By Aderonke Ojediran
A leather-products seller Abuja, simply known as Muhammad is an ardent promoter of locally produced leather products such as bags, shoes and belts, among others.
For Muhammad and other patriots like him, leather works produced in the country are durable, presentable and attractive to the extent that he will never recommend any leather articles other than locally produced ones, especially school bags.
“When my customers come, they always prefer bags, wallets, belts and shoes manufactured from our local leather fabrics to foreign ones.
“They will tell me that they enjoyed similar articles they bought from me previously because they are cheaper, easy to maintain and decorative.
“These are the advantages. I sell more than those selling only foreign leather works because the prices are moderate,’’ he says.
With the potential of the country’s leather industry, harnessing it can lift the country out of joblessness and poverty, observers have noted.
For instance, in 2021 in Abuja, former Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo leather exports were in the order of 272 million dollars and the country’s “semi-finished and finished leather have their highest patronage in Italy, Spain, India, South Asia and China.
“Shoes, belts, bags and folders are largely traded in West Africa and many parts of Africa.
“Anecdotal evidence suggests that the famous Aba shoe cluster in Abia, informally exports almost a million pairs of shoes weekly mostly to destinations within Africa.
“The industry is huge and its potential can only be imagined; so, there is no question that properly organised, the leather and leather products industry could become one of the major items in Nigeria’s export basket.
“So, there is a projection that Nigeria’s leather industry has the potential to generate more than 1 billion dollars by 2025.
“The leather and leather products industry currently employs over 750,000 workers with about 500,000 workers in the finished leather goods sector.
“We now have a real opportunity to address the specific challenges and shortcomings of the leather sector with pragmatic strategies to permanently resolve these issues for optimal productivity’’.
He said that a central feature of the plan for developing a virile leather industry would be the development of technical capacity in leather works and technology.
To achieve this, he said that the Nigerian Institute of Leather Science and Technology, the arrowhead of the plan, had established nine extension centres across the six geo-political zones of the country.
Concerned citizens have, therefore, expressed optimism that practices in the past in which imported bags with cartoon characters would adorn the shoulders of young Nigerian scholars would cease if locally made bags are promoted.
According to them, imported bags would come with price tags of between N5, 000 and N60, 000 while Naraguta in Jos, Sokoto State, Kano State, Katsina State, Adamawa, Oyo State and Borno could produce better cost effective leather craft.
Quality leather articles will definitely attract patronage even beyond the country, thereby generating revenue and boost the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, economists have advised.
In the light of this, they note that the government needs to focus on formulating a leather-industry strategy to be driven by stakeholders, improving the regulatory framework to reduce raw materials production costs and initiating the necessary value addition processes.
Local leather products promoters like Muhammad in Abuja insist that as some schools resume classes, cheap locally-made school bags and lunchboxes have emerged as the preferred choice for parents and guardians.
A mother in Lagos, Mrs Olayinka Akande, says she chose locally made bags in 2021 and she has remained committed to the patronage due to their affordability and durability.
“I received a make-up bag as a souvenir, with the contact of the craftsman printed on it. I decided to give it a try and had three sets of school and lunch bags made for just N16, 000.
“As we speak, those bags are still in use. Not only affordable, they are remarkably durable and easy to clean. I’ve had to fix the zipper twice since 2021,’’ she explains.
Sharing similar sentiments, Miss Mary Ajose, a student at Ijegun Comprehensive High School, Lagos, explains that her classmates have adopted locally made bags for the new session.
“My aunt bought me a character bag last session, but this time I’m using the locally made bags.
“The great thing about these bags is that they also come with cartoon characters. They are easy to clean and maintain,’’ she notes.
A parent, Mr Michael Adetunji, observes that apart from school bags, there are locally manufactured customised palm sandals and shoes from Nigerian leather.
“The most critical factor when buying anything is durability. I invest in six pairs of locally made sandals at the beginning of the year and they serve me well.
“I often give them away, not because they’re worn out. The most expensive one costs N5, 000 and above. In this economy, one needs to make adjustments to save costs,’’ he says.
Similarly, Miss Seun Layinde, a manufacturer of school and lunch bags in Lagos, says: “One of the benefits of custom-made bags and shoes is the ability to tell your preferred design, which is not feasible with imported goods due to fluctuating exchange rates’’.
Layinde expresses her desire to expand into mass production but cites capital as a major obstacle.
She currently relies on sewing machines, but notes that an industrial machine would enhance efficiency and precision.
Stakeholders, therefore, note that the surge in Made in Nigeria products has contributed significantly to the country’s leather industry, which has been on a steady growth trajectory.
According to them, the sector has seen increased investment, resulting in more job opportunities and higher Gross Domestic Product.
It is their belief that the production of affordable and durable leather goods would not only benefit consumers but it would also showcase the potential of Nigeria’s leather industry on the global stage to signify economic growth in quality and value of locally crafted leather goods.
News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)