(Sundiata Post) – Although commercial activities are beginning to pick up in Aba, the commercial hub of Abia State, after one-week of lull and inactivity occasioned by squabbles between men of the Nigerian Army and members of the now proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a group in the South-East region of the country agitating for self-determination, businesses and residents are still calculating their losses.
A rough estimate puts what the city, regarded as the hub for finished leather goods (shoe, bag and belts), garments and other products, lost in the weeklong crisis at not less than N10billion.
Recall that the Nigerian Army had announced on September 7 that it was embarking on Exercise Egwu Eke II (Python Dance II) in the South-East states of the country from September 15 to October 14, 2017, citing “the mindless assassinations (even in religious places), attack on security personnel, theft of weapons, armed banditry, kidnapping, cultism and violent agitations, as well as other security challenges that have recently become prevalent” in the region.
In Abia State, however, the military exercise resulted in violent clashes between IPOB members and men of the Nigerian Army, causing pandemonium especially in major parts of Aba, crippling commercial activities in the area, and leading to a number of deaths.
For the entire week all the markets and shops within the city centre as well as commercial banks were completely shut down. Aba roads, which are usually a beehive of activities, were deserted as most residents remained indoors out of fear.
To prevent the tension from escalating and to ensure peace, the state governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, imposed a dusk to dawn curfew in Aba, which lasted for about five days.
As the tension subsides and commercial activities gradually return, businesses in the city are looking back at what they have lost.
Ken Anyanwu, secretary general, Association of Leather and Allied Industrialists of Nigeria (ALAIN), said Aba lost not less than N10billion within that period because the entire city was on lockdown. A day’s inactivity in the finished leather sector, he said, translates to loss of millions of naira.
Ariaria International Market in Aba has up to 60,000 shoe manufacturers, according to Francis Chukwu, managing director, Frantonia Industries Limited, makers of male and female footwear.
Each of these shoemakers produces an average of 10 pairs of shoes per day at a minimum cost of N1,500 per pair, with capacity to produce up to 50 pairs per day if there is steady and stable electricity supply. What this means is that shoemakers in Aba lose N900 million for each day of inactivity.
This is besides thousands of others into bag, belt and trunk box manufacturing as well as garment making.
Apart from customers who come from within the country, manufacturers of leather and other products in Aba enjoy patronage from Cameroun, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Congo DR, among others.
“A lot was lost because Aba supplies the entire nation, and once there is a problem in Aba, it affects the entire customer base. Patrons from the North and South-West regions of the country and even those from the West African sub-region stayed away from Aba within that period,” Anyanwu said.
“Aba shoemakers will not want disruption in their production, because any week they did not meet their production target, they will lose money; they make their money based on their output. They start production on Monday and end it up on Friday and customers buy on Saturday, and so any interruption for one day affects the entire week,” he said.
James Dims Ogbu, president, Garment Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, said the military operation (Python Dance II) was not good for the economy of Aba, adding also that his members and other business operators in the city did not receive the news of the curfew imposed by the state governor with a good heart.
“We lost millions of naira from this exercise. And we are into heavy production now that schools are about to resume. Most of our customers in Lagos, Abuja and other parts of the country are placing orders and we must produce to meet their demands,” Ogbu said.
“As the small-scale manufacturing hub of Nigeria, the military exercise and curfew affected our production and the economy negatively. We are manufacturers, we are not agitators, though we have the right to express our grievances; we must work to feed our families since government cannot employ everybody,” he said.
Johnbosco Okiche, a dealer in kitchen appliances, was not happy about the military exercise in the state and the ugly consequences it has brought upon the people. He therefore, urged the Federal Government to have a rethink and suspend the exercise to aid business, stressing that the South-East region is not at war.
“Most of our patrons (customers) who come from other parts of the country stayed away from Aba within the period because they were afraid,” said Okiche.
Although Greg Esotu, special adviser to Abia State governor on Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), agreed that revenue was lost, he, however, observed that lives were also saved by reason of the curfew.
“Let me thank the governor for preventing more lives from being lost because that curfew he imposed saved Aba. Let us not calculate only in monetary terms. In monetary terms, yes, businesses lost a lot of revenue, but you cannot equate it with life,” he said.
Tony Akudinaobi, a utilitarian artist based in Aba, toed the same line with Esotu.
“Definitely time is money, so in that context, they lost time, they also lost money. But on the part of life and on the part to any destination, there are bound to be challenges and the part to the challenges, without you knowing, will help you define other parts or better parts to your destination,” said Akudinaobi.
Alex Adaelu, president, Abia Shippers Association (ASA), is, however, of the opinion that this is not the time to talk of economics; rather, people should thank God that the issue did not escalate because it could have been worse.
“I thank God. I equally thank government at the federal and state levels for their roles in bringing back peace in Aba,” he said.
He appealed to youths to desist from any act that would result into violence and loss of lives and property so that the South-East region can enjoy relative peace, and so that production would go on.
“For us to be at par with other regions, we need peace. And I now call on our youths to be proactive, to think of their future before they do any other thing. Violence is not the answer; peace, dialogue and engagement are the answer,” he stated.
Other business owners who spoke to BDSUNDAY, while also recounting their losses, were, however, happy that normalcy has been restored in Aba and thanked Governor Ikpeazu for imposing curfew in the city, which, according to them, saved so many lives that would have been cut short had the violence been allowed to escalate. (BusinessDay)