Uplifting Aba textile industry to grow Nigeria’s manufacturing sector

Aba, Nigeria’s industrial city, is known for producing fine-fitting shoes. But it is also popular for producing garments used in the country and in the West African market.

The Aba garment industry attracts buyers from different parts of the country and even West and Central Africa.  Pairs of suits made in the city are bought by merchants from different parts of Africa from the commercial city.

A 2018 report by the Policy Development Facility (PDF), a rapid-response facility that supports federal government officials in implementation of policies, said the Aba garment industry employs 21,000 people.

The popular Garment Village in Aba is dominated by apparel producing factories. Most of them are small-scale, and are clustered around Ngwa Road. “There are approximately 600 independent producers working in this cluster with between five and 10 employees,” the PDF report said.

“Due to the residential nature of the area, the tailors work in rooms meant for families to live in rather than in purpose-built factory spaces,” it said.

This limits the size of the factories and the productivity of workers as smaller operating spaces cut down the number of tailors that can collaborate on a specific piece of clothing, it stated.

“Modern clothing factories use some assembly line principles, which would be impossible with the small working spaces producers in Aba have,” the report added.

There is also the Ekeoha Shopping Centre, which is in a well-built and -planned neighbourhood.

According to the report, small-scale apparel producers mostly operate on Kent and Mosque Roads and the perpendicular streets that connect them from Azikiwe Road to Clifford Road.

However, part of the challenge of this industry is lack of funds for expansion.

Okorie Agba, an apparel maker, told BusinessDay that they need money to meet their supply targets,

“When someone orders for garments, sometimes you have to source for money and produce what they want,” he said.

“This is because they give you little and ask you to produce what they want. At this point, you need money to produce that, especially if the order is in high quantity.”

The PDF report pointed out that roads need to be better to support garment makers reach their targets.

An active and functional textile industry will be an added advantage for a manufacturing sector to thrive, especially in an emerging economy which has the advantage of a larger market and abundance of resources, analysts say.

Unfortunately Nigeria’s textile sub sector is in a comatose state despite having a thriving industry in the early 90s. Overtime,  the industry dwindled due to poor policies and smuggling.

In an effort to revive the comatose textile industry, the CBN governor Godwin Emefiele placed a ban on textile import into the country as he explained that the country’s textile industry has collapsed from 128 to about 20. However, plans to revive the over 100 comatose textile plants are yet to be implemented which negates the motive behind the ban placed on textile import.

Reviving Nigeria’s textile industry goes beyond just placing a ban on textile import, analysts say. Gherzi Sub-Sahara, a textile consulting firm, reported that Nigeria would need a minimum of $1.4 billion (N504 billion) in new investments to revive its textiles industry.

Experts explain that just like the ban implemented in 2016 over 41 different items distorted the market, causing loss of jobs, investments and assets, the textile ban will cause another havoc, which will ultimately hinder the much-needed economic development.

According to data from Trading Economics,  Nigeria spent a total of $ 32.3 million importing textiles and textile products in 2017. The textile industry has been unable to reduce unemployment and contribute meaningfully to the country’s economy and GDP growth.

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In comparison to Bangladesh, a developing economy, the garment industry was able to wade through various challenges to currently become the world’s 2nd largest exporter of ready made garments (RMG) after China.

The country earned $33 billion from export of RMGs in 2018.

A World Bank report stated that, “Bangladesh is the world’s second largest producer of ready-made-garments in the world, and apparel comprises 83 percent of Bangladesh’s exports. Bangladesh hosts around 5,000 ready-made-garments factories that employ no fewer than 4 million workers, 80 percent of which are women.”

Latifat Muhammed, chief executive officer (CEO) of Teephafabrics Asooke said, “The policy will shake up the textile business environment at first, but manufacturers in Aba are up to the task especially if they can get investors to provide necessary things.

Read also: Why Aba must mimic China’s shoe industry model

“Furthermore, once the textile industry is revived, it will boost the Nigerian economy and spur economic growth.”

Presently, Nigeria lacks the capital and infrastructure to revive its comatose textile industry. Local production of textile will require local sourcing of raw materials which local farmers without aid cannot deliver.

Vincent Nwani a Lagos-based business consultant said, “The first step is to build and grow a domestic textile value chain including active mills across the country. The starting point is provision of electricity to the industries, subsidising importation of textile machines, incentivising cotton farmers and creating ready off-takers for them.”

Muda Yusuf, director-general of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry,      advised that the burden of infrastructure deficiency, high operating and production cost need to addressed in the textile industry before sustainable progress can be recorded.

He further said that more attention should be given to healthy competition in the business environment as well as resource-based industrialisation in order to further accomplish viable industrialization.

Nigeria’s GDP report supplied by the National Bureau of Statistics showed that the non-oil sector contributed 92.94 percent to real GDP in the fourth quarter of 2018. The textile and fashion industry has the potential to contribute to this and foster economic prosperity in the country just like Bangladesh but the country requires efficient to achieve that.

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