Special Report: The slumbering economic giant called Ariaria market
For the first time visitor to Aba, the allure of its fast-paced commercial life can be overwhelming. The city houses Ariaria Market, known not just for its size but also the creative ingenuity of most of its operators.
It has for long lived with its everyday hustle and bustle, amid unspeakable squalor, until the Federal Government began an aggressive campaign urging Nigerians to buy Made-in-Nigeria.
With the fall in prices of crude oil in the international market, and no hope for a rebound in the immediate future, the Nigerian government, perhaps, had no choice but to do the needful, that is, look inwards to raise the much needed resources to finance its activities.
The government says it is determined in its resolve, with the host governor even claiming not to have worn any dress made outside the shores of Nigeria since his administration was inaugurated over a year ago. This, he said, reflects his desire to patronize locally made goods, as opposed to a craze for imported products, which has constituted a strain on the country’s foreign exchange
Buoyed by the Nigerian government’s call for citizens to ‘buy Nigeria to grow Nigeria’, Ripples Nigeria embarked on a tour of, perhaps, the most popular market in the country where made in Nigeria goods are being manufactured, to ascertain the level of commitment and involvement in the project.
One of such economic hubs is the Ariaria market, situated in Aba, Abia state, which unfortunately, in spite of its enormous potentials, has been largely ignored by governments at every level.
In this two part serial, Ripples Nigeria presents a summary of findings from the sleeping economic giant called Ariaria market.
Rising from the ashes of a fire incident that gutted the Ekeoha Market in Aba in the 1970s, the Ariaria Market, located in the swampy end of the town, has developed to become, arguably, the largest market East of the Niger.
The market houses over two million traders and has assumed the status of a one-stop market for clothing wears, shoes and other fashion accessories which are available for purchase in retail or bulk.
Ariaria market, however, over the years has suffered infrastructural deficit which has invariably slowed down the level of economic activities, plus output and quality of goods produced in the market.
The market cuts across three local government areas; Aba North, Aba South and Osisioma and is divided into about 85 sections specialising in different articles of trade for easy shopping.
Many of the shops are rickety structures, with marshy footpaths in between them which become water logged and muddy during the rainy seasons hindering easy movement.
Echoing some of the challenges faced by traders and artisans alike in Ariaria market, Chukwuemeka Obi, who makes female bags and who is the Vice President of one of the sections called Pillars Line, Umuehilegbu, informed that they have been knocking on the door of government for assistance in getting modern equipment for production to increase output but have not gotten any meaningful response.
He said they’ve been to different fora to push their cause to no avail as lack of equipment is seriously affecting output.
“As you can see, my dinghy shop has no power supply like other shops around here. Even if an industrial machine is provided, I cannot operate it because of lack of power supply. The provision of electricity, loans and good road network is important for the growth of this market and most customers who want to buy goods here turn back because of bad roads which are sometimes inaccessible, especially when it rains”.
According to Christian Okoro, Chairman Aba North Industrial Market, one of the challenges being faced by artisans on a daily basis is the unavailability of raw materials. He said, if raw materials like gum chemical are readily made available, then, the finishing of most jobs done at Ariaria will be near perfect.
“Made-in-Aba products are gaining recognition and patronage because when you compare products made in Aba and that of China, the quality of the ones made here are superior.” Okoro said.
He added that the economic situation of the country which is seriously affected by the attendant recession is also affecting business in the market.
“The economic situation in the country is affecting everyone because if an importer brings goods from overseas here to Nigeria, he will sell the products at a higher rate and the same goes for traders who buy expensive raw materials as it is expected that the finished product will be expensive. Three months ago, we set up a committee to fix a price limit for traders in order to make the fixed price on products manufactured here to be stable and the rule was enforced as anyone who is caught selling at a lower price by the committee will be sanctioned.
“The only ones who are not being affected by the fall of the value of the naira are importers who are having a big kill because when they buy products or materials at the rate of N1 they’ll sell it triple the price they bought the product in the first instance”.
Okoro also noted that the state Governor Okezie Ikpeazu had tried to provide modern equipment to artisans in the market but some traders dragged the State Government to court over plans to reconstruct shops and remodel the market.
“In the area of provision of equipment, the government on its part has tried to help in that regard but some traders dragged the state government to court over plans to reconstruct shops and remodel the market and that has hampered the process of getting needed equipment.
“In less than four months after Governor Ikpeazu assumed office, he took some traders including me to Dubai to see new model of machines used in making shoes and to also acquire more knowledge about the trade.” He stated.
But unlike Mr. Okoro, Tony Anih, a middle-aged shoemaker who owns a shop at the old express Aba end of Ariaria Market; business has been encouraging despite the economic downturn.
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.
To be continued….
The series continues tomorrow. Read what the traders have to say about claims of government ordering 50, 000 boots for the Nigerian Army from the market, and the failed attempts by several governments at providing infrastructure in the market, among others things.