By Godwin Onyemaechi
I’m Folake Oyemade, The President of AAMAN. AAMAN stands for Apparels and Accessories Manufacturers Association of Nigeria.
Tell us the overview of the Association?
We, at AAMAN, believe that Nigeria has come of age, we believe that government and the people of Nigeria should be able to increase the GDP of the country by exporting apparel. If you look at countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and others. They are making a lot of money from apparel making. They have been able to increase the GDP of their countries and are able to reduce unemployment tremendously because the apparel sector is the highest employer of labor, reason being that it is a people-oriented industry.
For instance, an apparel factory that has 100 machines will need to employ the same number of people to man the 100 machines, this we generate employment for a lot of people especially youths and women. Even at that an apparel factory with 100 machines is not a big one by any standard, that is a small one. For those of us who have big factories, we operate at full capacity, we can employ over a thousand people depending on how many machines you have. In view of this, we have noticed that the sector is underrated and underestimated due to the fact that we have not been getting the attention that we feel is due to the sector, part of the reasons is the fact that our voices are not being heard enough in order to know the full potential and value we can add to the country GDP, and the standard and quality of lives of Nigerians.
What is the position of things now at the Apparels and Accessories Manufacturers Association of Nigeria?
It is very hard to say what the position is, reason being that before AAMAN, there was no forum to organize and put ourselves forward and allow government and the people of Nigeria to know that the Apparel industry is a potential goldmine for Nigeria without tapping, because everyone is looking at crude oil, a lot of countries as earlier mentioned do not have these resources and yet they make several billions of dollars yearly, adding to their GDP from Apparel manufacturing. Right now, the industry is highly under tapped in Nigeria.
I would like to speak fact and figures; Bangladesh was said to be the highest exporter of apparel in the world last year. They were able to make a total of 35.81billion dollars in 2021 from apparel export. Nigeria and Bangladesh almost have the same population. Imagine Nigeria adding that to the GDP we make from crude oil and other exports. Not only will it increase the value of the Naira, but it would also put food on the table of many Nigerians, especially the most vulnerable in the society who are the youths and women.
What do you think can be done to the sector so that it will begin to contribute to the GDP of Nigeria?
Before now, we had workshop and engagement with some government agencies. We made presentations and suggestions in order to curb the rising waves of crime and unemployment in Nigeria. Like the English people would say, ‘an idle mind is the devil’s workshop’. It can only be a win-win situation in this country if the government can listen to us and do a little, which the sector is asking them to do. In apparel manufacturing, you are only able to do real manufacturing when you are in constant production. Not today for instance, someone gives you an order for two million garments, you make it and for the next one year nobody else is coming. You only have people who bring 100 here, bring 200 there. It doesn’t work for the sector like that.
China and all these countries that have gone far in apparel manufacturing, it is because they have constant work to do. What we mean by constant work is not contract but providing and producing for their local consumption. Before the growth in that sector became exponential, China started with local supply, they started producing for the Chinese people, and that is exactly what we are telling the government to aid us in achieving. We know that everybody works for their money, we are not saying government should stop people from importing where they want to. We are saying, government should give us an enabling environment and a fair chance to compete with China. Take for instance, most of the raw material that we need in this sector, like some certain quality of textile; the textile industry here they are doing their best for the kind of fabrics they are built to produce. But there are many other types of fabrics that we all wear that are not being produced here at all.
We have suggested to the government, we have created this association, all registered companies with factories can all be verified. Give us waivers, let us be able to bring in these fabrics, duty free and do the stitching. We are not asking government or anyone not to do importation if they want to do, but we strongly believe that if we are given a fair chance to compete with imported products in terms of having the right fabric, we know we have the expertise when it comes to stitching and presentation etc. If we are given fair chance, things will work better for us. We have also suggested that basic items such as boxer’s shorts, T-shirts etc. that are used for promotional items should for now be restricted from entering the country, so that the sellers in the market will have no choice than to buy locally produced ones. If you agree with me, what is the big deal in boxers short that we all can’t stitch? What is the big deal in round-neck T-shirt or Polo T-shirt that we cannot stitch? There is no big deal in stitching all these products.
We consume so much of them that if government says we suspend importation of these two items for the next five years and then allow this industry that we want to grow, bring in the raw materials that they need in order for them to produce same quality as China or wherever else they are coming from and in order for the prices to be competitive. Can you imagine how many moribund apparel industries that will reopen, and many new ones will spring up, and those ones operating at 10% capacity will begin to operate at 100% capacity. Have you imagined the ripple effect on industrialization and job creation for youths and women? I tell you one thing; I have an apparel factory in Osogbo with the capacity to employ over a thousand people. When we first opened, though it was a joint venture between my company and the government of Osun state, the former governor of Osun State; Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola initiated the collaboration for job creation, employment purposes in Osun State, which we were able to employ a lot of youths and women, we trained them and employed them.
At the end of the day, whenever you enter in the factory, you discover that majority of the workers were young boys and women.
Ever since the factory was shut down, crime had gone up in Osun state. That is when we started hearing Yahoo boys and other related crimes in the society. I knew this was going to happen because I could tell you in those days that those young boys wanted a good life; because whenever they were ironing, they will wear their T-shirt, fly up their polo, put earphones. We employed some for ironing and employed some for packing. I knew that the moment we had to push them into the unemployment market, they will go into crime. That’s what is happening all over Nigeria, not only in Osun. And we are all jubilating, calling it all sort of names. Nigeria is sitting on a time bomb!!!
Since you became the President of AAMAN, to what extend have you been pushing, advocacy to ensure government looks towards this direction?
We have more than pushed, and believe me, it is not that any door we knock, they don’t open to us. They let us in, listen to us, we talk, deliberate, they agree, but we are yet to see any action. If there is no sincerity of purpose on the part of people at the helm of affairs in this country, it will be difficult to achieve anything. The yahoo boys’ you people are talking about is a tip of the iceberg. Bigger crimes will begin to happen. We all know where we went wrong, but how did it have to get here? What is everyone doing? What is the government doing? Mothers and fathers in government, what are they doing to help this situation? there is a limit you can blame these young ones, because every day on social media, everywhere they see people with ill-gotten wealth, flaunting it. You even hear musicians sing with some popular names – I want to be like this person, without thinking what the person did to make that kind of money. Everyone wants to make money by all means.
I tell you one thing, some people will say someone who is criminally inclined would also look for a way to be more criminal minded, but I don’t exactly agree with that, because if you look at Nigeria some 20 years ago, were things like this? Was poverty like this? Was unemployment like this? Was crime this much? So, the more the people are getting impoverished, the more a bigger crime and the more population is going to be experiencing.
It is important if we must save this nation, we must act. Now look at the Naira, not barely a year or two years ago, Naira has tumbled and depreciated for like 50% and worse of it is that salaries have not been increased to meet up, even whereby the people have the jobs at all, and earn salaries. There are even more people who have lost their jobs, who earns nothing. But we can employ all this people. Nigeria is a huge market with a huge potential.
There is a video going viral recently on Chinese factory where they are printing ankara and all of them are wearing ankara. When it was sent to me, I looked at it and laughed. They are talking about ankara, even our aso-oke is being woven in China because I have seen imported aso-oke in the market. People are importing our traditional attire. These should be our own heritage and a source of income for local producers of this same items.
For how long government will say it’s about smuggling and all that. If government creates the enabling environment for those of us into manufacturing and listen to us when we make suggestions and have engagement with them. These suggestions should be implemented, even if they must make some adjustment, let it be something that would promote the industry and improve the economy.
Two years ago, government said that Nigerians should be wearing or using made-in-Nigeria products, what is happening?
We all know talk is cheap. I can come out and say wear made in Nigeria, I can say whatever, but what policies have I put in place to make that happen. That is where the sincerity of purpose comes in. Someone might say, the people in government are not magicians, they are not in this industry, some may not know, but therefore we engage them and proffer solutions, make suggestions to them. If at some point they can take us more seriously and try out what we suggest to them, I want to assure you that things will work better.
How often do you follow up?
We do make calls, write letters. In fact, almost like pestering them.
Since your sector is not getting desired response from government, what is the association doing so that Apparel sector will not go into extinction?
I guess we just have to keep drumming down their ears so that some action would have to happen. What can an individual do? For instance, I have two factories, I can employ over a thousand people. Even if I get these fabrics on my own, bring them in, stitch them and try to push them into the local market. The local market is not going to accept them. Do you know why? My cost of product is going to be way higher than what they brought in. what can I do? That is why we said to the government, if you enable us to bring in the raw materials for free, we as an association with members, and many other aligned apparel manufacturers are free to join us as long as they have factories. So, we can make collective request, if government gives us waivers with the customs, do the regular documentation and they allow us to bring in these raw materials.
if they also make sure that the whole sellers in the market cannot import them anymore. Let’s just be honest with ourselves, our people love importation, they are too short-sighted. They don’t understand importance of industrialization. The average person in Nigeria is ready to go to China, pack all the rubbish and bring them in. But if it becomes contraband even though we know that there is the possibility of smuggling, but then they have to pay through their nose to get it in. If they now know there are factories here that are producing the same thing, same quality of fabrics and good stitching, of course they will buy locally. These are strategies that countries like China used earlier, even till now. To buy anything important in China is expensive. So, it discourages the locals from buying imported things. They always buy made-in-China because that is what is readily available and cheaper for them to afford. Apart from China servicing the world, they are also servicing themselves with a population of over one billion people.
So, tell me how they are not going to be a superpower. Nigeria’s has the same potential of being the superpower, let’s say a local champion. Superpower of Africa. We have the largest population, we have the resources, we have the technical know-how, we have the manpower. So, if only we can have the right policies to back all the whole things up.