Nigeria can diversify her economy and augment earnings by developing her solid minerals resources, beginning with the revival of her moribund ceramics industry. Encouraging the local production of ceramic glaze would be a good start-out point.
There is currently no ceramic glaze manufacturing company in Nigeria and this presents a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs to meet this yawning need and contribute to the revival of Nigeria’s moribund ceramics industry
Former United States President, Bill Clinton, once said that “The solution to Africa’s problems lies within,” This is a reality we must come to terms with: It is our duty to look inwards to explore and exploit our natural resources and use our findings to create industry and mitigate poverty. Through strategic investments and collaborations between government and the private sector, it is possible to harness the bountiful yet largely untapped potential of the country’s ceramics industry.
Currently, the global ceramic market is forecast to reach $408bn by 2018 with China as a key player. According to the Director General/Chief Executive Officer, Raw Materials Research and Development Council, Prof. Azikiwe Onwualu, “Local demand for ceramic products is very high considering our population of over 140 million; yet the supply is met through importation. It is estimated that Nigeria currently spends about N5bn annually importing ceramic products.”
An Auspicious Workshop
Chairman, Apapa Branch of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Mr. John Aluya, mentioned at a stakeholder forum in 2009 that about 50 containers of ceramic products come into the country daily, in spite of the availability of both raw materials and human capacity for production of quality ceramic products in Nigeria. Worse still, warned Engr. Fabian Nnadozie, an investor and Chairman, Interlinked Technologies Plc, “some of the ceramic tableware imported from China may not be safe for human health.”
Commercial production of ceramic wares has failed to thrive since it was introduced in the country almost a century ago. Prof. Okpan Oyeoku of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, said the country had her first contact with high fired products when Mr. D. Roberts introduced the use of potter’s wheel, glazes and kiln at a training centre in Ibadan.
By 1950, the colonial government commissioned one Mathew Cardew to investigate the availability of pottery materials in Nigeria. His report on the wealth of minerals for sustainable pottery production led to the establishment of three ceramic centres across the country.
Subsequently, about 12 large-scale modern ceramic industries were set up in partnership with foreign technical partners to exploit the nation’s vast ceramics mineral resources across the nation. Of this number, however, only one has survived the epidemic of closures that came upon the industry since the introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programme of the 1980s and this is in spite of the fact that nearly 100 per cent of required raw materials can be sourced locally.
Ironically, these closures occurred at a period when the Federal Capital Territory Abuja was under construction. It is instructive to note that the nation spent billions of dollars on imported sanitary ware for the development of Abuja while local ceramics industries set up to produce those wares were shutting down.
Reasons adduced for the spate of closures include the non-availability of standardised beneficiation industries to supply ceramics manufacturers and the non-availability of glaze materials in the country. The most familiar ceramic products include table wares, wall and floor tiles, sanitary wares, and decorative products like flower vases, etc.
Hope for the revitalisation of Nigeria’s moribund ceramics sector received a boost in 2009 at the public presentation of ceramic glaze materials developed by staff of the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi Lagos. The research work was conducted at FIIRO under the auspices of RMRDC.
The Project Officer in charge of ceramics at RMRDC, Mrs. Dorothy Nwanah, said “The research work was in two stages. The first phase which is the research and development aspect has been successfully completed with the production of high and low temperature glaze samples. The samples had been subjected to test by selected ceramic producing companies and confirmed to have met standard industrial specification and acceptability.
Glaze Production a good Start-out Point
The objective of the public presentation was therefore to create awareness and stimulate interest in investment in commercial production of glaze materials since there is no industry that is producing glazes on a commercial scale in the country.”
In the words of the Director, Project Development and Design, FIIRO, Dr Patrick Irabor, who is also the Principal Investigator of the Ceramic Glaze Project, “the lack of primary raw materials processing industries is one of the major factors responsible for the failure of many indigenous industrial projects.”
Ceramic glaze material is the finishing glassy coat in a typical ceramic production. They are hard, smooth and impervious to liquids, steam, weak acids, alkalis, and are insoluble in water. Glazes are applied to ceramic products to give them strength and a smooth surface; enhance aesthetic appearance, provide a protective cover against abrasion and chemical attack.
This year, RMRDC and FIIRO convened a stakeholder meeting to further encourage investments in the ceramics sub-sector. Although many investors have become shy of foraying into manufacturing, production of ceramic glaze is a wise investment choice because there is a ready market for the products both locally and in the international market.
Emergence of indigenous ceramics glaze manufacturers will encourage the reactivation of dead factories and improve the exploration and appropriate utilisation of our nation’s abundant solid mineral resources.