Where he sits, on a rusty wooden chair, in a rather compacted shop that he shares with two or more colleagues, nothing projects him as a man of ideas. He is ordinary and common even when he rolls the machine and shifts the cloth rhythmically to the edges of the pin and the thread. In certain places, they are as large as a classroom with arrays of machines and men consumed and buried in their work. But, the Aba tailor is not necessarily ordinary. He is, as his work can confirm, a great creative mind – a man of ideas!
Indeed, the tailor is a phenomenon and a symbol of the large spectrum of men and women of skill, trade and craft that populate Aba. He has come to be a resounding metaphor about the mystique of the city, a very rare attribute of creative ingenuity, characteristics of the artisans and tradesmen of Aba. From the Aba tailor, the Aba shoemaker, bag-maker and all leather workers to the fabricators, there is a generic talent that grows in the ancient city, a talent that has not been placed in the right incubation. This rare ingenuity manifests in the craft and art of the Aba tailor. It is evident in his designs and in his finishing and Governor Okezie Ikpeazu is obviously modeling for the Aba tailor.
Today, the challenge of harnessing the Aba talent is one of the preoccupations of Governor Ikpeazu’s administration. It is for this reason that the governor has developed a plan for industrial clusters in Aba. The place of successful economies of the world goes to confirm the importance of developing innovative business and industrial clusters where there will be high level of interaction among the skilled manpower. The governor wears Aba-made products and his tailor is the Aba tailor. The Aba tailor, precisely, is an extension of an epic story that is Aba city. The Aba-made-goods remain a story that has gone far and wide but has not been given the necessary attention. The power of creativity of the artisans and tradesmen and their profound skill in developing local content of all products are stories that have transcended many shores.
But, lamentably, the Federal Government of Nigeria and the necessary federal agencies have, over the years, ignored the potential in the Aba artisan, a potential that would have brought Nigeria at par with the emerging markets of the Asian Tigers both in industrialisation and in trade. Nigeria’s loss is the gain of Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, Dubia, name it. The trade tourism to Asia and the Emirates would have been the gain of Aba and Nigeria.
One would therefore, wonder: why hasn’t the Bank of Commerce and Industry looked in the direction of harnessing the talents of the Aba tradesmen? Why haven’t the successive federal agencies with the mandate of encouraging small and medium scale enterprises looked in the direction of developing the big industry of the Aba artisanship? Why are there no industrial clusters and industrial parks in Aba even with the boast of the city being the Japan of Africa? Why has this city served Nigeria and West Africa for ages without a corresponding developmental programme for the creative ingenuity that is synonymous with the city?
These are Governor Ikpeazu’s nightmares. In response to these worries, he has decided to pay close attention to the Aba artisan. Part of the strategy of the Aba Urban Renewal Drive encapsulates a broad tactical action for the development of industrial clusters and industrial parks for the Aba tradesmen. At Umukalika Village, a shouting distance from the Aba metropolis, a large acreage of land earmarked for industrial cluster for shoes, bag, belt, trump box and garment have been lying desolate for years. Today, Governor Ikpeazu is set to revive and activate work at the Umukalika Cluster.
A large expanse of land at the Aba axis of the Port Harcourt/Enugu Expressway has also been designated for industrial park. Ikpeazu’s idea is to put the artisans together in sectional groupings and provide the enabling environment with the proper incentive. He also plans to elevate their skill with training and exposure to modern technology to enhance capacity. Industrial clusters are springboard to industrial revolution. It is the secret of the giant leap experienced in the emerging markets of Asia. The concentration of interconnected skills will promote competition and then innovation and will encourage specialisation among the groups and provide the common spirit that is necessary for cooperation and cross fertilisation of ideas.
The new Abia State Economic Advancement Team (ABSEAT) has envisioned an industrial hub for Aba, in the mould of Hong kong. The governor’s idea is that, by bringing the artisans into clusters, they will easily learn about changing economic conditions, adapt and benefit from the changes. The physical proximity of the players would encourage interaction and promote the exchange of ideas and expertise and this will, at the end, stimulate innovation and economic growth.
Indeed, the Aba tailor represents an outstanding phenomenon that is begging for attention. This phenomenon is the inherent and latent economic potential of Aba. Aba presents a rare phenomenon of little great minds ruling the world from their little backyard huts and shops, from where, armed with common tools and a restless mind, they could produce anything but man. It has come to be a marvel to the world and a source of attraction to the city and her people.
This is the time to grow and tap this potential. For the first time, the Federal Government should identify with this project. There is also need for global investors to key into the vision of Governor Ikpeazu in developing the potential of Aba. Indeed, a Daniel has come to judgment!