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Aba Footwear Academy deepening shoes production in Nigeria

When Ifeoma Nwoye, a Professor of Management Sciences, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University, Lapai, Niger delivered her inaugural lectureship underscored the importance of entrepreneurship in poverty alleviation.

In the lecture titled: “That Evil Called Poverty: Entrepreneurial Escape to Comfort Zone,’’ Nwoye urged government at all levels to implement poverty alleviation solutions that can foster and stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit in poverty–stricken areas of Nigeria.

She said that if the government wanted to offer resource-assistance to the poor, “the leaders should do so not through handouts.’’

Craig and Marc Kielburger co-founders of `International Charity and Educational Partner, Free the Children,’ also stressed the importance of entrepreneurship.

“Entrepreneurship is a key player in ending global poverty by reversing the cycle of dependency with a cycle of self-sufficiency and employment.

“Entrepreneurs build economies. Charity can help people grab the first rung of the development ladder, but only their own enterprise will allow them to climb the rest of the way.

“Entrepreneurs are motivated and able to innovate, devising new ways to farm, provide basic goods and services, and solve social problems,’’ they said.

Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia, also re-echoed the importance of entrepreneurship when he enrolled at the Aba Footwear Academy, Aba.

He said he enrolled to enable him acquire skills that can afford him the opportunity of using his hands to create things and make money from it.

In his words: “I worked hard to get a Ph.D. in Biochemistry just before my 30th birthday. I understand Biochemistry and I teach it well. But it dawned on me that apart from my degrees, I didn’t learn any skill that can afford me the opportunity of using my hands to create things and make money from it. That is what motivated me to go and enroll at the Footwear Academy here in Aba. I am serious about learning how to make shoes.”

The governor called for the sustenance of the Igbo apprenticeship system which he said is better than what is being taught at the various international schools of business.

He explained that the system offers great insight into business concepts, including teaching alternatives, packaging, and repackaging, procurement, storage and warehousing, ethics of business as well as corporate social responsibility, among others.

Undoubtedly, it was also to deepen entrepreneurship that the Abia Government is promoting leather works and garment manufacturing.

The Enyimba Automated Shoe Company (ENASCO) set in Aba by the Okezie Ikpeazu administration was designed to increase the capacity of Aba shoe producers, to manufacture shoes of international standards.

Aba is fondly referred to as the place where “everything can be made.” It is claimed that about one million pairs of shoes are produced weekly in Aba, while the town harbours over 110, 000 leather works artisans and over 50,000 garment manufacturers.

However, many artisans lacked the skills to produce products of international standards.

It is to bridge this gap that the promoters of the Aba Footwear Academy set up the school.

The founder of the academy, Mr. Bentley Chukwuemeka, said he was inspired to set up the academy in order to “formalise” the process of shoemaking in the city.

He said that formalising shoemaking would give the business a new face and “help to create decent employment for young people.”

He said that his objective was to help equip the new generation of shoemakers to achieve better and improved production.

He expressed joy that he and his partner overcame the teething challenges “by focusing on the bigger picture and a better future.”

Chukwuemeka said the vision to change the shoemaking narrative in Aba compelled them to travel to Italy for further studies.

“We registered at Accademia Riaci in Florence Italy, a school that has been in existence for over 40 years.

“We registered for a six week programme there, learnt shoemaking and how to formalise it.

“We returned to Aba and trained 130 students on shoemaking in 2020.

“The trainees were coming in batches because of Covid-19 and more than 50 per cent were female,” Chukwuemeka said.

He said the academy had two sections, which were specifically designed for training and production.

According to him, the production section is involved in commercial contract production, according to specification, using the brand name, ‘Bold Step.’

He said the training period ranges from three weeks, six weeks, two months and three months to one year, depending on the needs and ability of the students.

“Shoemaking involves basically two things: understanding the process and practising, and the longer you stay, the better the understanding you will have.

“We are not here to compete with anybody but to train people on formalised system of shoemaking from pattern making to finishing.

“Our job is to help individuals who are interested in getting better knowledge,” Chukwuemeka said.

He said they also train those already in the shoemaking business, who are having issues with pattern-making.

He said that in Ariaria International Market, Aba, some shoemakers, who had over 20 years’ experience in the business could only do one pattern.

Chukwuemeka said the academy sources 80 per cent of its raw materials from Aba, except those that were not readily available in the commercial town.

Gov. Ikpeazu also reiterated his determination to internationalise the Aba shoe sector when the Managing Director of Nigeria Export Import Bank (NEXIM) Alhaji Abubakar Bello, paid him courtesy call.

He explained that his administration has tackled headlong the major problems facing the leather and garments sectors which include, automation, marketing and power supply.

The governor said that the aggressive marketing of Made in Aba products embarked upon by his administration has increased the confidence of the average Aba producer and this has started yielding positive results.

According to him, apart from sending 30 Abia youths to China to study automated shoe production and the procurement of the machines to ensure consistency and massive production, his administration through dedication and synergy with the Federal Government attracted the Ariaria Independent Power, while the Geometric Power Supply is in its last stage of completing the process to boost power supply.

He expressed satisfaction that the state has attracted the interest and partnership with major global shoe manufacturers.

Bello said that their visit was to seek strategic partnership with Abia State Government in building skills of shoe manufacturers and other leather products with the aim of making Aba the headquarters of shoe manufacturing, not just in Nigeria but in Africa.

He noted with delight the efforts Gov. Ikpeazu has made in the aggressive marketing of Made in Aba goods, noting that their involvement will tackle head on, and the challenges of restrictions in the export process as well as tariffs.

The ENASCO inaugurated by Ikpeazu when operational will be capable to produce specialised soles for all types of shoes, among others.

The Technical Partner, Mr. Osaro Ekonwere, who spoke after the inauguration of ENASCO, said the company has the most updated shoe producing machines in the country.

“We were amazed and impressed by what we saw on ground. Our group has been into shoe production in Nigeria for over a decade now and I must confess that the machines we saw there when we went on inspection cannot be found anywhere in the country. We use machines in our own company, but what we have is nowhere near what is at the Aba Shoe Factory,” he said.

Mr. Ekonweren said that at present, the factory has an installed capacity for the production of 5,000 pairs of shoes every day, which translates to about two million pairs of shoes annually.

Unarguably, with the facilities on ground, Aba shoemakers have the capacity to satisfy the shoes needs of the country. The support from Abia and Federal Governments should be sustained so that the country would save over N123 billion spent annually on importation of shoes.

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