By NBF News
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Nigeria garment and leather products/footwear industry has been struggling to survive and is in a pitiable state, especially due to the impact of the global recession and internal issues like lack of liquidity as well as inadequate public utility.

Another factor that has kept the sector in aquagmire is the deadly activities of smugglers ring of counterfeit products from Asia. The situation has nevertheless forced many of the footwear and garment enterprises to close down, leaving more than 100,000 workers out of job. There is no hope for the surviving ones as the operating environment continued to pose daunting challenges, not for the sector alone, but the entire sector.

In reaction to the bad trend the President of Nigerian Associations of Chamber, Commerce, Industry, Mining and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Dr. Simon Chukuemeka Okolo, says the garment/footwear industry requires better skills, more funding and as well as better treatment if the local sector is to survive and dominate in the economy.

Okolo noted that government patronage is the key to the development of the sub-sector as the annual consumption of garment and footwear by government agencies is enough to guarantee 70 percent capacity utilization of the sector.

He says if uniforms and clothing and shoes used by government agencies were made in Nigeria instead of patronizing foreign products, it would have contributed significantly to the development of the sector.

Okolo says: 'We need to go beyond the symbolism of wearing made-in-Nigeria garment and leather products to an effective policy of compelling all government agencies that wear uniforms to patronize the Nigerian garment and footwear products.

'I am referring to such agencies as the Nigeria Police, Army, Navy, Air Force, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Immigration Services, Customs, health workers and other paramilitary organizations.

The industrial sector leader noted that: 'The challenges facing footwear/leather products and garment industry in Nigeria are numerous. There is no power supply for the sector to thrive, just like what is happening in other manufacturing firms. They generate their own power to run their machines, which are not healthy for the survival of the industry. Power supply is of the utmost importance to the production of garment and shoes in Nigeria and all over the whole world.

This is one of the reasons the finishing of shoes and garments in Nigeria is always poor because the work is done manually instead of using machines and this is the competitive advantage the Asian countries have over us. Until the manufacturers of garment and shoes in Nigeria begin to use the right tools in production, good finishing will remain a mirage. The manufacturers need power to run their machines. The machines are not hand driven but electricity powered.

The benefits and centrality of this sub-sector to the entire system cannot be overemphasized considering the value of this industry to the economy.

The garment and leather industry is very important to the economy of Nigeria, because it generates foreign exchange for government and provides employment opportunities for the citizenry. Because of the poor state of development of these products, the locally made ones do not satisfy the needs of Nigerians, as an alternative we import a lot of the products as second hand clothes but even then, the foreign goods do not satisfy the internal market. It is hoped that once the sector receives the needed attention from the government and it is properly organized, we will begin to export to other parts of world, so as to earn foreign exchange. And mark you the garments and leather products from Aba are of international standard that is capable of competing with those from the rest of the world.

I think, if Nigerians are given the opportunity – right environment, right infrastructure, and the right equipment, I can bet that we can produce shoes and garments better than those produced in Italy, Spain or China. It is just a matter of getting ourselves organized properly because the manpower is here. The expertise is here as well. It is a matter of exposing the boys to the latest technology, have more improved materials and enough funds to purchase the modern machines for production. The boys can excel in making Nigeria one of the best leather shoes and garments producers in the whole world.

The problem of employment we are facing today is partly as a result of not paying proper attention to the sector and it remains the highest employer of labour in the country today. Until our government recognizes this fact, the problems of the industry may not be appreciated. If we allow the textile industry and leather products to collapse, then we do not know what we need to do. It is important that the government begins to take care of this sector and not paying lips service to it as this is very dangerous and unhealthy to our economy. We hope that the Federal Government is doing something about the N100b bailout promised to reactivate the textiles industry. Just recently we discussed this issue with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and they told us they are working out the modalities. I want to say they should hurry up and release the fund so that the industries can pick up as soon as possible.

There are a lot of factors militating against the textiles and leather products industry in Nigeria. One of it is the dumping of inferior textile materials from south-east Asia and other countries but the matter is now crucial because the cost of production in Nigerian is very high due to lack of infrastructure.

The death of Aba textiles mill is a major concern to all – the people of Aba and to the entire nation. I think there was a time some people bought the mill but they couldn't revive it. By now the mill was supposed to be one of the best in the country but it is rather unfortunate it has closed down. Apart from this, I am sure by now the machines would have been vandalized. So even when it is open, there wouldn't be machines to work with. To put the factory into use again it needs modern equipment, so that the products would compete with imported ones. It is very important that Aba textiles mill is revived for the larger benefit of Aba, eastern states and the entire nation.