“Aba is China of Africa”, echoed Dim Chigozie, chief executive of Prince Dim Fashion Concept, Aba, Abia State. “But there is no infrastructure in Aba to support our business,” he lamented over the telephone conversation with BusinessDay.The city is one of Africa’s industrial hubs. Like Chigozie, many SME operators in Aba wonder why federal and state governments neglect the potential of the city, thereby making China a viable alternative.
If necessary attention is paid to Aba, Chigozie said, the production capacity of the hub will increase the economy of the nation.
Aba industrial hub faces several challenges that affect the manufacturers. According to Chigozie, whose office is located at Mbaise/Ngwa Road, Aba, the road network in the area is terrible, blaming the state government for not paying enough attention to a place that could turn the economy of Nigeria around for good.
In addition, power supply is another major issue that Aba industrialists have to contend with.
As sources of alternative power supply, Aba industrialists have to go for generating sets to keep their productions going. This means that people like Chigozie usually buy petrol/diesel to power their generating sets. This raises production costs and reduces competitiveness of their products.
“I buy fuel every day. It tells a lot in my pocket,” he lamented.
John Chinedu, a shoemaker in Aba, said most of his income goes to power generation by way of fueling his generators.
“If I do not power my generator, I will go out of business,” he said.
Acquiring the necessary equipment is another challenge of people like Chigozie, who have the technical knowledge to sew different types of clothes but do not have the financial strength to acquire some machines, especially for finishing, face.
“What you see in China is nothing; they only have the equipment,” Chigozie said.
According to him, even with the little equipment they have, Aba producers are able to come out with products that are globally demanded, wondering what they could achieve if the right pieces of equipment are at their reach. His main challenge is to acquire ‘finishing machines’ that will enable his handiwork become more visible and appreciated.
“People who travel to China mainly go there because China has finishing machines, nothing else. If such machines are available in Nigeria, Aba will compete with China,” he said.
“The main thing about the job is finishing. If we have the equipment, people will no longer go to China,” he boasted.
Chijioke Oguebunwa, an Aba based entrepreneur, said a lot of products come out from Aba, adding that government only needs to do more for the city to make it what is should be.
There is nothing that is needed that one could not get in Aba, ranging from shoes, cloths, belts and other things, he said.
“It is in Aba they sew most of things you see in Nigeria,” said Oguebunwa.
Debunking the myth that Aba produces fake product which makes consumers prefer foreign products, Chigozie said Aba’s operation is similar to what happens in China. In the chain of distribution, the wholesalers usually prescribe to manufactures in Aba the specifications to be produced for them, the grade from highest quality to lowest quality.
“This is also what is obtainable in China,” Chigozie compared.
Surprisingly, according to Chigozie, some of the products sold in Italy, America, Dubai and other countries are being produced in Aba. Exporters usually go to Aba, demand for high quality specifications and then export such to foreign countries for sale.
Unknowingly for some Nigerians, they travel to these countries for shopping only to buy the same ‘made in Aba’ they run away from here in Nigeria.
“We usually experience such cases always,” he said.
Chinedu said government needs to enlighten Nigerians more on the need to buy Aba products, saying Aba produces good quality.
Aba can handle wears that are available in China and elsewhere, he stated.
“Aba is number one producer in West Africa,” Chigozie said.
He bragged that NYSC uniform is being sewn in Aba today, likewise military shoes.
“Aba is just like China. Show us the sample, we will do it for you,” Chinedu concluded.