The people of Akwete in Ukwa East Local Government Area of Abia State have appealed to the federal and state governments to support women weavers in the community to hand-made cloth known as ‘ Akwa Akwete’ (Akwete cloth).
They argue that the cost of thread, which is their main raw material, has gone up astronomically, thereby increasing their cost of production.
They appeal to the federal government to, in the meantime, encourage local production of quality threads, especially cotton and silk threads, to enable them access quality raw materials at affordable rates.
They observe that the sustenance of the art of weaving would reduce unemployment and improve the economy of the locals, state and country at large.
Christian Uwaezuoke, secretary, Joint Council of Akwete, comprising Umuihueze, Amakam and Umueze autonomous communities, explained that the only time weavers in the community experienced government support was during the administration of Governor Sam Mbakwe of the old Imo State.
According to him, “The late Mbakwe, the then governor of old Imo state, from where Abia, Ebonyi and the present-day Imo were carved out, through his wife, recognised the creative ingenuity and contributions of Akwete women weavers to the development of Imo state.
“Part of his programme was to encourage local industries. He visited Akwete women and one of the questions proposed during the visit was how government can assist them,” he said.
Mbakwe donated N50,000, which led to the setting up of the Women Weaving Cooperative Society Centre, which also serves as their showroom, Uwaezuoke said.
He stated that Uzoma Abonta, member, representing Ukwa East and Ukwa West in the House of Representatives, recently reroofed the building as an honour to his late mother, Rosalind Abonta, who was the pioneer leader of the women.
“Beyond that, all subsequent governments have not done anything to support women weavers in the Akwete.
“There was a time Akwete women weavers hosted a team from the Raw Materials Research and Development Council, who said they were in the community to understudy the cloth production and know how they could help boost its marketability. But after that visit, nobody heard from them. It is over three years now, but nothing has been done.
“Also, some time ago, some youths came to understudy it and know how to leverage its marketability through linking some companies overseas, but after that nothing came out of it.
“The original piece of this cloth is showcased in the British Museum in London, where it is showcasing Nigeria and black man’s contributions to civilisation.
“Government takes our women to showcase their products at trade fairs, but after every event, nothing comes out of it. Our women also participated at FESTAC 77.
“This cloth industry has made some contributions to economic development. Meanwhile, government is talking about local content policy, looking inwards, but nothing is happening,” he argued.
Helen Ebere, president, Akwete Cooperative Women/ Weavers Association, urged government to help them source silk and cotton thread at cheaper rates.
“They can help us access loans that will enable us engage more hands to weave. This is a gift God gave to us. We’re not good traders, the only thing we do and know is to weave and we love it,” she said.
Patience Okere, a weaver, who said she started the art of weaving at the age of 12, explained that the art was inborn in every female child born in Akwete and appealed to government to assist them.