When Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu was planning to contest the Governorship of Abia State in the last quarter of the year 2014, he rolled out a manifesto detailing his plans and programmes that will be implemented by his administration upon assumption of office. The manifesto contained detailed prognosis and plans of action for a number of sectors including Health, Education, Road Infrastructure, Agriculture Trade and Commerce among others.
Under Trade and Commerce, the Governor outlined his vision for the strengthening of the production capacity of Aba to consolidate its status as the Small and Medium Scale Enterprises Capital of West Africa. He was as clear on what to do as he was convinced that it would have the required impact.
The Governor was sworn in to Office on May 29, 2015 and shortly after, he began to walk his talk. From inception of office of Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu as Governor of Abia State till date, he has consistently worn only items of clothing produced in Aba for all his local and international outings. He has also encouraged his aides and friends to follow suit thus, today, 90% of Abia State Government Officials and workers are all permanently adorned in Made in Abia attire.
The Governor followed soon thereafter with a comprehensive Campaign to raise local and international awareness about the ingenuity of the Aba producers. Thus, the Made in Aba Campaign was born. Governor Ikpeazu took on the role of the Chief Marketer of Made in Aba Products and took the campaign to all nooks and crannies of Nigeria and beyond. Today, even the Federal Government has adopted a Made In Nigeria Campaign which is largely anchored on the Made in Aba Campaign.
Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, as Acting President, came to Aba to hold a clinic with SME Producers in Aba. Afterwards, he signed into Law Executive Order Number 3, mandating all Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies to ensure that they patronize Local Producers for all their procurements. Aba was copiously mentioned in that proclamation.
Prior to this, the Governor had gone on a Marketing campaign. From the NYSC to the Nigerian Armed Forces and Paramilitary Forces, Former President Olusegun Obasanjo to all 36 Governors of Nigeria, major local and international visitors to Government House, Umuahia and even those he visited abroad, Governor Ikpeazu always had Made-In-Aba gifts to proudly present to everyone and encouraged them to come and patronize the Aba producers.
The campaign paid off. The Nigerian Army for the first time in its history produced 50,000 of its combat boots in Aba. The Nigerian Navy, Civil Defence Corps and other Agencies equally followed suit. Ford Foundation funded TBWA/Concepts to put the Aba Story on CNN and other local and international TV Stations. Over N4Billion came into Aba as a result of increased visibility, new markets opened up and over 5,000 new apprentices and staff were hired to help the producers keep up with their increasing orders. The Rural Electrification Agency also moved into Ariaria International Market to provide uninterrupted power and today, a section of the market is experiencing 24hr uninterrupted electricity supply.
Never in the history of Aba has it received this kind of attention. Never in their lifetimes have the producers in Aba received this kind of exposure, interest and support. Countless Federal Government Agencies have opened office in Aba.
Not resting on his oars and because there is always more to be done, the Governor decided to take the project to the next level. At the moment, 98% of leather and garment production in Aba is largely manual-driven. This leads to irregular sizing, lack of uniformity in orders and long delays. As of today, there is not a single automated shoe factory in Aba and Governor Ikpeazu has decided to change that narrative.
On Thursday, January 4, 2018, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu will be hosting a farewell reception for 30 youths who are the first batch of the 100 youths that will depart for China to undergo intensive training in automated shoemaking technology. They have all secured their Visas and are ready to depart Nigeria. They will be departing over the weekend. Upon their return, the Governor has pledged that the Abia State Government will procure the full range of equipments required to set up an Abia State Automated Shoe Factory in Aba.
These youths will form the nucleus of the workforce in the Factory. The Factory, which the Governor has pledged shall be commissioned before June 2018, shall enable Abia State consolidate its status as the pre-eminent destination for leatherworks in Nigeria and shall serve as an enabler of the diligent work the manual producers have been doing over the years.
This whole series of events call for genuine introspection and perspective.
Who would have thought that a day will come when the ordinary shoemaker in Aba will be hosted by the Senate President of Nigeria in his Office at the National Assembly and showered with praises?
Who would have thought that an Aba Shoemaker and Tailor will be invited to the Presidential Villa and be hosted by the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.
Who would have thought that the Aba Tailor will have an exhibition of his creations displayed at a fashion show on the runways of Abuja to the delight of Dilpomatic Community Officials.
Who would have thought that Aba Tailors will one day showcase their creations in New York, United States of America to a packed applauding audience?
Finally, who would have thought that Aba Shoemakers, without any connections, children of widows, orphans, indigent shoemakers, even non-Abians, including young ladies, without spending a kobo, will be travelling to China to undergo training on automated shoe manufacturing techniques?
Governor Okezie Ikpeazu is not a shoemaker, he is not a tailor. None of his relatives are. But he has gone out of his way to ensure that the story and condition of the average artisan in Abia State is improved. This is the objective of leadership. Creating opportunities for a better life for the people. Posterity will be kind to Dr. Okezie Victor Chibuikem Ikpeazu for all he is doing to create opportunities for the artisans of Aba and Abia State.
Sam Hart, a Lawyer, wrote from Umuahia.