Helping Abia Artisans Combat Unemployment

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Nigeria’s unemployment rate has climbed to 27.1% higher against the 23.1% it was in the 3rd quarter (Q3) of 2018 when the unemployment report was last published.

This is coming from the latest unemployment report as published by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS), which shows the most recent data as of the second quarter (Q2) of 2020.

More striking about this stat is that among Nigerian youths between the age bracket of 25 and 34, the unemployment rate currently stands even higher, at 30.7%.

According to Quartz Africa, a business news agency, in its report published on August 14, 2020, “Nigeria’s unemployment rate has more than tripled in the last five years—and it will only get worse”.

Judging from the country’s labour force of 80.2 million, this simply means that at least, about 21.7 million Nigerians are unemployed.

While this scary development should worry anybody, it’s noteworthy that in Abia State, there are citizens bracing the odds to lift themselves from this economic quagmire. They are the artisans.

It is almost needless to say that artisanship has proven a worthy antidote to the scourge of unemployment in Nigeria – to bring it home, Abia.

Lath Machine

Beaming our searchlight on this group of people, Newsleverage.com had an encounter with one of the artisans in the fabricating industry, in Aba the commercial nerve centre of Abia State – hitherto referred to as the Japan of Africa.

He is Mr Uchenna Onyenaegechi. Located at #14 Port Harcourt Road, Aba, Mr Onyenaegechi specialises in the fabrication of poultry feed production machines.

Feed Mixer

Though without a university degree, he is addressed by his customers and fellow artisans as ‘Engr. Uche’ – this title as an engineer is as a result of the awesome ingenuity visibly manifest in his works.

It surprises anyone who has ever paid a visit to these artisans along the Port Harcourt Road area of Aba to know that these artisans fabricate all types of industrial machines like lath, driller, grinder, feed mixer – to mention but a few.

Steam boiler

Touring the mini-factory, Newsleverage discovered that the artisans fabricate any and every machine. “What we actually need is a sample and will go ahead to produce no matter what it is”. Engr. Uche says.

THE DILEMMA

Like in every other profession, these artisans have their own challenges principal of which is lack of government support.

Oil Presser

And this artisan calls for government support to enable them to always meet the numerous demands of their customers.

Firstly, we produce a feed mill which is always used to produce machines used for feeding fowls and fishes. These feeds are always ground with a grinding machine known as hammer mill which is used to grind the food into dust, you can then put it into a mixer which mixes it together. From there to a dryer and then to a pelletizing machine to bring out food for fishes. In this way, it is ready to be used to feed either the fishes or the fowls.”

Digester machine

So your most customers are poultry farmers?

Yes.

Are your customers only poultry farmers?

No, we also produce some palm fruit machines which are used to produce palm oil. When you take a palm fruit, after 6 days, you will put it in a bunch scraper which separates it from the kernel then you can put it in the steam boiler. After boiling it, then put it in a digester which pounds it, after that, then put it in a presser which squeezes out the oil.

Here, you put the oil into a storage tank and boil it so it produces the main oil because when you put it in a presser, it mixes up with water and oil. Then the chaff to the fibre separator which separates the kernel from the chaff. Take the kernel to a cracker separator which separates the nuts from the chaff. This is the process and if you want to take it further, you can take the nut to the expeller which processes it to palm kernel oil (elu aki).”

Fibre Separator

This means that you produce all these machines

Yes, we do not produce only one machine. We produce so many other machines for the production of so many things. We also produce pounding machine for fufu which gives it a good texture and makes it ready for consumption. We also produce cassava processing machine which is used to process and produce Garri. We have the machine that grinds the cassava, spins and fries it.”

Does this mean that you have extensively abandoned the traditional way of processing Garri and going industrial with the on-hand equipment?

Yes. Technology is progressing, and God has given us the brain to make these works easy for humanity, it is now left for us to use it. This means that one person can do the work of 10 persons and also be more productive and time-oriented with it.

Cassava Presser

If you want to start this work, do you start through an apprenticeship?

Yes, you have to start as an apprentice in this business because you need to acquire the knowledge. Just like somebody who goes to school, you need to acquire knowledge. Every stage in the apprenticeship is needed, sometimes you will write things down in order to study it. That is how we do here.

What are the challenges you people have here which stops you from actualizing your goals?

Our major problem here is power. We have complained to the NEPA office and they told us that it’s not their fault as whenever there is light, we will have light. Most times, we have the light just three times a week, and at the end of the month, they will give us an exorbitant bill to pay. If they even give us light and bring their bill, it will not be such a problem, but at the end of the day here, you still end up buying a lot of gas for your generating set even after paying the light bill.”

Drying machine

What is the financial implication involved in starting this business?

It is paramount that the person learns the work first before thinking of setting it up. If after three months, the person is convinced that this is the business he wants to go into then he can now think of getting the money for it.

How do you manage your apprentices because it looks like only the people who are strong and can lift irons can do it?

It takes a lot of determination for people to learn this work. If one decides to do it, the weight of the iron will not stop the person. It is not a job that one person can do, it is a process of lifting one or two irons and joining them together. So it is not about being strong but about your determination and Godly wisdom.

Pelletizing machine

What is the level of patronage?

Many people are going into Agriculture and because of this, they come for one thing or the other. People are no more interested in government works but rather in fabrication and what they can do in order to help themselves. But it is the people who know about this place that comes around to patronize us but with information, more people can know us and patronize us.

Most youths now prefer quick money to work slow and steady for their money and success, what do you have to say to these youths?

What I can tell them is that nothing comes easy. You must suffer before you eat and however you make your bed, that is how you lie on it. Handwork is a good thing and when you learn it and start yours, you tend to make money just like your boss in due time. Looking for quick ways to make money brings untimely death. These people will like to get the money that their fathers got in twenty years in just one year which is impossible.

When you talk, they will tell you it is the bad government but it is not about the government but their choice. There are many things they can do to help themselves but they always neglect it. It is an act of laziness and joining cult groups so they should think and know make a decision to help themselves. If there is no money to go to school, you can learn handwork, just like certificates are given to graduates, you earn yours when you are freed from the apprenticeship.”

You run a very risky job, what measures do you use in order to safeguard yourselves and avoid bodily harm?

We have safety precautions in handwork. We have hand gloves, goggle glass for wielding job, safety boots are worn to safeguard your feet against irons and we also have overall protective gears.”

Has there been any government interventions made here?

None. We have been looking for a way for the government to
help us but there has been none so far.”

What will you want the government to do for you?

In terms of that, there are some machines that we might want to produce, but because of lack of funds, we will not be able to do it. If we have funds, we can produce the samples so people can buy them. Then, we also need accommodation like a place that will be assigned to people in the line of our business. At least, we will have space to show off our artistry. We also need power, in our line of work, light is one of the essentials, and we need it.”

Speaking with the Abia State Marketing and Quality Management Agency, Barrister Sam Hart, to find out the practical steps the government is taking to aid the artisans, he said, “That is why I visited them to identify what they need and find out how we can assist them. I have been having conversations with some persons at a higher level to ensure their issues are attended to. Of course, the road is a part of it and the Port Harcourt road is one of the road projects of the N27 billion that we recently accessed from New Map. That is why I visited them to understand what their issues are and see how the government can address this. So the government is on it.”

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