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Abia begins war against unemployment, sets standard for economic revival

…as Enyimba Automated Shoe Company officially begins work

On November 11, 2021, unemployment and its partner in the crime of destroying societal values and norms, poverty, saw their partnership whose end products have been insecurity and restiveness, suffered some setback in Abia State. What happened in Aba, Abia State on the above date showed that to tackle unemployment and poverty, one does not need rocket science.

The only solution is the creation of jobs because when jobs are created, people, especially the youths are employed, crime will reduce and society will prosper. Aba, the Enyimba city and commercial hub of Eastern Nigeria is one of the most populated and rapidly expanding cities in West Africa. It is not a city for white-collar jobs, but rather a city where creative minds gather to convert their creativity into a business. The residents of the city are resilient people to the core.

They have unrepentant never say die spirit of Ndigbo (Igbos). They have the doggedness and strength of elephants just as the city’s name, Enyimba City indicates. Aba is the home of all the best indigenous African made leather products including shoes, bags, belts etc. Aba is also the clothes making zone of Nigeria and of course, the SME capital of Nigeria. In all their creativity in the shoe industry, Aba’s major problem has been that of automation. Here, the Abia State Government under the leadership of Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, decided to tackle the challenge and begin a new phase towards combating unemployment and repositioning the creative spirit of Aba.

The government responded to the challenge and has established the Enyimba Automated Shoe Company (ENASCO) in Aba to deal with all the questions about the quality and finishing of Aba leather products. Governor Ikpeazu disclosed that ENASCO is a dream come through for him as it has been able to answer some questions people have been asking about the quality of products coming out from Aba and will end up achieving the needed alternative source of income for the nation. “In 2015 when we were sworn in, it was clear that we’ll not have things easy as a result of the global economic recession.

The only way to escape is for every state to look inwards and see what the state could do better than other states. “I stumbled onto a World Bank report that said that we had over 250 persons in Aba doing all kinds of things in the leather and garment subsector. And I know that each of those individuals has at least four apprentices working with them. “What it transcends is that we had one million youths doing all kinds of things in the leather and garment subsector. It became impossible for a purposeful leader to ignore such.

“First of all, we identified the problems of power, funding and issues with markets share and problems of automation. In all those problems, it was only the problems of market share and automation that we can handle as a state. “And that inspired me to send about 30 young people from the shoe cluster at Umuihelegbu Industrial Market Aba, to China in an all express free trip to go and learn how to make shoes in a modern way. “And I want to seize this opportunity to thank President Muhammadu Buhari for coming to support the state government with the establishment of the Ariaria Independent Power Plant that’s powered with a gas turbine to power the Ariaria leather subsector.

“We’ve also gone ahead to see how we could encourage Geometrics to make Aba the first economic area to have a steady power supply. I’m optimistic that very soon, Aba people will have uninterrupted power supply through the instrumentalists of Geometrics and the Ariaria Independent Power Plant,” the governor said. Governor Ikpeazu further noted that when the 30 youths he sent to China to learn modern ways of shoemaking returned, he decided to bring in the same kind of equipment they used to teach them in China down here in Aba. He said: “That’s the genesis of ENASCO.

Today, we’re tying to end the issues of supply of power and machines for automated production and marketing of our products. “We’ve gone everywhere to preach that we must, first of all, patronize made in Nigeria for it is through that way that we can revitalize our economy and be self-sufficient in what we want.

“Nigeria is perhaps the only country all over the world that relies on imported food as a staple and that takes away two million dollars every day from the coffers of our country. “The shoe business all over the world by 2020 was worth $250 billion. Out of this $250 billion, Nigeria contributed only $96 million and I’m looking for a way we’ll have a better chunk of these shares going forward. “The penetration of the shoe industry today is about 2.5 percent and it is expected to climb to 23 percent in the year 2026. What are we going to do to be part of this growing shoe ecosystem? And our answer is ENASCO.”

Ikpeazu added that through ENASCO, the Abia government intends to push out 5,000 pairs of shoes every day. “During COVID-19, we received inquiries from America to supply shoes from same companies that they used to buy shoes from China because China could not supply shoes during the COVID-19 period.

That encouraged me further that we can become major players in the leather ecosystem if we’re intentional about it”, he added. The governor further disclosed that just across the road opposite ENASCO which is located at Umukalika town, Obingwa Local Government Area, the government is doing a similar factory that will house full end to end machines for garment production in Aba and entire Nigeria. Ikpeazu said that he is looking forward to how Nigeria, through Aba’s garment factories and clusters can begin to compete with Vietnam and Bangladesh in the supply chain of garments across the world.

He expressed his optimism that with the successes Abia State has recorded in ENASCO, between November 2021 and May 2022, the machines for the garment factory will arrive from Turkey and will be commissioned just like ENASCO. “As I speak now, ENASCO have employed about 120 people and we have a request from the Nigerian Police to open a line for canvas. If we bring that line-up stream, we’ll make sure we take away additional 130 people from the job market, making it 150 workers here.

“The good news comes from the garment factory that promises to employ from the onset about 500 youths. This is our way of speaking to the issues of unemployment which has done a lot of damage to our security architecture in Nigeria today. “We’ve prepared ourselves for export not only in Africa but to the rest of the world. I have faith in Nigerian youths especially Aba youths to do us proud going forward in the leather and garment subsector.

“I’m sure that the story will change, I’m sure that we’ll have a brand that we’ll play strongly to the continental free trade in Africa starting from ENASCO through to our garment subsector,” he said. Senate’s support for ENASCO While performing the official commissioning of ENASCO, the Senate President, Senator Ahmad Lawan, assured that the Red Chamber will begin to discourage Federal Government’s agencies from importing all the boots used by their workers. Lawan said that for Nigeria to become a prosperous country, she must embark on a must import substitution and hailed Abia Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu for taking the issue of unemployment seriously.

He vowed to ensure that ENASCO becomes the hub of direct and indirect employment in the country, stressing that Nigeria cannot continue to import everything. Lawan said: “We don’t even have foreign reserves anymore. So, this project in addition to providing employment in Abia directly, will also indirectly provide jobs at the leather industries in other states.

“I believe that this project deserves the attention of every Federal agency more especially the Ministry of Industry itself and indeed the CBN must be looking at this direction so that it can expand. “While we have 120 youths been employed here, I’m sure that two years after, we should quadruple the rate of employment here and that will require improvement in all angles here. I’m sure that as one of you now, we’ll push for more support for this particular industry.

“We have our agencies already making requests for boots and of course, some garments by the time the garment industry takes off. I think we should do more than that. We must Nigerianize to create employment for our youths.” Lawan disclosed that as the Senate commence its budget defence, he will ask all senate committees that whenever they see agencies that require boots, they must make sure they come to Aba. “We cannot spend such monies outside anymore. I believe that by the time we do that, the sky will be our limit.

If this is the only thing this governor will leave behind, he must have left everything. “Whatever you need to make this place work better, please call on me, I’ll help whatever you think any Federal agency will do to enhance the capacity of this place, I’m waiting for you,” he said. On his part, Chairman of the Board of ENASCO, Sir Macauley Atasie, noted that the journey of the company started in 2019 but has finally become a world-class automated shoe and leather production factory and the first of its kind in the country.

Atasie said that the vision of ENASCO is to be one of the most recognised leather companies out of Africa in the next five years, adding that its mission is to elevate to world track reckoning, the Aba Shoe industries. He said ENASCO is ready to produce better alternatives to foreign shoes, as the factory’s capacity to produce 5000 pairs of shoes daily translates to two million pairs of shoes annually. He added that ENASCO arrival is a positive shift in the economic trajectory of Abia and Nigeria at large, adding that the company will produce and compete in the international market as well as produce cost-effective and quality leather products for Nigerians who have taste for quality products. “ENASCO will help reposition shoe and leather ecosystem in Aba and Nigeria. We’re already preparing to attract global requests for shoe production.

“We have also moved to interact with the Kano leather markets to ensure that what goes out is finished goods that will yield Nigeria more income and give us comparative advantages. “We can also work for those who have their own designs and labels. We will run this place like any other private sector to raise funds and manage this place properly because our Governor wants us to dominate the leather market.”

Mr Ikenna Esiaba, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of ENASCO disclosed that the company is very organised and divided according to departments through division of labour and specialization. He said: “Everything is done properly here. We have the Preparation Department, Cutting Department, Sewing Department and down to the Finishing Department.

“Our products include work boots, school shoes, military desert boots, police shoes and all kinds of shoes. We’ve produced work boots for the Nigerian Railway Corporation. “Our new school shoes which you’ve seen today for the first time is called ‘Eze Goes to School’. We’ll expand across Nigeria fast than expected.”

 

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