“As Governor, one of the most enduring legacies I would love to leave behind is that my administration was able to expand the productive capabilities of our people. In Abia, we are blessed with innovative and hardworking people. From time, we have always produced shoes, bags and clothes but the artisans were lacking in some vital ingredients of growth. They had issues with self confidence. They lacked exposure. What we have done is to work on their self confidence.
“We had taken some fashion designers from Aba to places like Turkey. People didn’t understand us then. The idea was to expose these guys and make them see that they are as good as the foreigners, if not better. We have organized shows in Lagos, Abuja and even as far as New York. They are here today at the Zenith Bank show. Today, the Aba Tailor and Shoe Maker have grown in their confidence level.
“They have become even more daring. As Governor, I wear clothes and shoes made by our people and i insist that they inscribe MADE IN ABA on my clothes. That alone does something to their psyche. Today, these guys proudly put MADE IN ABA on their products. Beyond those who make the clothes, a new line of business has emerged. I know lots of young people solely who market Aba Clothes. They go to Port Harcourt, Abuja, Lagos and other places to get orders, get the clothes and sell. They make a decent living from it and by so doing, create a brand new supply chain.
“Sometime ago, we took 30 shoemakers to China to learn how to use machines to produce shoes. Again, some people didn’t understand what we were doing. After their training, we imported those machines and today, the installation of the machines are on going as we speak.
“By the end of the year, the installation would be completed and by the first quarter of next year, the first ever Machine Made Shoes in Aba would roll out of that factory. Again, the machines would be operated by those 30 people we sent to China. They will operate them and also help teach others. This will start a huge revolution in Shoe making in Aba.
“Look at something like rice. Five years ago and down the line, no one knew that Abia State was capable of producing rice beyond the subsistence level. Our rice farmers simply produced for family consumption and small sales. No one mentioned Abia when they refer to states that produce rice.
“That had to change and we went to work. From getting improved rice seedlings to setting up cottage mills, the story has changed. Today, Abia Rice has flooded our markets. Across our state, our people proudly buy the rice, including those who said it was impossible to achieve this. By this time next year, production will quadruple because more mills will be set up. The days of going to neighboring states to mill our rice are gone for ever.
“As Governor, I see these things and I take great pride and I am humbled by what we have achieved for our people”.
Okezie Ikpeazu, PhD.
Governor of Abia State, at the Zenith Bank Fashion Show in Lagos.