Aba: Giving bite to made-in-naija campaign
This is quite understandable, as prior to this time, the state governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu had embarked on an unprecedented promotional campaign for made-in-Aba products, since assumption of office.
Not only did he personally take the boots/shoes, belts and allied kits to the military and para-military authorities to guarantee their quality, but had also cajoled them into embracing the idea of patronising home-made products, telling them that the producers have the capacity to meet their demand.
Ikpeazu also sponsored some Aba-based leather producers and allied products to Turkey to expose and enable them study production process in that country. And he has been in the vanguard of patronising local producers, as he regularly wears locally made clothes and shoes, thereby encouraging residents to follow suit.
But he is not in this crusade alone, as Senator Enyi Abaribe has also sponsored a made-in-Aba products fair/exhibition in Abuja, which attracted visitors from across the country and beyond.
Aba, the commercial and industrial hub of the Southeast is renowned for copy-production, dubbed Aba-made. Locally made products for which Aba and Abia are noted, and which compete favourably with imported ones, include leather products, such as, shoes, boxes, bags, belts and boots. The two cities are also known for producing quality soaps, cosmetics, foam, drinks, cloth dye, zinc/roofing sheets, tailoring, plastics, paints, fabricated machines, toilet papers, exercise books and bottled water, among others.
So, the current Made-in Naija campaign and inward-looking will definitely strengthen the foundation already laid by Ikpeazu, thus, giving the much-needed push in the right direction. Producers in Aba are expressing their eagerness and readiness to cooperate with the Federal Government so as to realise this laudable goal. They are confident that their products can compete favourably with those from foreign countries.
Ariaria Market in Aba houses hundreds of these local manufacturers, who are into the production of various goods. They are located in numerous rows of blocks, and generate about N100bn annually, as they attract buyers from within and outside the country.
The fame of this market has grown over the years, so much so that in 2001, it attracted the attention of James D. Wolfensohn, the then World Bank President, who visited it in the company of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, then Nigeria’s Finance minister, to the delight of the market community.
Hon. Ikechukwu Anaeme, the then Vice President of leather and allied products manufacturers association, said: “when the World Bank President visited us, we thought that the solution to our problems had come, and that it would be addressed.
“Government should patronise our products and protect us by imposing high duties on imported goods, which are competing with locally made ones. Government should also help us in the procurement of appropriate machinery and raw materials, provide steady power supply, as well as, improve access roads into the market, so that trucks can come in freely to load purchases. We should be able to access low interest loans.
“We want government to award us contracts for the supply of belts, boots, wallets, leather hats and nurses belts to the Military, Police and NYSC. These are among our high quality products.”He said there is a ready market and demand for their products, as bulk-buyers come all the way from Mali, Ghana, Onitsha, Sokoto, Lagos, Kano and Maiduguri to patronise them.
On the quality of the products, Sir Christian Nwaubani, Chairman of the state Amalgamated Traders Association, told The Guardian that the argument that Aba-made products are inferior to their imported counterparts no longer hold.
He said: “The quality has been improved upon tremendously. As soon as new designs and brands emerge from any part of the world, our creative team quickly dissects them to acquire the technique. It should be noted that it is the same materials used in producing these foreign products that Aba producers also use. Interestingly, people come from outside Nigeria to buy Aba-made products, especially the leather and tailored clothing, including suits. Nigerians have also bought into the idea of patronising Aba-made products and are proud of them, too, as there is no difference now between them and the foreign ones.”
Hon. Ossy Prestige, former First deputy President of the Aba Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (ACCIMA), who is currently member of the House of Representatives, lamented that all the while that Aba producers were so desirous of producing high quality goods and consumers were patronising them, government did not fully provide enabling environment and facilities, such as, regular power supply, water, good roads, stopping multiple and illegal taxes and levies, all of which, if addressed, would have had positive multiplier effects on overall production output.
He explained that ACCIMA has been in the vanguard of creating awareness on the need for a change of attitude by government, and that the body usually holds annual trade fairs, as well as, undertakes trade missions abroad, to promote made-in-Aba goods.
“Aba-made products are in high demand in Mali, Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe and Cameroon, among others. However, government must play its role and check multiple taxation,” he said. “Our locally made products are of good quality, though there is still room for improvement. But it should be noted that many imported goods are also substandard.”
Also, Chief Anthony Enukeme, a former president of ACCIMA, explained that the organisation uses trade fairs to identify various locally made products, especially garments, leather and allied products that can earn Nigeria foreign exchange. He said: “If the exportation of Aba-made products are properly articulated and formalised by the Federal Government through the Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC), our national fortunes will greatly improve through huge foreign exchange earnings and rapid medium scale industrial expansion. All these processes will in turn generate employment opportunities for our teeming unemployed school leavers.”
He explained that aside garments and leather goods, Aba is also known in other areas of commercial and industrial entrepreneurship, such as, metal fabrication and manufacturing of spare parts, cosmetics, soaps, detergent and plastic products, among others, which led to the international recognition of Aba by various world bodies as the “Japan of Africa.”
Recently, ACCIMA, at a one-day workshop on the challenges of Southeast stakeholders in shipping trade, organised by the Southeast coordinating office of the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), listed four of the challenges being faced in this line of business to include, imposition of Value Added Tax (VAT) on imported goods, describing it as an aberration.
“VAT is supposed to be charged on manufactured goods with added value, but a situation where it is charged on imported goods, most of which are raw materials, seems an aberration.”
The body also complained that “most exporters in Aba are facing the challenge of late repatriation of their export proceeds from importers abroad, describing the scenario as serious discouragement to those intending to explore export business.
Other complaints were: Mishandling of imported goods in transit to warehouses by law enforcement and other government agents, which they said amounts to indirect multiple taxation. They also cited the non-completion of the Abia State Dry Port project at Ntigha, meant to reduce the Southeast importers/shippers numerous encumbrances.
Interestingly, there are two major power stations in Aba, one of which is being operated by the Federal government at Alaoji and the other at Osisioma, run by the Geometric Power Ltd. If fully operated, the two are capable of providing more than enough electricity needs of Aba and environs.
According to Chief Henry Ikoh, the state Commissioner for Industry and Technology, who is also a renowned industrialist, government is currently opening more markets, and organising workshops for artisans, where they are taught how to access loans. He explained that there is no discrimination against locally made products by the government.It was gathered that the state government has made budgetary provisions for loans to small and medium enterprises, part of which was specifically set aside for small-scale industries.