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How ban on import makes Aba shoe makers richer

The shoemaking business is no longer for illiterates and school dropouts as graduates have joined the trade and making more money than what they would…

The shoemaking business is no longer for illiterates and school dropouts as graduates have joined the trade and making more money than what they would have earned in white-collar jobs. Daily Trust visited Aba, the commercial nerve centre in Abia State and now reports.

Despite the hike in the prices of raw materials, shoemakers in Aba are making huge profits. Many people who spoke with our correspondent disclosed that they decided to shift the high cost of raw materials to customers by increasing their prices. For instance, if the cost of producing a pair of female shoes is N700, they would sell at N1,500 or more, depending on the quantity and bargaining power of the customer.

“Sometimes we make up to N600 profit on every pair of shoes produced, so multiply it by the total number of shoes ordered by a customer,” one of the shoemakers said.

It was also learnt that they make more money because the influx of Chinese shoes (which used to be of less quality and cheap) into the country has dropped drastically; hence Nigerians have no other option but to patronise local manufacturers.

At the Ariaria International Market, Aba, Abia State, shoemaking is a lucrative business. According to Austin Agbara, a graduate of Business Management from Ebonyi State, “If you are dedicated to this trade you will go places.”

Deacon Obioma Daniel, the chairman of Aba North Shoe Plaza, informed our correspondent that despite the challenges of COVID-19, shoe production in Ariaria Market had continued to thrive. Although he admitted that there was a lull in business activities because of the effects of the pandemic, he said, “We have gone beyond petty shoemaking. But for us to do so successfully, we need modern machines. That’s where the government should come in. Government should assist us through the banks to get soft loans, ranging from N500,000 to N100 million. This will boost the shoe and leather subsector and earn foreign exchange.”

Some of the shoes produced by students at the Academy


Daniel regretted that despite the strategic nature of the market and the shoe industry, the COVID-19 loan palliatives didn’t get to them.

The challenges of the traders, according to him, are lack of automated machines to produce better and more shoes, steady power supply, continued increase in exchange rate, lack access roads into the market, etc. In terms of quality, he said, “If we are provided with automated machines and loans we will produce better shoes than Italy and Brazil,” he boasted.

It was gathered that the Ariaria market has over 150,000 shoemakers and artisans, all clustered in different locations like Aba North Shoe Plaza, Bakassi Shoe Zone, Main Ariaria etc.

According to Chris Iwu, a 42-year-old shoemaker at the Aba North Plaza, although he has stamping, belt-cutting and sole processing machines, he still needs more to fine-tune his works and make them more durable.

He said 32 persons had so far graduated from him industry, adding, “I can produce 50 pairs of shoes a day.”

A 31-year-old apprentice, Joseph Chinedu, who informed our correspondent that he came to Ariaria when he was 16 years old, said, “This is a trade I am not regretting learning. It is lucrative, if you are dedicated to it.

“Without machine I can produce 10 pairs of shoes a day. We could mass-produce if we had machines. Lack of machines is our major challenge. Another challenge is the high cost of raw materials. If the government intervenes, just like it is doing right now, we will go places,” he said.

For a 43-year-old Chukwuma Uzor, who sells leather at the market, the cost of leather, which is a raw material for shoes, has risen astronomically following the continued depreciation of the naira.

“Some of the goods you see here now were half the price some years back. The devaluation of the naira has forced the prices of goods up. We sell to our customers based on market forces,” he explained.

At the Footwear Academy (FA), located at the Aba-Owerri road, our correspondent saw professionalism in shoemaking, confirming the claim that shoe manufacturing in the state has moved from artisanal level. The shoes there are of high quality and very expensive. The least goes for N20,000 while the ones for the elite in the society cost N100,000.

Samson Akpan said he got to know about the academy through Google search because of his quest to acquire a skill despite the fact that he has a degree in Computer Science.

“My mum is also a huge    advocate of skills, alongside degrees. I was home for a very long time due to the COVID-19 lockdown. When I decided to learn a skill, shoemaking was the first to come to my mind because I find it difficult to get nice shoes of my size.

“So my drive to learn shoemaking is first to solve a personal problem and to also offer services to others who face the same problem. And it has been an interesting experience.

“Coming to the Footwear Academy cleared whatever insecurity fear I had about the town – Aba. From what I have learnt and seen, I don’t need too much money to start my own business after graduation,” he said.

The marketing officer of the company, Miss Chioma Edoziem, explained that the academy sourced 80 per cent of its raw materials locally, while the rest is imported from Italy and other parts of the world.

Miss Edoziem, who spoke on behalf of the managing director of the company, Mr Bentley Chukwuemeka, disclosed that the firm started as an idea, but slowly metamorphosed into a shoe plaza. According to her, the company is gradually exporting to foreign countries, adding, “Presently, a client in Canada made an order of 150 shoes.”

According to her, the academy has two sections – training and production. She noted that the essence of the production section was to showcase whatever the students would learn in practical terms.

She added that the production section had gotten involved in commercial shoemaking, with the brand name, Bold Step, which does contract production for brands, according to specification.

She further said the training section was designed to meet the needs and abilities of students within three weeks, two months, three months, six weeks or one year.

“They can go for higher programmes after three weeks. Shoemaking involves basically two things: understanding the process and practising. The longer you stay, the better understanding you will have.

“Our trainings are affordable but not so affordable. Surprisingly, in 2019 when we returned, the cost of our training was N35,000 and only one person came. And then, we were willing to give all. But that era has gone. Now, our three-week programme is N50,000, three months is N300,000, six months, N600,000, while nine months is N900,000

Miss Edoziem also said the company had trained over 200 persons since it started in 2018. “This number excludes those in the private firms because some of our students are corporate workers,” she added

Daily Trust Saturday also learnt that graduates of the Footwear Academy are securing employment in foreign companies.

Disclosing this to the director-general of the Abia State Marketing and Quality Management Agency, Sam Hart, during an inspection tour of their new facility, the founder of the academy, Mr Chukwuemeka, noted that one of their recent graduates had secured employment in an Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates-based shoemaking company, with full work permit.


Chukwuemeka also disclosed that a company in Liberia had taken over the sponsorship of two of their current students, with an offer of automatic employment in their company as soon as they complete their training.

He noted that their fortune changed dramatically when the governor of Abia State, Dr Okezie Victor Ikpeazu, took notice of their work and started patronising them and proudly wearing their products.

He further disclosed that the support of the governor and the publicisation of their activities by officials of the Abia State Government pushed them into the limelight, attracting massive enrolment, which culminated in their emergence as winners of the 2021 edition of the Federal Government MSME awards in the leatherworks category, which came with a brand new car and cash price of N1 million.

He noted that as a result of huge enrolments, their former one-shop location in a shopping plaza could no longer contain them and they had to relocate to a new five-room duplex, where they are currently operating from.

Chukwuemeka thanked Governor Ikpeazu for his belief in their vision, as well as support, which has opened enviable doors for them. He assured that they would continue to make the governor proud through quality products.

The director-general of the Abia State Marketing and Quality Management Agency, Mr Hart, commended the team for their diligence and innovation, and assured them of the continued support of the state government.

A few months ago, Governor Ikpeazu dispatched 30 young Abians to China to be trained on automated shoemaking. His intention was to move shoe production business in Aba from being manually operated to the use of machines, which supports mass production.

When the team returned, the governor followed up by ensuring the importation of the equipment they trained with, and thereafter, established the first-ever automated shoemaking factory in the state, known as Enyimba Automated Shoe Company (ENASCO), with the 30 young people becoming the drivers of the firm.

The company is already mass-producing shoes for institutions like the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC). It is also set to produce for the police and the military, as well as paramilitary organisations in the country that hitherto imported their foot-wears at great cost.

Already, the factory has made her first delivery for 2021 after it successfully produced and delivered 3,000 pairs of boots to the NRC.

When Governor Ikpeazu moved to make the state friendly to foreign investors, travelling to different countries, many of his opponents laughed it off, saying he was “junketing.” But he was not deterred, so he went ahead with his project.

The efforts of the governor are yielding dividends, with the state rated as the third favourite destination of choice for foreign investments in 2020 by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

Many new multi-national outfits are opening shops in Aba, after decades of avoiding or fleeing the state. For example, steel giants like Inner Galaxy is producing and exporting from Aba, while Nibra Shoe of Brazil is constructing a new factory in the state. Other international brands are also investing in the state.

Recently, a man who was displaced from a northern state and forced to return to the South-East found himself in Aba, and in no time, he was able to settle his family, rebuilt his business and is doing better, according to him.

Many new businesses are also opening up in Aba, almost on a daily basis. Our correspondent learnt that the situation is already putting pressure on available infrastructures in the city.

Furthermore, the INEC now gets their ballot boxes from Abia State. It was learnt that they initially sourced them from China.

Also, Governor Ikpeazu has formally inaugurated a seven-member management board for the Enyimba Automated Shoes factory. The Board is mandated to run the factory like a proper business and consolidate on the position of Aba and Abia State as a global hub for shoe and other leather products.

Inaugurating the Board at the Banquet Hall of the Government House in Umuahia, the governor said it was the signpost of efforts to mainstream the state into a competitive global shoe market.

He said the objective of the factory was to create a paradigm shift from the old way of shoe production and key into the new dynamics, with acceptable global standards.

Ikpeazu said all the equipment in the factory were brand new and could be counted among the best in the world, adding that it is expected to produce 2 million pairs of shoes annually.

He charged the managing director of the factory, Mr Kito Dominic and other Board members to bring their wealth of experiences in developing a brand that would compete favourably in the global market.

Responding on behalf of the Board, the chairman, Mr Mark Atasie, said that Abia already had a name in the global leather market, describing the event as a good foundation for expanding the commercial frontiers of shoe industry in Aba.

Mr Atasie said that according to a World Bank report, the commercial nerve centre of Abia State has over 100,000 shoemakers. He promised that his members would be committed to professionalism and profitability, adding that Abia would consolidate on her leadership position in the leather and garment sector in the country.

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