By Ikenna Ugwu
Former president Olusegun Obasanjo ordered for made-in-Aba shoes, and the media went agog. It is not his fault. The media is just so perpetually clung to the conventional news value of “prominence” because Obasanjo is involved. It is a ridiculously crazy situation, and the media can be much more responsible and creative. Oh, another news value – “unusual-ness.” Because in our clime, it is actually unusual, if not impossible for a “big man” to buy or wear locally made products.
“Big men” don’t wear local stuff. No, even the very sense and impression of wearing a made-in-Nigeria clothe or shoe is demeaning. Have you heard the parlance “Aba-made” of “Igbo-made” before? When they say your shoe is Aba-made, it has a social stigma attached to it. It’s something that places you a little lower than where you know you belong, makes you feel a little less human. Just because it is made-in Aba, because it is Nigerian. You feel these ways because you are stupid. You are such an un-chauvinistic human, a castrated jingoist.
The “big men” are allergic to local products. If you have tried marketing products to them you will know. They will first ask you, “what make is it?” hoping it’s not Nigerian. But you trust my people too. Their ingenuity knows no bound. So they begin to make shoes and bags and clothes with “Made in Italy,” “Made in Spain” or “Made in France” labels. They see nothing wrong in devising a perverse way to sell products and earn money. They call it survival strategy. Italy and Spain take glory for our hard work and creativity, and Nigeria is dying away, swiftly.
They say Nigeria cannot produce anything of good quality. They know because they have foiled every genuine attempt to give us constant electricity or any technological leverage. So they go for the foreign shoes and bags and other accessories. Aba-made products are stereotypically of poor quality, and they know why. I hope Obasanjo will wear his Aba-made shoes when they arrive. I hope he will be proud. I hope he will seek ways of improving the industry, assuming the qualities are still poor or not up to his taste, as I suspect. I hope also that the Aba shoemaker will not import special materials from Italy in order to impress Mr. Obasanjo.
I have less problems with Obasanjo ordering for made-in-Aba shoes than with the media going berserk over the issue. I find it disturbing, something that unveils the languid-ness of the Nigerian media practitioners and their obsession with juicy beats.
You are a journalist. Take your camera. Take your recorder. Go to Aba. And see for yourself the undying spirit of young people who are willing and capable of transforming the industrial landscape of Nigeria. You might want to think China when you get there. But not exactly, because in China or any responsible, industrial nation for that matter, shoes are not made with kerosene stoves and gum and stuff that you know are anti-revolutionary. They have machines and technology that aid creativity and encourage output. And that is the stark, austere difference.
You should be seen in an unyielding, devastating haste and pace to tell your mindless, insensitive and clueless, no-do-gooder government that the solution to Nigeria’s economic revolution is not in America or Europe and their meagre handouts. Tell them that the treasure they seek abroad is at home. Tell them there is a little China, South Korea and Japan somewhere in Nigeria waiting to be explored. Tell them the revolutionary story of that little “red dot on the map” that is now Singapore. Instead of publicising every blub of spit or amplifying the sound of coughs of people who, like the mouse bite-and-blows you. So you don’t know until you see yourself bleeding.
I find the report about the former president ordering for made-in-Aba shoes rather overblown and irritating. And the tone of the media – “Olusegun Obasanjo has encouraged the purchase of indigenous products…” in the reportage depicts, for me, a sense of patronising pity. A former president wants to wear made-in-Aba shoes, and am supposed to be excited. Rubbish. Let him (and his ilks) not buy. Let them just “give us the tools, and we will do the job.”
Democratic government is by the people, and for the people. You must not separate them. And so you must be courageous enough to tell your governors, including Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu that despite the overwhelming potential and creativity that overflow in Aba, it is so much a purlieu than an industrial “city.” Tell him that in saner climes, “commercial nerve centres” are not found in slums. Tell him to clean-up and rebuild Aba so that the world can come to us.