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Made in Naija campaign Hamstrung in South East


At his Shop B1 in the Leather and Allied Products Manufacturing Section of the Ariaria International Industrial Shoe Market, Aba, Abia State, is Emmanuel Ogbonna, whose outfit has just won a contract for the supply of school sandals to one of the private schools in Enugu.

The Aba, Abia State-based school, according to Ogbonna, just opened a new branch that commenced academic session last September, in Enugu, Enugu State, and he and his team had to work day and night in order to meet the delivery dateline.

Ogbonna has been in the business of shoemaking for 22 years having dropped out of school in the wake of his father’s death, just after his first year in secondary school.

Shortly after his father’s burial, Ogbonna was taken away to Aba, from his Umuawalu Community in Obingwa, by his uncle and handed over to a footwear maker, where he underwent tutelage in shoemaking.

At his two-room shop inside Ariaria Market, he told The Guardian: “Several years ago, I was producing and selling shoes at the same time. But that stopped when people started coming forward with samples of shoes they wanted me to replicate. After I did several of such successfully, I started getting contracts to fabricate different designs for different groups.

“Groups including age grades, church groups, social clubs, among others were coming to me to order particular colours and designs of shoes as their official outfits. So, that is how we started, and from there, my work started spreading, and more people started bringing their relatives to learn the trade from me. So far, I have trained about 10 boys, who are also doing well, while two of those that I trained are working for me at the moment.”

The entrepreneur said that over the years, shoemaking in Aba has blossomed into a lucrative business that they no longer produce just for residents of the commercial city, but for Nigerians from far and wide and foreigners.

“I may not have become too rich, but I am happy that dropping out of school when I did has been turned to my advantage. If you take a look at my signboard, you will discover that my business name is “Ogbonna Shoes.” This is what I have on my labels to show that the shoes are made in Nigeria. Our address is Aba, so that people out there can easily come here and buy. We do not fake our products. By the grace of God, what I produce here is used up north in Sokoto, Kaduna and even Kano. Out of Nigeria, our products are used in Ghana, Cameroun, Benin Republic among others. Some of the people, who use my products are not known to me, but at times, you will receive calls from people telling you that those shoes they bought are of good quality. That is why we are proud of what we do here.

“Now, I have five boys working for me. Two of them are earning salary, and the rest are still undergoing apprenticeship. We are doing our best to satisfy everybody to enable them come back and buy again. If you go to the length and breadth of Ariaria Market, you will discover that, there are many other things people are producing using leather. These include booths, sandals, belts and handbags. Although, I can produce shoes, but I have perfected in a particular design to the point that people will always want to see us because of the quality of what we produce.”

Indeed, any visitor to Aba, the commercial nerve centre of Abia State would readily agree that the diversification of the economy, which the Federal Government has promoted through the Made-In-Naija campaign could be intensified from the city.

In fact, based on the sheer volume of local manufacturing that goes on in Aba, it was projected that the city alone could raise billions of naira yearly to finance the state’s annual budget if well harnessed.

Apart from the leather products, there are garment factories and allied products, which the state and indeed the country can earn high foreign exchange through exports of their goods and services. These include metal fabrication, spare parts manufacturing, cosmetics, soaps, and detergents production as well as, production of plastic products.

Across the city, different locations/markets are synonymous with the sale or fabrication of different types of wares. For instance, the Eke Oha Shopping Centre, the Ariaria International Market, and the New Market are known for imported second hand clothing, shoemaking, and garment making. Ngwa Road and Uratta Road are known for building materials; Oha-abiam for electronics and allied products, Asa Nnetu/Alaoji for motor spare parts and allied products. While Eziukwu/Cemetery Road is renowned for locally made products of varying types, the Osisioma Industrial area is famed for factories that produce a wide range of products.

Of all these locations/markets, however, the Ariaria Market is about the most prominent, due largely to the level of activities that go on in it, especially manufacturing of shoes, handbags and other leather products.

During periods heralding festive seasons, Aba residents, especially manufacturers hardly sleep at night as they strive to deliver on orders they accepted from their clients, according to Uchenna Ugorji, a resident.

“Now that Christmas is around the corner, most of these manufacturers no longer go home. They sleep in their shops and offices to enable them produce for the market. There is high demand for made in Aba products beyond the shoes you are looking at. We design and sew suits in this city and I can tell you that we are really using our ingenuity to make things happen.”

He said the issue of Aba made products being inferior to imported ones no longer hold “because we have perfected the quality of whatever we produce here.

“As soon as new products emerge with new designs and patterns, our creative producers quickly dissect them and adapt. It is same materials and raw materials that are used in the foreign made ones that Aba producers also use. Mind you, people come from outside Nigeria to buy these Aba made products, especially leather products, and suits. Nigerians have adopted Aba made products and are proud of them, and in most cases, there is not much difference between their foreign made counterparts and what we sew here in Aba.”

Despite the spirited efforts of Aba-based manufacturers, they are still severely challenged by infrastructural deficit, a development that has made the attainment of professionalism a mirage.

These problems range from poor power supply, lack of water, and good access roads to the markets, to lack of credit facilities, among others.

“Until now that Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, is leveraging the Federal Government’s belief in home-made products to now insist on using products from Aba like our shoes and items of clothing, we were neglected and relegated. You can see how long it took you to come into this market. At a point, you even had to leave your vehicle behind and continue the rest of the journey on motorcycle. That is what we are passing through. But the state government has decided to do the roads because movement into this area during rainy season is too difficult. Most of the time, shops are submerged and vehicles easily get stuck, while bringing in goods, or taking them away.

“Having good roads in place is one thing we strongly desire, while having regular power supply is another. There are thousands of shops in this market, and each of them is powered by a separate power generating plant because we cannot rely on public power supply. So, you can imagine the level of noise emission that is taking place here.”

Most locally produced goods are usually tagged substandard, and because of this toga, they always play second fiddle to imported ones, but Ugorji thinks branding Aba made products substandard is uncharitable.

And so he says: “Aba made products are good, but there is still room for improvement, hence the need for necessary support in the procurement of the right materials for production. It should be noted that many goods imported into the country are substandard. One thing that should be made clear is that when substandard materials are imported for the purposes of production, the finished products would also be substandard. So, government agents must effectively play their roles in checking the importation of substandard raw materials, and also address the issue of multiple taxation.

Many believe that local manufacturing of goods in the country is in dire straits, just as the Federal Government is paying more lip service to its much-talked about diversification of the country’s economy.

Speaking at a recent agricultural show at the Michael Okpara Square, Enugu, which attracted artisans, manufacturers and experts from diverse fields, a university don, Prof. Francis Ikem, seemed to agree with this, when he decried what he termed “improper action aimed at realising the much-talked about diversification of the country’s economy.

Stressing that present events were an indication that oil may no longer rebound as the country’s major revenue earner, he stated: “We should therefore use an opportunity of this nature to identify various locally made products, especially garments, leather and allied products, which can earn the country high foreign exchange through exports and other global investments projects. We should encourage local production of goods so that our economy will be better for it.

“Apart from garments and leather goods, Aba is also known in other areas of commercial and industrial entrepreneurship like metal fabrication and manufacturing of spare parts, cosmetics, soaps, detergents and plastic products etc. And it is this that contributed to the international recognition of Aba by various world bodies, and the reference made to the city as the Japan of Africa. We can leverage on this to better the economy of the South East, which will ultimately impact the country.”

Like Aba, Like Nnewi
Like Aba, the other city that has thrived in manufacturing is Nnewi. Nnewi in Anambra State is known for its prowess in large quantity fabrication of automobile parts, and lately vehicle manufacturing as carried out by firms like Chikason, Innoson Technical and others, who are into vehicles and motorcycle manufacturing, as well as motorcycle spare parts.

Nnewi also plays host to industries that are into beverage and plastic production among other products used in homes and offices. This is in addition to a cocktail of local fabricators that are giving verve to the Made in Naija campaign.

But like Aba, manufacturers in Nnewi are also lamenting dire infrastructural deficit, and also operating under very difficult economic conditions that have forced several of them to close shops in the recent past.

It was gathered that while the state government has taken it upon itself to rebuild major roads as a way of facilitating easy evacuation of finished goods and raw materials, the power challenge and the plethora of dilapidated federal highways in the zone is making nonsense of the
Made in Naija dream.

President of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) for Enugu, Ebonyi and Anambra states, Chief Azubuike Okafor, told The Guardian that the creative ingenuity and efforts of the people of the South East in manufacturing is being dampened by the dearth of infrastructure in the zone.

Expressing dismay that several manufacturers were closing shop due to their inability of access credit facilities, multiple taxation, irregular policies and lack of care, he stressed that industrialisation for growth will continue to elude the country until these and other issues that hamper manufacturing were addressed.

“Our people, who are ready to invest at home are being frustrated by the dearth of infrastructure and the government is yet to come to terms with the fact that you cannot be talking about Made in Naija without the requisite facilities that should drive it. For ages we have been talking about Enugu–Port Harcourt Expressway; Enugu–Onitsha Expressway; Owerri–Onitsha Expressway, and Umuahia–Ikot-Ekpene Road among others. We have been stressing the need to rehabilitate the roads, because on a daily basis, goods that are being transported perish on them. No investor will like to invest or produce in a place, where he is not sure that it will be easy for him to move the finished products. The MAN has been in the forefront of this campaign; we have written severally about it and until we address issues like these, whatever we want from local industries will not be a reality,” he said.

The Executive Director, Anambra State Investment Project and Protection Agency (ANSIPPA), Ifediora Amobi, agrees with the MAN when he said that “a number of challenges that have to do with power, access to market, high interest rates, funding required to set up businesses and expand existing ones were militating against the Made in Naija campaign in the South East.”

Although, he observed that these ugly developments were not unique to the South East, he added that South East manufacturers do not access Federal Government-provided credit facilities as much as manufacturers from other regions, especially South West.

He said: “In as much as, most of those who access credit from South West are Ndigbo, those residing in the South East either do not have that knowledge, or fail to meet up with requirements to access the credit facilities, and so it becomes a hindrance. But some of the obstacles are national including power failure, poor roads network, unavailability of water and others, which are usually a hindrance to small manufacturers. So, when the Federal Government said it wants to encourage local manufacturing across the country, it is good in principle, but you have to also put those things that will make the environment good for local manufacturers to operate and succeed.”

To drive home the point, especially in Anambra State, he told The Guardian that, “there is the Akurulo Programme (bringing investments home), which has been started by the state government, which is intended to ensure that the business climate is greatly improved. The governor has also taken care of security and has provided certain incentives to investors both local and foreign. It is now becoming fashionable for investors to come and invest in Anambra, especially those abroad. But you have to create that environment, as they have to know that their investments are, first of all, secure, same as their lives and property.

Secondly there is something that the government does and that is the Public Private Partnership (PPP) programme, which is such that investors are encouraged to come in, while the state gives them land, provide access road to those locations and the businesses are run like any other business. So it saves the typical investor the cost of looking for land, and paying huge sums for such. This is usually a welcome incentive for any investor, who wishes to come into the state to invest. If South East states can adopt this method, it will encourage our people abroad to come home and invest because the volume of monetary assets owned by Ndigbo outside Nigeria is enough to grow our Gross Domestic Products (GDP) locally.”

On the issue of power, which has become a major threat to industrialists in Nnewi, Amobi said: “One of the things we have done is being in the forefront to ensure that the Federal Government is tinkering with the power sector reform, in which case, we have now been successful in getting the government to sign off the embedded power to preferred investors. What I mean basically is that if as a governor I want to ensure that there is power in this area, I can zone my state into many power cluster areas and look for investors who can provide from one megawatt to 10 megawatts and then have them within those areas. That way, you can give power to various areas and have people pay directly. That is what we are doing and believing that soon, it will end the power challenge in Anambra State.”

Last month, how to position the South East economy to play a leading role in manufacturing and industrialisation of the country, took centre stage at a one-day economic summit held in Enugu.

The summit, which attracted about 2, 000 participants from various sectors across the country and all governors from the zone was a follow up to an earlier one held in Enugu State this year.

Speakers at the event noted that lack of infrastructure seriously challenges the development of the zone since the end of the civil war, stressing that efforts of the Federal Government to restore the country to a commodity producing nation, without addressing the various needs of the zones would fail.

Team leader of Benthrust Foundation, Dr. Greg Mills, used the summit to present the report of a study conducted by his group on how to reposition the economy of the zone, especially with the interest of her creative youths in manufacturing and agriculture.

He said: “South East leaders and governments must coordinate and prioritise infrastructure investment with clear workable timelines for achieving these infrastructure targets. There must be ease of doing business, provision of health, education and media development.”

Former Minister of Power, Prof Barth Nnaji, on his part said, “Every other development of our dream in the region depends on power supply and we cannot fold our hands and expect that it will be done by magic, or by other people. It lies on Ndigbo, who know the importance and benefits, to rise and find a lasting and futuristic solution since the issue of power is on the concurrent list.”

Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu stated that the South East Development Commission Bill presently before the Senate is meant to aid local manufacturing and reposition the economy of the zone, with emphasis on rehabilitation of infrastructure that could make businesses thrive.

The bill co-sponsored by senators Stella Oduah, from Anamabra State, and Samuel Anyanwu, from Imo State, seeks the establishment of a development commission to “act as a catalyst to develop the commercial potential of the South East,” adding that, “it will also help enhance infrastructural development of the region, which has contributed immensely to developing Nigeria,” among others.

Ekweremadu stated that though the bill failed at the House of Representatives last year, senators would continue to work with their colleagues in other parts of the country to make the commission a reality, noting that there was need for cooperation by the various states to ensure that the ingenuity of the people is put to productive use.

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