.2 percent in 2014 to $1.62 billion from $1.57 billion in 2013. With a strong labour population of over 43,000 in the textile industry, the involvement of medium-size enterprises in the industry and a robust export of textile products to countries such as Germany, Italy, Austria, France and Romania, a tremendous improvement has been forecasted for Hungary's economy in 2016.

The influence of the textile industry is bigger in China with more than 100,000 manufacturers employing over 10 million people. The industry is estimated to contribute about 47 percent to the country's GDP, with its value of garment export believed to be around $153.219 billion as at 2013. With its percentage of the global garment market at 38 percent, China is the world's largest manufacturer, exporter and consumer of garments. The Chinese textile industry remains competitive due to the continued investment in the domestic industry.

Given the importance of the high productivity of the textile industry in boosting economic growth and the standard of living of the people, as evident in the examples stated above, and with the glowing success of the country's fashion designers today as seen in both local and international fashion shows, it is apparent that Nigeria must give priority to the textile industry and, indeed, the entire spectrum of the manufacturing industry to improve the fortunes of the Nigerian people and the economy.

The government must provide the enabling environment for textile manufacturers and fashion designers to thrive. Provision of critical infrastructure such as electricity and a good transport system needed by the manufacturers and designers should be made available to help them become truly productive. Also, the recently formulated policy road map for the creation of fashion clusters, the Integrated Textiles and Garment Parks (ITGPS), should be formally adopted by the present government and ensure it implements the policy provisions to the letter.

The government should also provide funding and financial incentives for members of the textile industry as it is done in other countries. Financial institutions of government such as the Bank of Industry, and the Nigeria Export-Import Bank should endeavour to provide funds to both manufacturers and designers as this would help in the long-term to grow the economy.

Finally, there is a need for sustained dialogue by all stakeholders in the country to ensure that they undertake a comprehensive study and solutions on how to modernise, strengthen and get the industry to perform competitively locally and ultimately globally. Only by enacting all these would the Nigerian people and economy truly benefit from the thriving textile, apparel and footwear sub-sectors of the manufacturing industry.