The much-touted industrial cluster strategy of the Minister for Commerce and Industry, Chief Charles Ugwuh, yielded its first dividend when the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) commissioned the Common Facility Centre (CFC) for shoe manufacturers in Aba, Abia State, on 9 May 2008.
The CFC, expected to boost Nigeria-made shoes to meet international standards, provides common facility with requisite modern machines needed for the production of shoes and leather products. The Aba CFC is the first bold step to actualise the Federal Government's new industrial strategy anchored on the cluster concept. The project is a joint initiative of UNIDO, Abia State Government, Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
With the training of the first batch of 32 shoemakers in the state, it is estimated that the centre will meet the training needs of over 20, 000 professional shoemakers located in the famous Ariaria market, the home of Aba-made shoes.
At the commissioning ceremony, the Minister for Commerce and Industry, Chief Ugwuh, said: “If the centre is well managed, it will produce about N1.6 billion-worth of leather products by January 2009.” He stated further that the centre was equipped with modern facilities to ensure that it would attain or even surpass the projection within the next few years. The Minister emphasised that the ideological concept of the centre was in tandem with UNIDO's driving philosophy of development assistance on income-generating activities to alleviate poverty of the rural poor.
Abia State Governor Theodore Orji agreed with the submission of the minister and said: “With the establishment of the centre, the tempo of business activities will further increase in the state… Its multiplier effect will be favourable to both the state and the federal government.” He urged UNIDO to ensure that all the machines would be provided so that the objective of the project would be achieved. He also pledged to ensure that the centre would be sustained and properly managed.
The centre is equipped with various types of sewing machines, trap folders, folding machines, eyelet presser for shoe lace, smoothing machine, nailing machine as well as cooling and cementing machines.
The UNIDO Country Representative in Nigeria, Mr Masayoshi Matsushita, in his remarks, expressed hopes that in a few years shoes produced in the centre with added values would go as far as to Japan and China. “I am sure we will accomplish this feat in the nearest future as we will like to support the centre to grow into a large scale centre to accommodate more show producers”, he said.
A beneficiary, Mr Tom Ovai, Managing Director of Tommy Ventures, a shoe manufacture, said the training at the centre would help boost sales both locally and in neighbouring countries. He added: “I will now export to some African countries like Mali, Cameroon, Benin and Côte d'Ivoire thanks to the added value and improved quality of our shoes.” Mr Ovai, however, wants UNIDO to reach out to more shoe manufacturers and train them.
The major challenge for the centre is how to sustain it and even produce replicate not only in the state but in other state in the country. The UNIDO Project Officer, Mr Ivan Kral, said: “The objective of enhancing skills of entrepreneurs will be achieved if the centre is properly managed. Also, sustainability of the project is key to achieving the objective. This entails commitment from all the stakeholders and the project.”