Inside Rivers’shoe industry managed by northern youths
From Victor Harcourt
TEdozie, Port he gigantic old Daily Times building located on the popular Ikwerre Road in Port Harcourt offers temporary accommodation to hundreds of Hausa youths who exhibit talents in footwear manufacturing. These youths, mainly from Jigawa, Kastina and Sokoto states, have acquired and are using skills in the art.
Different sizes of footwear such as palm sandals, slippers and sandals designed by the youths were on display when our reporter visited their workshop at the entrance of the old Daily Times building. The conspicuous location of the workshop has made their finished products a cynosure of all eyes as people come in to patronise them.
Prior to their relocation to the present site, the youths were somewhere on the same Ikwerre Road. However, in the former location, they were constantly harassed and “hounded” by revenue collectors and touts engaged by council officials. The harassment has decreased with their relocation.
Despite their challenges, one is amazed at the zeal, dexterity and skills employed in producing the footwear. The seriousness and commitment shown by these youths leave much to be desired.
When our correspondent visited the workshop, the entire premises was frenzy as everybody was busy trying to outdo one another on the number of foot wears to produce for the day. The unity and love among them is quite unlike is found in other places where footwear are produced.
With the current increase in crime across the country, where many youths are involved in acts such as kidnapping, armed robbery, oil bunkering, pipeline vandalism, among others, the artisans have taken a right step in acquiring skills in footwear manufacturing.
The Hausa footwear design brand came on board in Port Harcourt about 14 years ago when a Sokoto-born industrialist opened a workshop in Port Harcourt to mend shoes. The business metamorphosed into footwear manufacturing where youths from different parts of the North were engaged to acquire the skills.
Jamilu Lawan is one of the artisans. He said, “I came to Port Harcourt in 2009 and somebody introduced me to this place. I thought it was difficult to learn the skill until I came close to those that were into the business. I learnt how the leather was cut into different sizes, designed and gum applied. In 2012, I was able to master the skill and started producing my own brand.
“I produce as many as 30 pairs of slippers of different sizes on daily basis. We produce all kinds of footwear. We browse the internet to get designs and customers also give us specific designs,’’ he said.
Another artisan, Yunusa Abdullahi, who hails from Jigawa State, said he learnt the trade from his brother who had been in the business since 2000.
“I learnt the skill from my elder brother. He has been training people in the art. I learnt the skill in 2014. We get raw materials from Aba and Port Harcourt. People come here on a daily basis to specify what they want,” he said.
Abdullahi said he paid his bills from the business without stress.
Zakariya Bala who hails from Kastina State and is a 200 level student of the Katsina State University said, “I learnt this skill about two years ago. I was born in Rivers State. My parents live in Port Harcourt. Each time we are on vacation I use to come here to learn. The skill is not difficult to acquire once you dedicate yourself to it. I learnt it on part time basis because of school,” he said.
Another artisan, Jibrin Muhammed, from Jigawa State, said, “I started manufacturing footwear about 17 years ago. We work in groups and produce about 30 pairs of different sizes on daily basis. We are doing very well, but our major challenge is the task force men that come here often to demand for one levy or the other.’’
Abdullahi Garuba who also hails from Jigawa State said he acquired the skill from Benue State. He said he had been the business for 18 years and had been using the proceeds to take care of his family and siblings.
He said he trained people from different parts of the country such: especially then Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba and people from the Niger Delta.
He called on both the federal and state governments to assist them in the acquisition of sophisticated sewing machines that would improve their trade.
Mary Peters, the only female trainee at the centre, said she was engaged in the trade early last year. She said she hoped to open her workshop as soon as she graduated.
Mr. Akam George, who is an executive officer of the Footwear Makers Association (FMA), said he and some of his colleagues had trained many people in the art.
George said, “We use quality materials for our products. There are various categories of raw materials we use. We always encourage our members to use quality materials such as good leather and gum. We had cases where people buy made in Nigeria footwear and few weeks after everything wears out. Therefore, we use quality materials. I believe that is the only thing that can sustain us in business.’’
He called on both the state and federal governments to assist them by providing them with befitting workshop that can accommodate their members, as well as provide them with modern working tools.
Dahiru Adamu is the Chairman of Mile One Footwear Association (MOFA). He said footwear manufacturing business was a profitable venture, but expressed regret that government was not encouraging them.
Therefore, he called on government to provide a bigger accommodation that would take all their members.
Mary Peter, a female trainee Victor Edozie
Finished products ready for market.
Slippers and sandals also ready for market