By Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu
Recently, Nigeria economy has not been in its best shape. To say that Nigeria economy is limping is an understatement. The economy is bleeding profusely. Most economies of the world are now looking inwards in the areas that they have a comparative advantage, and Abia State is not in the exception.
Serious pressure is exerted on our currency (the naira) because of import dependency. This situation is necessitated by a weak, narrow export base where revenues generated from oil and gas account for over 70 per cent of our foreign exchange earnings.
The time is ripe for us to encourage made in Nigeria goods. This effort, if implemented, will go along way in ameliorating the economic woes of the country by saving the nation the foreign currencies expended on importation of good and services( even those we have the capacity of producing).
Unarguably, Abia has a comparative advantage in leather and garment cluster in Aba and sine the inception of Gov
Okezie Ikpeazu’s administration, serious efforts have been deployed to tap into this area. The latest effort in this direction is the formal inauguration of a 7-man Management Board even for the newly established Enyimba Automated Shoe Factory. Gov Ikpeazu while inaugurating the board charged the members to run the factory-like a proper business and consolidate the position of Aba and Abia State as a global hub for shoe and other leather products as well bring to bear their wealth of experience in developing a brand that will compete favourably in the competitive global market. Ikpeazu added that the first-ever Enyimba shoe factory is the signpost of a culmination of efforts to mainstream Abia in the competitive global shoe market.
According to the governor,” the whole objective is to lead out a paradigm shift in the old way of shoe production and key into the new dynamics of shoe production with acceptable global standards”.
The most cheering news is that all equipment in the factory are brand new and one of the best in the world, and the factory is expected to churn out close to 2 million pairs of shoes annually.
Also, in the past Gov. Ikpeazu have made consistent calls for the federal government to issue a directive to military and paramilitary outfits in the country to procure their wears from Aba where there is a ready market for the products.
The governor while receiving a former minister from the state disclosed that garment makers and shoemakers in Aba have been equipped and are ready to kit the Nigerian military.
He explained that what the state is requesting is for the federal government to make a pronouncement for the military and para-military organisations to procure their footwears from Aba to encourage the manufacturers.
It will be recalled that in 2013, when former Senate President, Sen. David Mark declared the first Made-in-Aba Fair open in Abuja, he urged the Federal Government to ban the importation of all goods that Nigerians can produce locally.
Describing Aba as the” catalyst of the industrial revolution in Nigeria’’, Mark said the government should henceforth discourage importation of foreign goods because Nigeria has no business importing those goods which do not measure to the quality being produced in the country.
While commending the people of Aba for doing the nation proud through the spirit of enterprise and innovation demonstrated in quality products and goods made available through local skills, he said we have no business importing military boots when what is produced here locally is more superior to that which is brought into the country.
“We have no reason to import ballot boxes for INEC. This locally made ballot box is better than the one INEC has been importing.
“Let us ban all that we can ban to ensure a quick take-off of our industrial sector. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) should not hold us down in economic slavery.
If there is any city that deserves the presence of the Bank of Industry, it is Aba city,’’ Mark said.
He called for a radical transformation of Nigeria’s industrial base by providing adequate facilities to support the efforts of indigenous producers to boost economic growth and urged relevant agencies of government to create adequate awareness on the need for the introduction of policies that would enable local initiatives to thrive.
The narrative of Aba garment and leather products has changed for good and the watchword now is”quality”. Abia State Government in the recent past organized an economic trip to overseas. The state has also organised other courses where contingents to the trip visited several shoe factories in Turkey where they were exposed to different machines which are used in making shoes.
The essence of this exposure was to familiarize Aba shoe manufacturers with mechanized methods of manufacturing shoes which is the vogue in Turkey in particular and the world in general. It was also to elevate their skill with training and exposure to modern technology to enhance capacity.
The knowledge is drawn from Turkey a trip affected the productivity of shoe manufacturers in Ariaria. This exposure has spiked production of shoes.
At a point, Brazilian investors who visited the market were enthralled by what they saw. They bought pairs of shoes and wondered what the market would be when the manufacturing process is fully mechanized.
Another innovation that would boost Aba shoe manufacturing is the proposed cluster for garment, shoe, belt and bag workers. This cluster would be equipped with a resource centre that could enable businessmen to register their trademarks, do quality control and open them to markets beyond the shores on Nigeria. The mindset of Gov.Ikpeazu is to conquer the Nigerian market first and make forays into West and Central Africa.
The benefits of the cluster are multifarious. It will also ensure that the leather workers enjoy economies of scale. The concentration of men with similar skills will promote competition and the innovation and will provide the common spirit that is necessary for cooperation and cross-fertilisation of ideas. By bringing the shoe manufactures into clusters, they will easily learn about changing economic conditions, adapt and benefit from the changes. The physical proximity of these would encourage interaction and promote the exchange of ideas and expertise and this will, in the end, stimulate innovation and economic growth.