BreakingNews 3/12/16 - We struggle to produce Made-in-Nigeria shoes in Aba

[ Masterweb Reports: Linus Effiong reports ] - Aba in Abia State prides itself as the “Japan of Africa”, and a creativity hub in Nigeria. The appellation came through the dexterity and ingenuity of its artisans which have endeared it to investors within and outside the country.
 
Made in Aba products are fast capturing the world market and shoes are no exemption.
Indeed, the shoe section of Ariaria International Market in Aba reveals the ingenuity and the enterprising spirit of the people. This section comprises the Bakassi Zone, Shoe Plaza, Power Line and Imo Avenue. The section is populated with artisans who churn out shoes of different kinds and is estimated to house over 70, 000 shoemakers besides the apprentices under their tutelage.
 
Various levels of production, marketing and transportation of the products are involved in shoe-making. While the artisans are busy producing, traders from within and outside Nigeria are picking products of their choice while transporters are evacuating them for onward movement to their respective destinations.
 
Also, dealers on raw materials such as leather, shoe soles, gum, fibre and other accessories make good sales. Women are also compete for patronage at various stages of production.
 
Interestingly too, the trade is no longer a business for school dropouts and semi- illiterates as graduates are now actively engaged in it. Little wonder, new innovations are being introduced to the trade.
 
The chairman Power line Shoe Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (POSMAN), Comrade Joseph Nmeri, told Daily Trust on Saturday that they are impressed with the decision of the Nigerian Army to purchase 50,000 pairs of boots from Aba. He said it is a feat which would encourage local manufacturers.
 
Nmeri added that shoes produced in Aba can last up to three years because of their quality. However, despite the assurance on quality, shoe manufacturers in Ariaria still find it difficult to label their products “Made in Nigeria.”
 
According to Nmeri, from the early 80’s, manufacturers were labelling products ‘Made in Aba’ and traders were coming from various parts of Africa to place orders. There was no challenge then but sales issues began when Nigeria signed a bilateral trade agreement with China.
 
He said the Chinese flooded the markets with their shoes. “To be able to sell our products, we were compelled by the attitude of Nigerians to label our products “Made-in-China” because our customers believed that Chinese shoes were superior.
 
Also the Chairman, Aba North Industrial Market (Shoe Plaza division), Christian Okoro, said the order by the Nigerian Army was the beginning of good things for the country and products made in Aba, as it can handle demands from even outside the country.
 
He pointed out that Aba-made products are exported to Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Italy, where they are given more touches and imported back to Nigeria and marketed as foreign shoes. Three major factors, according to him, are responsible for this practice. They include craze for foreign goods, lack of interest in locally made products and the absence of modern machines and equipment for perfect finishing on the products.
 
Okoro said if provided the needed materials and enabling environment, foreign shoes would be no match to those produced in Aba, adding that most of the artisans would be proud to label their products “Made-in-Aba”. He identified their major challenges as high cost of raw materials, importation of inferior materials, especially gum and chemicals and the unwillingness of leather producers in Kano to sell genuine items.
 
Other daunting challenges, according to him, include unstable power supply, absence of modern equipment and machines, poor access roads and lack of funds. He called for government intervention, especially in the provision of modern machines which he said, would make their products compete favourably in the international market.
 
He also appealed to the federal government for financial assistance to artisans. He said a loan of N1billion could change the stories of the over 70,000 shoe makers in the market. This will enable them acquire modern shoe-threading machines among others, he added.
 
An artisan, Elder Kenneth Nwachukwu, who specialises in military and paramilitary shoes and belts, said he needed some funds to acquire the right machines that would enable him manufacture with better finishing.
 
He said: “Already, we have orders from contractors for the Civil Defence, Police, Navy and National Youth Service Corps. We produce some of the shoes and the contractors buy them at cheap rates.”
 
Lawrence Agochi, a 42 year- old father of five with 27 years experience in shoe making, identified lack of funds as his major setback.
 
He said he could produce an average of 50 pairs of shoes a day, but could triple the quantity with improved equipment. He said he needed N2 million to upgrade his machines.
 
Another shoe maker, Paul Madubike, who has been on the job for 15 years, said he was a fulfilled man. But like his colleagues, the 40 year-old identified irregular power supply and lack of modern equipment as his major challenges. According to him, with modern equipment he could produce 200 pairs of shoes a day to meet increasing demands from his customers.
 
In the same vein, Mr. Ike­chukwu Anaele, Paul Maduabuchi and Boniface Ejike all expressed satisfaction being shoe makers but also identified lack of facilities as major setbacks. They pleaded for government’s intervention to make progress.
 
They want the government to also ensure that the needed facilities are provided at the proposed industrial cluster for shoes, garments, belts and bags workers at Umukalika in Obingwa council area before relocating the artisans to the new site. This will boost their morale, they said. The artisans expressed readiness to improve on the quality of their products to enjoy the much desired local and international patronage.
 
Linus Effiong reports from Umuahia, Abia State.
 
*Photo Caption - Aba made shoes.

 
 
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