From Walter Ukaegbu, Abuja
As early as 8am on Monday, March 6, 2017, manufactures of made-in-Aba products, who had converged on the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, were very busy at the Arts and Crafts Village, displaying their goods for the Made in Aba Trade Fair, slated for March 6-10, 2017.
While visitors, invitees, the media and Abia people, especially from Aba, and others were taking their seats in readiness for the commencement of the fair, music of different kinds were blaring from several speakers as products, which were formerly labelled, “made in Italy,” China, Dubai or Turkey, were being boldly displayed as made in Aba, signifying that things were changing.
The Made in Aba Trade Fair was a zonal intervention project facilitated by Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe of Abia South Senatorial District.
President of the Leather Products Manufactures Association of Abia State, Mr. Chijioke Williams, called on the federal government to assist manufatures in Aba to have access to finance.
He urged government to prevail on banks to lend to manufactures at a lower rate and without stringent conditions. As part of the delegation that visited the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, alongside the Governor of Abia State, Okezie Ikpeazu, recently, Williams explained that the Vice President had promised to help Aba manufactures.
Lack of machines
Mr. Okechukwu Eke, who specialises in men’s shoes and bags, complained that lack of government support compelled manufactures to brand their goods as inported foreign products.
He stressed that Aba was in many ways the China of Nigeria in terms of manufacturing. He opinioned that, if government would provide the needed machines for them, the work would be easier, and the products sturdier and more sophisticated. According to him, what they have now are items that they can produce with the materials available to them.
The manufacturers, he said, make shoes manually because the machines are not available and are very expensive; “we cannot afford them, except government comes to our aid.”
Another manufacturer, James Okpo, implored the federal government to assist Aba manufactures by providing equipment to enable them manufacture a wider variety of products like shoes, bags and clothes, which would help reduce the importation of foreign products in Nigeria.
“I import every material I use for my production; things are hard, while the dollar exchange rate is very high and does not favour anybody.
In my opinion localization of industries will go along way in creating specialisation that would lead to professionalism in our work,” he said.
Touring the stands
It was fun touring the stands. One could not fail to catch a glimpse of the stand harbouring military-style boots.
The manufacturer, Obioma Collins, said he spends a maximum of four hours to make each item manually, and this could be faster if machines were used in the process.
He currently produces boots for ECOWAS troops, a contract that he just won. According to him, one pair of boots costs N6,000, but, with government support and modern machinery, such boots would be produced in larger numbers, at lower cost.
Mr. Chijioke Okoye, who bought shoes and clothes at the fair, said the products were good but stressed that the manufactures need to improve their finishing.
According to him, the prices were okay, while the neatness was all right, but there was still room for improvement.
Okoye described the fair as a good initiative and pointed out that government needed to encourage the Made-in-Aba fair by making it a national policy statment and a yearly event.
“The government needs to designate a site for them in the FCT, because it will encourage upcoming producers in Aba and other parts of the zone. It will take away idleness and other vices, because they will know that at a certain period in the year, they would get to market their goods where the whole world would come.
Dr. Comfort Okoronkwo and her husband, who said they always look forward to the Made in Aba Trade Fair, attested to the good quality of the products, especially now that government is propagating patronage of made-in-Nigeria products.
“We must not patronize foreign products, if we don’t have an avenue like this we may not know what we have,” Comfort said.