In this second report on made-in-Aba shoes, part of our continuing focus on Aba cluster industries, STEVE OKO writes that with appropriate government support and encouragement, Aba shoes makers can conquer not only Nigerian market but also African market as a whole.
…Beg govt. for N1 b loan to boost business
Shoe makers in Aba, Abia State, have thrown their weight behind the recent challenge by Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu to the Federal Government to stop the importation of military and paramilitary shoes and let Aba artisans supply the shoe needs of the security outfits. Ikpeazu who threw the challenge while receiving in audience, the Minister for Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige during a courtesy visit at the Government House Umuahia, recently, said the continued importation of military and paramilitary shoes amounted to unnecessary waste of scarce resources when in fact, better qualities could be produced locally by Aba artisans.
According to him, sourcing the military shoes locally will not only save Nigeria a lot in foreign exchange but will also encourage local producers and ultimately help grow the economy. Patronizing the Aba shoe makers, he added, is another better way of crime prevention as it would create more job opportunities and positively engage the youths who otherwise would have been recruited in the crime industry.
However, as the federal government is yet to respond to the challenge cum appeal , The Authority decided to visit the Enyimba City again to verify the claims of the governor and assess the capacity as well as the challenges of the Aba shoe makers. The visit was also aimed at unravelling some of the mysteries surrounding shoe business in the commercial city.
A trip to Bakassi Zone, Shoe Plaza, Power Line and Imo Avenue sections of the Ariaria International Market Aba will convince one of the ingenuity and enterprising spirit of Aba shoe-makers. All four sections of the market popularly known as the home of foot wears are populated with artisans who churn out foot-wears of different shapes and sizes as sand on the sea shore. The market is estimated to house over 70, 000 shoe makers besides the apprentices under their tutelage.
When The Authority visited the market, the shoe-makers in their thousands were observed in their various sheds proudly doing what they know how best to do despite some daunting challenges. Economic activities at these ever-busy industrial sections of the international market leave no one in doubt that Nigerians are not lazy people at all. It is also a constant reminder of the ingenuity, resilience and the doggedness of the Igbo man and his survival instincts amidst challenges. Perhaps but for bad governance, Nigeria would indeed be streets ahead of some western countries in terms of industrilalisation and economic development.
During the visit, it was observed with interest that shoe making creates a value chain. A whole lot of hands are involved at various levels of production, marketing and transportation of the products. While the artisans were busy producing the shoes, traders from within and outside Nigeria were busy picking products of their choices while barrow and truck pushers also had a field day evacuating the products to various motor parks for onward transportation to their respective destinations.
Dealers in raw materials such as leather, shoe soles, gums, fibre and other shoe accessories were also having a field day in the value chain. Everyone especially the artisans were busy struggling to beat the deadline of orders placed by their customers. Women were also actively involved in the business as they were observed competing with the men at various stages of the production. Interestingly too, graduates are equally involved in the trade.
In an interview with our correspondent, the Chairman, Aba North Industrial Market (Shoe Plaza division) of the Ariaria International market, Hon. Christian Okoro said that “Nigeria is too small a market” for their products, boasting that Aba shoe-makers can supply the shoe needs of the entire African continent and other countries of the world. According to him, apart from customers from different parts of Nigeria mostly Northern states, traders from different parts of Africa including Togo, Niger Republic, Camaroon, Gabon, Ghana, Libya, Senegal, among others, all jostle for Aba-made shoes.
He equally made a cheering but curious revelation that Aba-made products are exported to Dubai in the United Arab Emirate and Italy where they are given some finishing touches and then imported back to Nigeria and marketed as foreign shoes. Two major factors, according to him, are responsible for this practice–craze for foreign goods or lack of interest in locally made products by many Nigerians, and the absence of modern machines and equipment for a perfect finishing on the products.
His words: “Some traders buy our shoes at very cheap price and take them to Dubai, Brazil and Italy where they put some finishing touches because of the absence of modern machines here. They later bring back the shoes and sell them at high costs in boutiques. Some of the shoes sold at boutiques in Abuja and Lagos, Port Harcourt, Uyo, etc are imported Aba-made shoes.”
He boasted that if provided with the needed materials and enabling environment, Italian shoes will be no match to ‘made- in Aba’ shoes, adding that most of the artisans will be proud to label their products as ‘ made in Aba’ should government heed their request. He identified their major challenges as high cost of raw materials, importation of inferior materials especially gums and chemicals from China, and the unwillingness of leather producers in Kano to sell genuine leather to Aba shoe makers.
“They (Kano leather dealers) prefer to sell their original leather to Italians and other foreigners who will pay them in hard currency,” he lamented. “Now, people adulterate chemicals and sell to us because it is also hard to get original chemicals from Italy.”
Other daunting challenges of the shoe makers, according to him, include unstable power supply, absence of modern equipment and machines, poor access road and lack of funds. He called for government intervention especially in the area of modern machinery which, he said, would make their products compete favourably in the international market.
He also made a very passionate appeal to government for financial assistance to the artisans to boost their business. He said that a loan of N1billion could change the stories of the over 70, 000 shoe makers in the market. This, according to him, will enable them acquire the multi- million naira modern shoe-threading machines used by their counterparts.
“I know that my members alone are over 10, 000 and if government can give us N1, 000,000 loan each, which we will pay back in one or two years, Africa will be a small market for ‘made-in-Aba’ shoes,” he declared.
Corroborating this position, one of the artisans, Elder Kenneth Nwachukwu who specialises in military and paramilitary shoes and belts said he need some funds to acquire the right machines that would enable him produce products with better finishing. He boasted that with the right machinery, his products could compete favourably with foreign military gears. “Already, we get orders from contractors for Civil Defense, Police, Navy, and National Youth Service Corps. We produce some of the shoes their men use but the contractors buy them at a cheap rate,” he disclosed.