These times of economic hardship in Nigeria and the fear that we might be sliding into economic recession give us an opportunity to look inwards to see what we can do to reverse the situation and change the fortunes of Nigeria and Nigerians.
Due to the fact that we were colonised by Britain, we have somehow adopted formal English wears as official while we confine our Nigerian attires to dress-down days or Fridays or special occasions. We wear expensive suits and shirts to work from Monday to Thursday (or the whole week). Our men wear even more expensive suits and shirts during their weddings or special anniversaries and our women wear foreign made dresses to suit the occasions. Our lawyers traditionally wear black suits and white shirts to the court believing that this either makes them serious or professional. In our law faculties and schools, law students are mandated to wear ‘formal’ clothes to attend classes. Students who don’t comply are often sent out of the class for failing to dress ‘formal’.
This has become the norm and understandably so, as we were colonised by the British. Since our political independence in 1960, Nigeria is supposed to have developed a dress code that reflects our culture, weather and which contributes to growing our economy. In a country where the temperature is always hot and sometimes above 30 degree centigrade, why does it even make sense that people have to wear suits, shirts and ties to go to work? The reality is that as long as we continue to buy foreign made clothes to work in Nigeria, we are contributing to grow the economies of Western countries. Of course, the result of this is that our fashion industry is still at formative stages as they cannot compete with clothes that are made in developed countries.
In the government’s quest to grow the Naira against the world’s major currencies, we have another opportunity to deliberately enact a policy that makes it mandatory for Nigerians to wear clothes made in Nigeria using our local fabrics. Yes, we must free ourselves from the thinking that unless we dress English-style, we are not formal. When you are in Europe or the United States, it is customary to wear their clothes because the weather requires it. Suits and ties are for cold climates as you need to protect yourself from the biting weather. But when you come to Nigeria, we need to be comfortable in wearing our clothes to work and all formal functions. In the words of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, it is colonial mentality to imagine that we are only formal if we dress English-style.
Adopting a policy to wear Nigerian-made clothes will unleash the hidden potential in the fledging fashion industry. It needs to be deliberate and it must be national and should cut across both public service and private sectors. If Nigerians wear our clothes to work five days a week and for all major occasions, we would have succeeded in creating millions of jobs for our youths who will be happy to enter the fashion industry. We will also have succeeded in re-igniting our moribund fabric-making industry. In the same vein, there will be fashion schools all across the country to train people who want to enter dress making business. We need to build a competitive advantage in this area as we cannot to continue to support the economies of foreign countries.
Wear Naija to grow the Naira should be adopted as a way of saving our foreign exchange. What this also means is that we either ban importation of fabric into the country or increase the duty paid to import them. This will compel people to look inwards and source for locally made materials to make their clothes. If people must wear white wedding dresses for their marriages, they should be willing to pay high duties for them. In the light of the current economic challenges facing Nigeria, it is only in our interest to be proud to wear our own. After all, we are Nigerians; we must be proud to wear Naija-made.
By Martins Itua