Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu
To say that Nigeria economy is limping is an understatement. The economy is bleeding and bleeding profusely. Now is the time to look inward and explore those areas we have comparative advantage.
Serious pressure is exerted on our currency (the naira) because of import dependency .This situation is necessitated by weak, narrow export base where revenues generated from oil and gas account for over 70 percent of our foreign exchange earnings.
The time is ripe for us to encourage made in Nigeria goods. This effort if implemented will go a long way in ameliorating the economic woes of the country by saving the nation the foreign currencies expended on importation of goods and services (even those we have the capacity of producing).
Unarguably, Abia has comparative advantage in leather and garment cluster in Aba and efforts are on top gear for the state to commence the supply of wears to Nigerian military and para-military outfits. There have been consistent calls recently for the federal government to issue a directive to military and para- military outfits in the country to procure their wears from Aba where there is a ready market for the products.
Governor Okezie Ikpeazu while receiving in audience the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelama in Umuahia recently disclosed that garment makers and shoemakers in Aba have been equipped and are ready to kit the Nigerian military.
The governor explained that what the state is requesting is for the federal government to make a pronouncement for the military and para-military organisations to procure their foot wears from Aba to encourage the manufacturers.
In 2013, when former Senate President, Sen. David Mark declared the first Made-in-Aba Fair open in Abuja, he urged the Federal Government to ban importation of all goods that Nigerians have the capacity to produce locally.
Describing Aba as the” catalyst of industrial revolution in Nigeria’’, Mark said government should henceforth discourage importation of foreign goods because Nigeria has no business importing those goods which do not measure to the quality being produced in the country.
While commending the people of Aba for doing the nation proud through the spirit of enterprise and innovation demonstrated in quality products and goods made available through local skills, he said ‘We have no business importing military boots when what is produced here locally is more superior to that which is brought into the country.
“We have no reason to import ballot boxes for INEC. This locally made ballot box is actually better than the one INEC has been importing.
“Let us ban all that we can ban to ensure a quick take-off of our industrial sector. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) should not hold us down in economic slavery.
“If there is any city that deserves the presence of the Bank of Industry, it is Aba city,’’ Mark said.
He called for a radical transformation of the Nigeria’s industrial base by providing adequate facilities to support the efforts of indigenous producers to boost economic growth,and urged relevant agencies of government to create adequate awareness on the need for introduction of policies that would enable local initiatives to thrive.
The narrative of Aba garment and leather products has changed for good and the watch word now is”quality”. Abia State Government last year organized an economic trip to Turkey. This is as plans are also underway for another batch of shoe manufacturers to embark on overseas induction course. The induction course will be on train-the-trainer’s basis, where those trained will in turn train other manufacturers at home.
The contingents to the trip visited several shoe factories in Turkey where they were exposed to different machines which are used in making shoes.
The essence of this exposure was to familiarize Aba shoe manufacturers with mechanized methods of manufacturing shoes which is the vogue in Turkey in particular,and the world in general. It was also to elevate their skill with training and exposure to modern technology to enhance capacity.
The knowledge drawn from Turkey a trip affected the productivity of shoe manufacturers in Ariaria. Production has increased from less than 300,000 pairs of shoes weekly to over 600, 000 pairs.
Brazilian investors who visited the market last year were enthralled by what they saw. They bought pairs of shoes and wondered what the market would be when manufacturing process is fully mechanized as the machines will soon arrive Abia.
The breakdown of the production capacity of the various pits in the market is as follows :Togo pit now produces 60,000 pairs of shoes weekly; Cameroun120,000;Lagos 180,000; and Maiduguri 200,000.
Patronage of the made in Aba military wears will induce serious influence on the unemployment situation in the state. Already,because of the imminent boost in the Aba shoe industry, some youths who abandoned the industry for commercial motorcycle and tricycle operations are now making u-turn.
To address the problem of the explosion Ariaria shoe market,a cluster for garment, shoe, belt and bag workers has been proposed for Umukalika, the outskirt of Abia. This cluster would be equipped with a resource centre that could enable businessmen to register their trademarks, do quality control and open them to markets beyond the shores on Nigeria. The mindset of Gov.Ikpeazu is to conquer the Nigerian market first and make forays into West and Central Africa.
The benefits of the cluster are multifarious. It will also ensure that the leather workers enjoy economies of scale .The concentration of men with similar skills will promote competition and the innovation and will provide the common spirit that is necessary for cooperation and cross fertilisation of ideas. By bringing the shoe manufactures into clusters, they will easily learn about changing economic conditions, adapt andbenefit from the changes. The physical proximity of these would encourage interaction and promote the exchange of ideas and expertise and this will, atthe end, stimulate innovation and economic growth.
Presently the Ariaria shoe market is divided into six zones: Power Line, Omenma, Imo Avenue, ShoePlaza, Umuehilegbu Industrial Market, and Old Site .The total number of shoe makers from the various zones is estimated at 70,000 and the shoe manufacturing process is supported by division of labour.
Each process is manned by either a smoother, tailor, sprayer, or a Wheeling machine operator. On the average, each production is expected to employ three persons.
There is a strong and passionate appeal for the federal government to buy into this project .Now that the country’s economy is becoming gloomier with each passing minute, patronising made in Aba military wears will save our scarce foreign exchange and provide employment opportunities for thousands of our youths roaming the streets unemployed.
We should not hesitate to tap from other developing economies that have succeeded in saving millions and pulling through poverty by boosting local production. Whereas nobody is urging the government to severe its trade relations with other countries, made in Aba military wears can be promoted through placing high tariffs on imported military wears thereby discouraging their importation. A stitch in time saves nine!
Ukegbu is the Senior Special Assistant to Gov. Ikpeazu on media.