Okezie Ikpeazu: It’s Not My Business to Worry About Who Succeeds Me

Okezie Ikpeazu: It’s Not My Business to Worry About Who Succeeds Me

Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu speaks to Nseobong Okon-Ekong on his efforts to bequeath a strong economy to his successor and how he was able to reverse the losses in agriculture and education

You can’t ignore the 250,000 SMEs, according to World Bank records, that are producing shoes and garments in Abia. As an Igbo man, I know that each person will have four apprentices, at least, so we have six or eight; that is about one million people.

You can’t ignore them. Whatever they are doing, you must pay attention. For you to go and craft your own strategy for development and abandon what one million people are doing will be the wrong approach. We decided to focus on leather and garment.

Our first project may be intangible, because you can’t touch it, but it was one of the defining factors in 2015, and that was marketing. I choose to take up the marketing of Made-in-Aba. I took it everywhere, I wanted to achieve two things, one; speak to the psyche of the shoemakers and the tailors, that ‘hey you have an amazing talent.’

There is no difference between you and Gucci. I had to do a trade fair in Abuja and another one in New York; I took them there. I have taken shoemakers and tailors to Turkey and to China. I choose them over and above the usual politicians.

I needed to get these people to think like the kings that they are because what killed us in this country is that oil created a consumption economy and now going back to a production economy is difficult. It needs time for you to manufacture and sell item-by-item; the slush money that comes with oil is no longer there. Unfortunately, manufacturing is where we must go. That is why agriculture has remained very unfashionable because people prefer to sell oil and make the money; round trip oil and some subsidy scam and all kinds of things within the oil industry.

Having pushed the marketing project to a point, I couldn’t answer the question of how many shoes we produce in two days. This was revealed when the Nigerian Army placed an order for 50,000 pairs. At N10,000 per pair, you can see how much money came in.

That is when it became necessary to build capacity; so I took 30 young boys and girls to China and then took them to a shoe factory and they started learning how to use machines to make shoes. Their performance on that manufacturing platform encouraged me so much that I had to import the machine. Today, we have, for the first time, an automated shoe factory in Aba.

Capacity built, marketing strategy in place-they have a cooperative society they sit in the board. We have people to guide them a little. They are able to speak with Nexim Bank. If we did not help them set up that structure, Nexim Bank and other financial institutions will not touch them. Recently the Nexim MD came here and went to the factory to see what they are doing. In December, they produced all the shoes that Nigeria Railway Corporation used and they are at the brink of breaking another deal with the military and the police. That is the way to go. That is what I wear too; and my dress. They are made in Aba.

It has gone beyond that I wear to patronize them. If you look at my pictures, I do not think that I appear badly. People ask where I get my dresses. These people are thinking. I have a unique façade of appearance each time I go out. I am very proud to say that these my children produce all of these. The boy who started doing things for me since 2015 has bought a house in the highbrow area of Aba. I don’t know how much he bought it, but it can’t be anything below N60 or N70 million.

He is not a small man. These are concomitant of these efforts. A few weeks ago, I went and registered at the footwear academy; that also came organically from all these efforts. I did not build the footwear academy, but I created the environment for Footwear Academy. I am excited by their intervention because they trained as shoemakers in Italy-husband and wife.

They came and set up that Footwear Academy- I enrolled there because I wanted to see how I can capture the attention of our children. They are Igbos, but I don’t know if they are from Abia. One of the best tailors here is from Cross River.

He went to the same law school as my children. I am learning how to make shoes now. I do my lessons-the other day I was able to do the left leg of a sandal, I will go back, if not for the security challenge we had to battle with in the last few days, I would have taken a new lesson.

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