Mrs Folake Oyemade, the president of the Apparels and Accessories Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (AAMAN), is one of the foremost names in the industry. Her company is regarded as the biggest apparel manufacturing factory in Nigeria. In this interview with Daily Trust on Sunday she spoke on how the industry can create jobs, inject foreign exchange into the economy, among other things.
How can the industry contribute to the economy?
The government and people of Nigeria should be able to increase the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country by exporting apparels. Other countries are making a lot of money from apparels. They have been able to increase their GDP and reduce unemployment tremendously.
This sector is the highest employer of labour because it is people-oriented. An Apparel factory, for instance, that has 100 machines, needs to employ 100 people to man those machines; and that is a lot of people to take up. Even at that, an apparel factory with 100 machines is not a big one by any standard.
We noticed that this sector has been underestimated, in the sense that we haven’t been getting the attention we feel is due to the sector. Part of the reason is a result of the fact that before the AAMAN we had not really had a front where they could hear our voices and know what potential and value we could add to the GDP and the standard and quality of life of Nigerians.
This industry is a goldmine the country is sitting on without tapping. Countries like Bangladesh and others don’t have up to half of these things, yet they add several billions of dollars yearly to their GDP from apparel manufacturing. The industry is highly untapped in Nigeria. Bangladesh, last year, was said to be the highest exporter of apparels, making the highest amount of money from export in the world. It made a total of $35.81billion from apparel exports. Bangladesh and Nigeria have almost the same population. Imagine Nigeria adding that to the GDP; not only will it push up the value of the naira, it will also put food on the tables of lots of Nigerians, especially the most vulnerable in the society, who are the women and the youth.
What should be done to restore the sector?
We had come up with so many suggestions in the past. A lot of government agencies have also been engaged as well in order to curb the rise of crime and unemployment in Nigeria.
We have also said that it can only be a win-win situation for this country if the government would listen to us and do just a little of what this sector is asking them to do.
In apparel manufacturing you are only able to do real manufacturing when you are in constant production. China and other countries have gone far in apparel production because they have constant work to do. When I say constant work, I don’t mean contracts but providing and producing for their populations.
China started before growth in that sector became exponential. They started with internal supply and by producing for the Chinese. That is exactly what we are telling the government to do. We know that everyone works for their money, so we are not saying the government should tell people not to import their dresses, we are merely asking for an enabling environment and fair chance to compete with China.
We also suggested that basic items, such as shorts and t-shirts used for promotional items should be banned from entering the country, so that the sellers in the market would have no choice but to buy locally produced ones. What is the big deal in shorts that we can’t stitch? What is the big deal in round necks that we cannot stitch? If the government does just that, can you imagine how many apparel industries would spring up? Even the existing ones that are operating at 10 per cent capacity will begin to operate at 100 per cent. Imagine the ripple effect on industrialisation, job creation for the youth and women.
I had an apparel factory in Osogbo, with the capacity to employ over 1, 000 people. When we opened, because it was a joint venture with the then governor of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola, we were able to train and employ a lot of youths and women. Since those factories were shut, crime has gone up in Osun State. That was when we started hearing Yahoo Plus and all kinds of names. I knew that the moment they were pushed into the unemployment market they would go into crime. Nigeria is sitting on a time bomb.
Some people might say that those who have criminal tendencies will always look for a way to be more criminally minded, but I don’t exactly agree with that. Were things in Nigeria like this some 20 years ago? Was poverty like this? The more people are getting rooted in poverty, the more and bigger crimes the population will experience.
The naira has tumbled and depreciated by 50 per cent, but salaries have not been increased in the same way. More people have even lost their jobs and are not earning anything.
Nigeria is a huge market with a huge potential. There is a video going viral these days of the Chinese printing Ankara. They print Ankara and all of them are wearing it. When it was sent to me, I looked at it and laughed. Even our Aso Oke is being made in China. I have seen imported Aso Oke in the market. People are even importing our traditional attire that should be our heritage and source of income for local producers.
Patronising made in Nigeria products
Like people will say, talk is cheap. I can come out and say anything, but what policies have I put in place to make that happen? That is where sincerity of purpose comes in. For instance, I have two factories and can employ over 1,000 people. If I get these fabrics on my own, bring them in, stitch them and try to push them to the local market, it will not be accepted because my cost of production is going to be higher than what they brought in. That is why we are asking the government to give us waivers and allow us to bring in the raw materials. They can also make sure that wholesalers in the market cannot import them anymore.
Let us be honest with ourselves; our people love importation. A lot of people are too shortsighted that they cannot understand the importance of industrialisation.
The average person prefers to go to China, pack all the rubbish and bring them here, but government can put measures to checkmate it by ensuring they pay through their noses, or outright ban. And if they know that there are factories here that are producing the same thing with the same quality fabrics and the stitching is good, of course they will buy locally. These are strategies that even countries like China used earlier. Up till now, to buy anything imported into China is very expensive. It discourages the locals from buying imported things. They always buy made in China because that is what is readily available and cheaper for them. Aside from China servicing the whole world, they are also servicing themselves with a population of over 1 billion people. Nigeria has the same potential of being a super power. We have the largest population, resources, technical know-how and manpower in Africa.
As a business woman who has experience in this industry, I can tell you that if what we produce locally is as good as what is imported, and we are able to sell at a cheaper, or even the same price, people will buy, including those who have importation mentality.
How COVID-19 affected the industry
A lot of us are hanging in the industry as a result of our passion and the investments we have made, not because much is happening. During the EndSARS, quite a number of our products were carted away. The ripple effect of COVID and what have you have been doubled, including people losing equipment, money, goods, and at the end of the day, not having anything to show for it. A lot of us are just hanging here believing that at some point government agencies and various arms would take the necessary actions.
Exporting made in Nigeria products
The population of Nigeria is large for us to gainfully employ most people in this sector, servicing the local industry, so let us start with that. You are looking at exporting when you are importing, does that make any sense? Why don’t you take care of your local market? You don’t have to import and the extra can later on begin to go out. Let no one start talking about exportation because the reality of it is that we are not able to compete yet because a lot of things are not in place.
We are in the political era again; have you imagined how many billions of dollars will leave Nigeria for t-shirts alone? We started this conversation last year, if they had allowed us to do it, do you know how many jobs we would have created?