17 January 2009

Nigeria: Inside Naraguta Leather Works

The town of Naraguta, known for its history, has long predated the early days of mining activities in Jos, the Plateau state capital.

The then beehive of trading activities had witnessed the influx of people from across Nigeria and other West African countries, such as Niger and Chad.

Even today, Naraguta, a few minutes' drive away from Jos, has not totally lost its glamour because of the development of Jos city, for it serves as the nerve-centre of another lucrative business activity for decades: leather works. The decoration of hides and leather by imprinting designs and patterns on them is a craft for which Naraguta is well known. Interlaced shoes, bags, sandals, belts, wallets and many similar items are produced using various methods. Specifically, one of the companies which contributed in the development of the craft in Naraguta is Naraguta Leather Works (NLW).

According to the spokesman of the company, Tijjani Shu'aibu, most of their raw material comes from the abattoir and other local markets in places like Saminaka in Kaduna state, Tilden Fulani and Nabardo in Bauchi state. However, most of these materials are processed by a local tannery.

"Most of these raw materials we use are processed by a local tannery simply because the materials we use are local, but that notwithstanding, we still can produce finished goods in large quantity which are often exported", he said.

Little do buyers know that the finished goods they buy go through rigorous processes. "The process begins with soaking the raw skin in pits or pots where they usually spend up to four days before they are removed", Tijjani said.

According to him, the first stage is the process of removing the hair on the skin where salt, carbide and ash are used to help achieve the required result by mixing them inside the pit or pot. This is followed by mixing the raw skin in a separate pot (in order to help remove the leftover of flesh on the skin). Usually, chicken waste is added at this stage.

To prevent the skin from smelling, a local fruit, gabaruwa, is added with detergent and salt which give it a nice scent instead of a bad smell. "You know, it is skin and there is the likelihood that it will smell; but this mixture will not allow it to produce a bad smell", Tijjani explained.

Animal skin commonly used includes that of a rams, cows and goats, while that of wild animals such as crocodiles and pythons are usually brought in by hunters.

One intriguing thing about this craft is that the waste product accumulated from the first stage to the last is used for farming activities. For instance, the hair that is removed from skin is used by farmers as manure which they apply in the farms before the beginning of raining season in order to stimulate the nutrients on the farm.

Malam Idi Sani, 41, a farmer by profession said, "such local manure from the local tannery serves as a rich manure for our farms, it most of the time plays serves us much more than the modern fertilizer because its contents are all natural".

Colouring is an indispensable aspect of producing shoes, bags and other items in Naraguta Leather Works. On colours, Tijjani had this to say: "Colours are an essential part of leather works, because they help in bringing out the beauty of the items and sometimes customers prefer a particular colour on certain items".

He added: "And any colour one wants, the colour can be produced as long as the colour lies within the range of the primary colours".

Tools used in leather works include knives, scissors, razor blades and other similar items, which are all obtainable locally. "One of the things we have to import from abroad is the China Gum, and it is about the only thing we import in leather works; the heels and soles are brought in from places like Kano and Aba".

Essentially, among the challenges faced in leather works is the problem of energy which hinders their operation. "I know it is a general problem in the country but electricity is our major problem which makes it compulsory for us to have a standby generator which we mostly rely on for our operation. The truth is we can't rely on PHCN because of the epileptic nature of power supply".

Most professions have their hazards. What is it like in the leather works industry? Tijjani responded: "Well I think there are no particular hazards in this work; the only problem is that, like I pointed out, we usually use knives in our operation which, if not carefully handled, can result in serious injuries. Apart from that, I don't think there is any other risk involved in the work".

In order to play its social responsibility role well, the Naraguta Leather Work accepts interns from various institutions who go there to learn different skills in leather works. "We have students that come from different schools to learn one or two skills on leather works and there are some that come for excursion too".

On whether there was any collaboration between the company and the state government in order to lift the craft to a higher level, Tijjani said: "We have never had any collaboration between the state government and Naraguta Leather Works. However, we have, quite a number of times, participated in trade fairs when we were invited by the Plateau State Chamber of Commerce".

He quickly added: "I will like to use this opportunity to call on the government to provide a conducive atmosphere for this business by providing the necessary support, because this is an avenue through which youths can be engaged. It is a very lucrative business that can make young people to stand on their feet".

He added: "If a favourable atmosphere is found, coupled with the right equipment, foreign leather items will boast of little or no advantage over our work".

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