An expert, Bello Abba Yakasai, says Nigeria tans between 40 and 50 million skins annually, earning $600 to $800 million yearly from export of leather.
Speaking at a roundtable event organised by the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria in Kano State, Yakasai said the industry employs about a million people directly and indirectly.
Citing Ogbonnaya Onu, minister of science and technology, Yakasai said the Nigerian leather industry could be worth about $900m in export in the coming years.
He disclosed that the value of hides and skins from Nigeria to China is put at $6 million to $8.5 million annually, while China produces 300m pairs of footwear from them.
“Instead of exporting leather from Nigeria, China/Nigeria should invest into further processing of the products. This will result in more growth, employment,” he said.
“It is important to train Nigerian artisanal processors of leather and leather products to enhance the growth of MSMEs,” he stated.
He urged Nigeria to encourage export of finished leather products to earn Nigeria bigger foreign exchange from the industry.
Aba, Lagos, Onitsha and Kano are leading leather hubs in Nigeria. While Kano leads in leather tanning, Aba is popular for the manufacture of shoes, trunk boxes and bags.
One million pairs of shoes are produced by more than 80,000 leather makers in Aba each week. With 48 million pairs produced each year at an average price of N2,500 a pair, the industry is said to be worth up to N120 billion.
Traders from West African neighbours storm the industrial city every week to buy different product designs, just as Southern African schools are beginning to place orders directly from the shoe makers. Canadians, Europeans and the Chinese are also in the party, placing orders themselves directly or through their Nigerian proxies, BusinessDay was told in Aba.
“We are already struggling to meet demands,” said Ken Anyanwu, secretary of the Association of Leather and Allied Industrialists of Nigeria (ALAN), who produced Nigerian armed forces shoes in 2016.
The Abia leather industry is made up of shoes, trunk boxes and belts. It provides employment for tens of thousands, with many specialising in different stages such as designing, patterning, cutting, skiving, stitching, peeling and finishing. It is made up of clusters such as Powerline, Imo Avenue, Bakassi, Aba North Shoe Plaza, Omemma Traders and Workers, ATE Bag, and Ochendo Industrial Market, comprising input supplers, among others.
However, the industry is in thriving in chaos as the majority of shoe makers in the industrial city are poorly structured and are not registered at the Corporate Affairs Commission. Exports are made informally, making tracking and planning difficult.
Their machines are crude and much of their work is still done by human labour. The more advanced shoe makers in Lagos are mostly foreigners, who design their shoes abroad and then import Completely Knocked Down shoes back to the country for finishing.
“This is where the problem lies. We in Aba have no good machines,” Anyanwu of ALAIN said.
Aba shoe makers import animal skins from China and many parts of Africa and Europe despite tanning a lot of it.
“What happens is that the tanneries in Kano and Kaduna process animal skins and sell them as leather in the global market, earning foreign exchange,” said Chinatu Nwagbara, coordinator of Made-in-Aba Project, who produced shoes for Olusegun Obasanjo in 2016.
“So we go to China and other countries to buy. Sometimes, we buy our products and re-import,” he said.