Manufacturers of finished leather goods in Nigeria converged on Federal Capital Territory (FCT) from April 5 to 7 for the first-ever Made-in-Nigeria leather goods fair. CHIKA MEFOR AND BODE GBADEBO witnessed the event and report.
The leather industry in Nigeria has been struggling to survive and is in a pitiable state. Even when it has been known to be the highest foreign income earner for Nigeria next to oil, the sector has been in a state of neglected for years. Leather is a popular input in fashion and furniture industry, it has a presence in these industries that cant be missed. Infact leather sets the pace and class in fashion and furniture.
This natural material is highly popular in the market. There are so many areas that one will obviously find leather applied. Some of these may include leather jackets, bags, handbags, leather belts, and seats among others. The importance of leather can never be over emphasized. That is the reason stakeholders gathered in Abuja from the 5th to the 7th of April for the first-ever Made-in-Nigeria( MiNfair) leather goods fair to showcase the many beautiful finished leather products made in Nigeria and to deliberate on the way forward for the sector.
The 3-days fair was packaged by Ascent Innovations Integrated Concepts Limited and sponsored by Growth and Employment in States (GEMS 1), UKaid, Made In Nigeria (MiN) with LEADERSHIP Newspapers Group as the official media partner.
The event had many leather makers from across the country in attendance that came over to proudly showcase their goods. Products like beautiful shoes, bags, leather cases,boxes, belts, carpets were on display for Nigerians who trouped in their numbers to the fair.
Aisha YakubuBako, a managing partner in Ascent Innovations and Integrated Concepts told Interval that the fair was organized in order to showcase the beautyand skills of Nigerian leather producers and their products , and to also promote the consumption of made in Nigeria by Nigerians the rest of the world.
She decried the level of under utilization of leather in the country and added that the fair was a platform for stakeholders to interact and strategise on the way forward for the leather sector.
"Do you realize that leather produced in Nigeria is the third best in the world? The amount of leather utilized in Nigeria is just a single digit number, compared with our population of over 150 million people, we need to explore the full potential inour internal market. We are here to advertise and promote the leather makers in the country and to hold a plenary session to discuss and way forward for the sector.
Safiya Mohammed Adamu, the Chairman, Editorial Board of Leadership news Papers who is also a managing partner in Ascent Innovations added that,"We hope to achieve a government buy- in in our effort to chart a road map after the fair. We hope to have a report and a roadmap. This is the first hopefully,of many interactive sessions aimed to bring about the desired change not only in the sector but in our general consumption attitude.We will have pilot shows across the country and this will culminate hopefully in an international session that would hopefully hold later in Abuja."
The fair was another starting point in changing the habit of consumption of Nigerians from imported goods to made in Nigerian goods, so said the Deputy Team Leader, (GEMS), Bello Yakasai. Yakasai stated that if Nigerian goods were promoted, it would be a life changing event for the economy of the country and for the people living in it.
"Even if we are not exporting leather and we produce about 160million pairs of shoes for the nation that is a start. If we do an average of two persons per shoes, that will be more than 300 million pairs of shoes to sell. Imagine how much money government will make and how much people will be employed.
"There have been security crises in Nigeria. This is because there is no job. The Chinese are bringing in 30 million shoes into Nigeria every year. Imagine how many Chinese people are employed to make those shoes. This is our employment opportunity and we sold it out. If we produce such amount of shoes in Nigeria, imagine how many of our graduates will be employed," he said.
He stated that successive government had neglected the leather sector which was number one foreign exchange earner next to oil and emphasized the need for government to revive the sector in order to utilize its potential for revenue generations and most importantly the creation of jobs for the teeming youths in the country.
"Imagine that the number one foreign exchange earner beside oil is not even in the menu of any ministry in terms of budgetary allocation. If you take away petroleum, leather is the number one foreign exchange earner in Nigeria but until this year, there have not been budget to support leather in commercial agriculture, " he said.
Yakasai added that in order to move the sector forward, relevant policies have to be reviewed, stating example in the ban of the importation of foreign shoes into the country which was absurd as almost every Nigerian find a way to get foreign shoes into their closet.
"It was a wrong policy because it only served in making other people rich. The foreign shoes keep trouping in. The issue is if you ban something, you have to get an enforcement agency to back it up. Our borders are porous. We are advocating rather than banning it, make a tariff or a levy for imported goods. You can import as many as possible but when they come to Nigeria, they must pay the levy. In that case, Nigerian goods will have price advantage," he stated.
He also advocated for incentives for the finishing of leather goods sector in Nigeria and emphasized the need for government to ensure that business environment is favorable for them through access to capital, and technology.
"We in GEMS1 have been promoting leather industry for two years now. We put the players in an organized advocacy group and give them one mouth to talk so people realize that the sector is neglected," he concluded.
Another main player at the event, the CBN's Head, Project Implementation of Nigerian Incentive- Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL), Jude Uzonwanne stated that the fair was part of the process of getting people to know and have a better understanding of the importance of the leather industry adding that the industry has been at the back ground for long and that the fair will help showcase it as the skilled and sophisticated industry that had been employing a lot of people and have been producing quality products which could be compared to that of other nations.
"When you give Nigeria high quality and durable goods, they figure out that it is the superior product. We need also advertising campaign and making the product more widely available, helping them find new market. We can get Nigerians get excited about our fashionable leather goods produced in Nigeria too," he said.
Getting people excited about Nigerian product will surely involve the government. The director of the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN), Alhaji Muhammad Nadada Umar through the head, Consultancy and Special Products of the agency, Friday Okpara explained that the agency will ensure the promotion of made in Nigerian goods by providing facilities for leather makers that will help them produce more for the Nigerian populace.
"Our mandate is to see that micro and small and medium enterprise is efficiently assisted. We are collaborating with both private and government institutions. We are trying as much as possible to change people's mindset on made in Nigerian goods especially the youths. We are collaborating with National Orientation Agency to talk to the people. Recently, our agency was in Kano because we want to convert the Industrial Development centre in Kano to world standard leather centre," he said.
During the interactive section at the flag off of the event, stakeholders agreed that the growth of the sector should begin with the changing the perception of the Nigerian people to the sector.