Special Report… The slumbering economic giant called Ariaria market (2)
Anih who has been into the business of shoemaking for more than 18-years says the year 2016 was different, and that despite the fact that materials are a bit costly, the demand for goods have been encouraging.
Interestingly, the shoemaker says he is not aware that the FG ordered 50,000 pairs of boots for the Nigerian army. “I am not aware that such amount of boots were ordered by the FG. Even if those boots were ordered for, I am not sure they were not made in Ariaria market.
When probed further about where he thinks the boots ordered for by the FG could be manufactured. Anih said; “I don’t know; maybe the person contracted imported the boots from outside Nigeria but I am not sure they were made-in-Aba”.
He says the prospects in the shoemaking business are really bright and anyone who invests in the business is sure of making sizeable profit from it.
“The demand for goods in the market is on the high side and it is as a result of the value of the naira against the dollar. People no longer crave for foreign goods considering the exchange rate; they prefer to patronise locally made goods and sell in return knowing that they are going to get good returns”.
Anih says Ariaria market is known for its shoe making and leather works thus making it one of the largest leather shoe-making markets in West Africa. He also noted that many graduates have dumped their search for white-collar jobs and have embraced shoe-making as a way of making ends meet.
“There are a lot of graduates in the country searching for jobs who can engage in the business of shoemaking or bag making as the case may be, especially when the search for white collar jobs is not yielding any positive fruit. As we speak, there are over 70, 000 youths or more who are usefully engaged in this market.
“The condition of our business has been changed possibly by the government which has banned the importation of foreign made shoes and insisted on made-in-Nigeria which is invariable made-in-Aba shoes. The decision by the Federal Government has improved the demand of locally made products.
“Sourcing materials is another challenge; we also suffer decadence and lack of infrastructure. The roads are pretty bad, there is a lack of modern equipment to work with and we also suffer lack of electricity supply.” Mr Anih added.
Refuting claims made by Anih, Ikechukwu Anaeme, Vice President of Ariaria Umuehilegbu Industrial market said the 50, 000 pairs of army boots were actually ordered from Ariaria market. He noted that Abians are generally hardworking people who are ready to work and that is one of the reasons the market is referred to as the Japan of Africa.
“The 50,000 pairs of army boots ordered by the FG were made here; though I cannot readily tell you who got the contract to supply the said amount of boots. You must have come across shoes that look like the ones ordered for by the FG as you go around the market. Abians are hardworking people who are ready to make a living through trade and what have you. The only setback we have in this market is lack of infrastructure and bad road network.
Michael Aniorji, Chairman, National Association of Nigeria Traders, Abia State chapter, said the market has been suffering infrastructural deficit for the past 17-years and the roads especially have been a sorry sight.
But he says the present government is making efforts to alleviate the hardship of the traders as work is currently on-going at the Ukwu Mango end of the market which has been a problem for years.
Commenting on the state of infrastructure in the market, Aniorji said; “Past administrations have used the road to make campaign promises but they never did anything about the road but it is heart-warming to note that work is being done on the road. The Ukwu Mango end has been an albatross over the years because all the trucks that come to the market go through that road and when it rains, it becomes impassable and most traders around the area cannot display their wares.
When asked if he could quantify the volume and value of business done at the market, he replied thus; “The value and volume of business that goes on around the market is unquantifiable; the market is large. It comprises those who involve in production and sales; there are people involved in leather works, iron making, shoemaking, bag making, belt making, exporters and other artisans. You cannot readily place a finger on the value of business done at the market on a daily and I can assure you it runs into billions of naira.
Corroborating the comments of Aniorji, Henry Ikoh, Abia Commissioner for Industry, pointed out that Governor Ikpeazu is making efforts to improve certain areas of Ariaria with the ultimate plan of relocating traders to Umukalika Ultra-Modern market.
The Commissioner said the new market site will boast of 24-hour electricity supply, good roads, proper security measures and spacious warehouses among other things when completed.
“Before now in Ariaria, when it rains, the traders have no place to display their wares because of the deplorable condition of the market. Hence, the governor has taken it upon himself to relocate the traders to a more conducive environment to enhance production and trade.
“The new site has been there for the past 10-years and as I speak to you, construction is on-going. When the new market site is completed Aba will become the hub of trade in Nigeria and West Africa by extension because the quality of goods produced here is high”, the Commissioner said.
He expressed delight over the move by the Federal Government to order 50,000 pairs of boots for the Nigerian Army, saying it is a welcome idea and wants the FG to continue to patronise traders in the market who produce caps, belts, wears, boots and other leather made items.
The Commissioner also noted that there was no need to go to China to purchase such items when they can be produced here.
“That’s why the governor has taken it upon himself to be the chief marketer of made-in-Aba goods. The awareness by the governor is just a subtle note to the FG to look inwards because we have the capacity to produce such products locally.” He said.
When asked about the volume and value of business transacted at the Ariaria Market, the Commissioner said; “the value and volume of business done at the Ariaria Market runs into billions of naira averagely, but I don’t have an accurate figures.
“As I speak to you, the State Government gets as much as N700 million but by the time we do the needful by relocating to a clustered market like the one being constructed in Umukalika the revenue paid to the State Government is expected to increase.
“But because of the attendant recession and the deplorable condition of the market, the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) for this year is expected to reduce. Moving forward we can increase IGR if the market is clustered and sited in a good location like the new site which is being put together by the State Government, then every month, revenue will increase.” The Commissioner added.
The Nigerian economy, majorly driven by a contracting oil sector, is currently facing its worst crisis in more than 20 years.
Close watchers of the economy are, however, optimistic that the local content policy is capable of steering Nigeria’s 2017 budget of “Recovery and Growth”out of recession and to a path of steady growth if adequate attention is accorded commercial hubs around the country such as Ariaria market.