My thoughts on ‘made in Aba'

This is not a personal attack on Abia state governor or his spokesperson, whom I have followed on Twitter and have seen him share, speak of, and promoted what many know as “made in Aba”. You see, the thing with the ‘made in Aba’ campaign, is that, it’s been around for as long as I can remember. Every governor in Abia State has talked about promoting ‘made in Aba’ products, the difference this time is that, it’s made it to Twitter. Aba craftsmen are ingenious and have lend their skills to creating affordable products for the common man. These guys have singlehandedly made great strides with little or no support from successive governments. Their products are in demand across markets in Nigeria and neighboring countries like Cameroon, Togo, Benin and Ghana.

I speak about this from a place of personal experience and knowledge.

In 1999, after SSCE, I visited Port Harcourt for the first time, and lived with an Aunt while waiting for my JAMB results. I worked for her, and part of my first pay went into buying myself a shoe. It was the popular Mile 1 market in Port Harcourt, and right under the bridge (for those who know Port Harcourt well), I got my first ‘Made in Aba’ shoes. Mile 1 market is littered with varying Aba made products like shoes, shirts, bags etc. I used those shoes until my second year at Uni. As a student at UNN, I bought my shirts from a friend who would usually travel to Aba during the weekends to make them.

Now, if you live in Lagos, and you’re very familiar with the Oshodi market (I understand it has been demolished), you would have had reasons to walk through the market right under the pedestrian bridge, or seen hundreds of stalls with ‘made in Aba’ products displayed. According to sources, huge supplies go to the Oshodi market on a weekly basis. In Ariaria market where most of these products are made, it’s not unusual to see bags and bags of products being loaded into trucks going to Lagos, and Cameroon via Calabar. So claiming these campaigns (past and present) are based on shortage in demand will be totally disingenuous.

Again, ‘made in Aba’ products do not have a demand generation problem, neither is it a brand awareness problem.

There was a time when ‘Made in Taiwan or China’ was seen as inferior, but it was ubiquitous. The products were everywhere. It was the common man’s product, and the demand from that critical mass provided the leverage for Chinese manufacturers to perfect and standardized their products. Today the story is different. Can we learn from the Asians at least. They didn’t go preaching the gospel of made in China, while battling fundamental issues of supply and product ubiquity. They made strategic decisions around manufacturing capacity, opening up their manufacturing hubs, providing incentives, encouraging product refinement first, before branding. For Abia state government, focusing on brand awareness at this point when there are fundamental things to fix within that industrial hub is nothing short of misplaced priorities. The most disturbing for me, was when I saw a picture of the state governor hand delivering pair of shoes to President Obasanjo ☹️️. And it made headline on Twitter. You mean a state governor made a trip from Umuahia to Otta to deliver shoes. The impact of that visit is something I still struggle to understand.

I read an article a few months ago (https://venturesafrica.com/features/walk-in-these-shoes-abas-very-own-leather-manufacturing-plant/), and i encourage everyone to read it also. It might help you understand why I’m a bit frustrated at the government’s campaign around awareness. The fact remains that, these guys need ‘real’ support, not merely asking them to brand their products ‘made in Aba’. I was in Taiwan in 2014, and I can tell you that Aba could easily become Taipei, or the Shenzhen of Africa, if Ikpeazu and his praise singers will simply commit to thinking through solutions.

The reason why we vote in folks into office is so they can think through solutions that will be beneficial to everyone. But when a solution such as, creating an e-commerce portal to fulfill orders for ‘made in Aba’ products is something a state government brags about, it makes me wonder if this the best we could have done. What about just focusing on helping these folks increase production for the export market via the following efforts:

0. Investment in Factory Equipment Leasing: Increase in production and standardization in manufacturing is driven by capital investment in the right equipment & technologies. There are financial institutions across the world that are specialist in providing small and medium scale businesses opportunities to lease special equipments. Why is the Abia state government not partnering with these folks to get the right tools to enhance production and drive quality in Aba? We’ve heard of cases where craftsmen pool resources together to purchase equipment to get their work done. Why is the state government not tapping into these insights? Why are they not partnering with private sector companies to bridge these gaps. When products are available and are of good quality, they sell themselves.

0. Security of Life and Property: There’s no incentive for any business person or investor to stay until dusk in a city where they are either scared of being kidnapped or harassed. You can scream ‘made in Aba’ all you like across Twitter, the fact remains that your Twitter audience won’t travel to places where their safety is guaranteed. Places with fantastic night life, where they can relax after a long day of work and transactions.

0. Road Network around Aba, and out of Aba: Aba has one of worst road network of any South-Eastern city. More pathetic when you drive on the routes that leads into Ariaria market or Shoe line where most of these products are made. What is the excuse? When are we fixing Ariaria?

0. Designate Ariaria and other locations where these products are made tax free areas or better, reduce the taxes on these craftsmen and their customers. It would interest you to know that in most SE and SS markets, there’s a ‘land fee’ (usually called ‘ego ala’) collected from every trader, and that is different from the fee you pay to have a truck loaded or off loaded. Government should scrap all these illegal fees. That is their job. Creating enabling environment for businesses to thrive.

0. Aba IPP(Geometric power limited): I’ll be interested in knowing what the Ikpeazu led government have done to support this laudable initiative. This is an off the grid power project that should be driving the wave of industrialization in Aba. It has been held down for political reasons for years. I’ve read that it will start running in 2017. Let’s hope all works out well. However, what plans has the governor, in making sure that this opportunity does not go to waste. And if you don’t know, some of the best industrial welders are in Aba. Most of the tanks used in storing petroleum products across the Delta are built in Aba.

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