The sprawling facility, situated in the Ayade Industrial Park, known as Calabar Garment Factory has become a ghost town. A few native goats run about the lonely premises, eating the long grasses which have now overtaken the factory building.
Assorted reptiles such as big lizards, rats, small snakes, also relish the lush but wild grasses. They now freely run about inside and outside the premises.
The tarred roads leading to the premises are still neat though. Two long buses which were used to convey personnel the few months the factory functioned skeletally have been abandoned near each other within the premises. They are well beaten by the elements, while the tyres and seats are torn. Some of the windows have been smashed as are other parts of the vehicles.
A lone armed mobile police officer sits on the broken door of one of the rickety buses. A mosquito net hangs inside the abandoned bus, and it looked as though it may be a bedroom of sorts for the policeman and his colleagues.
“Yes, that’s where we sleep and do recline. We are used to this kind of life,” he told this reporter when asked.
Apart from the friendly officer, two women selling food outside the perimeter fence that demarcates the garment factory, Calapharm (another Ayade factory) and a private building, could be seen idling away. No one came to buy their food.
A power generator sits in its walled house. It must have been tampered with. Perhaps.
Findings show that two other supporting generators were reportedly ordered by Governor Bassey Otu’s government to be taken away, possibly for repairs.
No authority could confirm that report as calls to Secretary to the State Government, Prof Anthony Owan-Eno, and the commissioner for industries and commerce, Dr Mathias Unimke Angioha, were not responded to.
Daily Trust Saturday intended to authenticate the widespread reports and viral videos that it was looted, and that all the industrial sewing machines bought at several millions of naira were carted away by unknown persons.
Our reporter was not allowed into the building when he visited the factory.
Five hundred and forty machines comprising industrial sewing, cutting tables, heat transfer, button fixer, and several machines for the production of jeans and different brands of t-shirts were installed at inception, according to records. Our reporter could not verify if those machines were still intact.
Yet, from the transparent burglary windows, he could see the sewing machines still positioned at where they had been since the former Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, formally commissioned it on 1st June 2017. His boss, President Muhammadu Buhari had earlier visited the place.
The multi-billion-naira factory was established by former Governor Ben Ayade as one of his signature projects in his first year in office, in 2016.
It was meant to be an outfit to drive the lucrative outsourcing business for local and global brands. Ayade had concentrate all attention at the factory. It was meant to handle orders for military, sports, school, factory or religious uniforms, shirts, face caps, stockings, wrappers, sweaters, singlets etc. The government even had to establish a cotton farm in Yala LGA to supply it with raw materials.
Peter Egba, then commissioner for commerce, said, “The idea of the garment factory was primarily to industrialise the state, and opportunity to pull millions of indigenes out of poverty and want.
The garment factory was to mostly employ 3,000 women, majority widows.
According to Ben Ayade, “When we set up this factory, the intention was not just to create jobs but to guarantee that young men and women who have been challenged by circumstances of their births have the opportunity to better their lot.”
The factory at optimum was to operate a five-line production chain running on three shifts. It is very doubtful if that happened. Several times, there were unpalatable issues about payments of salaries to the workers.
Despite the hyping of the factory by Ayade’s administration, it is baffling that products from it were never seen in the markets even though it was heard that some paramilitary groups placed order for their own uniforms.
Simon Omini, a businessman, said, “The garment factory was to provide jobs, reduce unemployment especially amongst women and widows but there were frequent labour crises. The impact of that factory was never felt even though it was a commendable initiative.”
Before Ayade left power, there were several of his projects that were listed for concessioning. Was the garment factory one of them?
In June 2023, Gov Otu’s wife was reported to have led a team to assess the state of the factory. Findings indicated that the factory may have been bought over by some private firms.
However, on 1st July 2023, chief of staff to the governor, Emmanuel Ironbar, embarked on a fact-finding task to ascertain which state factories were illegally concessioned with a view to recovering them.
His fact-finding committee on state-owned concession firms, industries and other landed properties was to look into the transactions, legality and appropriateness of the transactions of the said industries and properties.
But nothing has been heard from them yet.