Though he died unsung, Pa Ichiogu Ikpeazu, the great Umuobiakwa goldsmith, still lives on. Exceptional genes do not die. He produced a teacher, Nwaono (nono) and the teacher produced another teacher, Okezie. If we could rewind the hand of the clock and call the dead back to life, Pa Ichiogu, today, would certainly take his trade beyond our borders and beyond our shores to the New Land, for the ship of the campaign for Aba-Made-Goods has sailed far and wide and landed to the New Land, America.
Perhaps, Pa Ichiogu would have been among the first batch of 60 Abia craftsmen mobilized to Turkey, in the first year of Ikpeazu’s administration or among the 30 second batch that went to China, to understudy the techniques of automation for their craft. But, there are times and seasons. Regrettably, many Pa Ichiogu’s have come and gone before now, great minds with their great products; Aba men and women who built empires of ideas but – “ambition mocked their useful toil”. May their souls rest in peace!
Call it a coincidence but I call it providence! There is, indeed, a spiral link between the story of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s grandfather, the unsung goldsmith and the Governor’s inspirational obsession for encouraging Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) in Abia State. He comes from a lineage of craftsmen. Today, aside infrastructural renewal captured in the caterpillar revolution, Ikpeazu’s second unique selling point is the government intervention in support of SMEs. Abia under Ikpeazu has taken the front seat as the leader in the promotion of SMEs in Nigeria and the accolades are coming in succession.
From inception, the challenge of harnessing the Aba talent has remained a major preoccupation of his administration. Thus, the Ikpeazu narrative is the effort to develop a latent ingenuity and creativity for which Aba is known. It is a mystique of the city and her people. This rare ingenuity manifests in the phenomenon of the large spectrum of men and women of skill, trade and craft that populate Aba. From the Aba tailor, the Aba shoemaker, bag-maker and all leather workers to the fabricators, there is a generic talent that grows in the ancient city, a talent that Governor Ikpeazu has very well flaunted and for which his government has received the right applause and endorsement.
Indeed, the government intervention in support of SMEs in Abia is a narrative that has seen the Governor dealing with four main challenges, namely; Power, Market Share/Sales, Finance and Automation. He deployed the first strategy of aggressive marketing and creation of awareness. The goal was to motivate our people and rebuild their confidence. “This was necessary because our people were branding other nations and denying our ingenuity and identity. So we started by awareness and marketing,” declared the Governor.
Looking back, the efforts in promotion and marketing have yielded great results. The Governor has taken Made in Aba (MIA) to Aso Rock, Otta Farm, Senate, NYSC, America and to many other agencies. “Today, our people have taken pride in our own dear Made in Aba and our labels have returned,” he affirmed.
To tackle the challenge of power, the government deployed the power of marketing to atract the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osibanjo, to Abia State six times and this has culminated in uninterrupted power for six months in Ariaria International Market where nine clusters exist. Through marketing also, Abia have sent 30 out of the 100 artisans to China to learn automation in shoe manufacturing. With this intervention, the challenge of automation is resolved as Abia is set to launch the first Made in Abia shoe factory in December 2018.
In the area of Sales, the Governor has also attracted over N1.3 billion to the shoe and Garment sector. About 50,000 pairs of military booths have been delivered to the military through this process.
The government has also attracted funding through BOI and other agencies because the attention is now on the World Bank data of 250,000 SMEs in Aba.
Governor Ikpeazu has remained the number one brand ambassador of the Made in Aba Goods and he has personally led the campaign. The results have exceeded his expectations and this is affirmed by the torrent of recognitions. In 2016, Ford Foundation, an American based institutional donor partnered with Abia State to launch the First Aba Development Summit. The goal was to develop a strategy for the development of the MSME in Abia and the organization followed up by sponsoring a 50 million Naira international brand campaign for the promotional of Made in Aba Goods.
More endorsement later came in 2017 with the leading business newspaper in Nigeria, BUSINESSDAY, giving Ikpeazu the award of the “Best Governor in the Promotion of Made in Nigeria Goods.” In that same year, the Nigerian Army ordered 50,000 military booths from Aba. The Federal Government also came to debut its National Programme for MSME in Aba with over 3000 operators having a direct engagement with industry leaders in the sector.
Recently, the Bank of Industry (BOI) in collaboration with the Ford Foundation worked with the Abia State Government to launch the state’s first ever “Aba Finished Leather Cluster”, a project targeted at providing incentive to the Aba leather and garment workers. Through this programme, the craftsmen in this sector will be able to access funding from BOI.
Indeed, the highpoint of the Ikpeazu narrative is that the Federal Government of Nigeria have crowned Ikpeazu’s effort with the award of ‘Best MSME Friendly State in Nigeria”. His forefather, Ichionu, the great Umuobiakwa goldsmith, could not take his goods beyond Abia. But, today, his grandson, Okezie, has taken his ideas far beyond our boundaries.
Adindu is Special Adviser on Media & Documentation