How ban on livestock markets becomes boom to bush meat trap makers in Akwa Ibom
They say another name for crisis is opportunity. No other crisis or even a disaster has been more devastating in recent times than the current Coronavirus pandemic.
But while it has brought untold hardship to people including institutions, even religious ones, it appears to have opened up hitherto locked opportunities to others.
This cannot be better illustrated than by the Made-in-Akwa Ibom Project, a team of young entrepreneurs in Akwa Ibom pioneered by Mr Collins Oscar, who had been battling over the years to make people see the need and the beauty of patronising locally made products ranging from equipment, food and beverages to cosmetics, but with very little success.
But last month, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects which led to the restriction of interstate movement, Akwa Ibom State government ordered the closure of all livestock markets in the state. That automatically reduced the quantity of meat in the market while the few available became too costly for the common man.
Made-in-Akwa Ibom Product team appeared to have been waiting for such an opportunity. So Oscar instantly advertised online, locally fabricated traps and urged people to resort to it in order to trap bush meat and still enrich their soups and stew. And miracles happened.
Hear him; “Here we sell only made in Akwa Ibom products and one of our engineering work here is traps. We’ve been having these products; they are not new products. Even our fathers and forefathers this is what they were using to also feed themselves. We have a lot of traps here long before now; that’s over a year plus in this showroom, but people have been looking at it as an artifact. We never knew that this thing will become hot cakes. So right now out of the traps we stocked up this place with, and which we somehow started seeing it also as an artifact; as one of those things in the museum, we never knew that people would be paying three times the value we bought it then, They are paying for it confidently and you’ll also be surprised by the kind of people who are coming to ask for traps. And they will take it home and less than 24 hours they’ll catch something with it; meat; and they’ll snap it tag me and post it on Facebook, and I’ll be surprised. So this thing is really working.”
Oscar, who has always been promoting self-reliance, including writing a book: Idiots With BSc, said within three days, they were able to sell nine traps since the close of livestock market was enforced, whereas, for nearly two years, they could not sell even one before. And Oscar said they were prospecting to restock their showroom with more and different kind of traps.
“No problem at all coz unlike before, I have to go to the market and buy them. Now I go to the manufacturers. I like calling them engineer. I like going to the village to get some from them. I’m planning to go the on Monday because we have only two traps remaining now.”
Though Made in Akwa Ibom products have been about a year and a half at their showroom, the vision has been to get people to patronize locally made products, according to Oscar, he has promoted the philosophy for more than four years now.
Initially, it wasn’t funny, you’ll present a nice product better than this imported product but just because you are the one producing; just because they know who is the producer, they’ll just tend to look down on the product. Is it custard? You’ll hear comments like I hope this thing will not purge me-o. Why! because it’s a locally made product. This was the challenge then, but now I think the reverse is the case. Now people walk in here and buy made in Akwa Ibom product and are even proud of it. They will not only buy and consume; they’ll buy it and even snap a picture and use it as a status symbol.
“So it’s an achievement but before now it wasn’t like that. People were somehow ashamed that they cannot afford something better that’s why they are buying made in Akwa Ibom; and our product also is better than most of those imported products; because our product is natural.”
He dismissed the notion that locally manufactured products, especially by small sale entrepreneurs and artisans in the state would tend to be costly because their inability to mass produce to meet the cost of production.
“That was a problem before now. This is an association of 257 members; all entrepreneurs, producers and services providers. Right now we have our own factory, made in Akwa Ibom factory in Aka Road. So there are most of these young entrepreneurs who cannot afford machines that cost up to N600,000, or N500,000. So we have shared facilities there, most of these industrial machines; mixers, binding machines, fillers and other ones. So they come there to produce. So at our factory, we have a mixer that will mix this same product and give you over five thousand pieces. So that has solved that problem for them especially when they have a contract.”
You will be surprised to hear that the group has a “mixer” for traps since traps seem to be the flagship product at the moment. “Yes, we have our fabrication unit although the persons producing traps are not with us. They are villagers but our fabrication unit, we do something like, hanger and wardrobe; we have an architect who is fabricating all those things so we have a section in our factory were we do that.”
But it is not all rosy, in fact, it is not just a trap affair for Made-in-Akwa Ibom Product people as, apart from re-engineering the consuming mentality of the people in the state, they also face institutional challenges.
There challenges on the part of product owners, consumables and non-consumables also. These people have challenges like NAFDAC. Most of their products are not certified so they cannot sell their products outside this place. They cannot take it to the supermarket or any other places; so that has been a challenge to members. And another is export. We cannot keep producing for ourselves here. We’re not improving the economy. We want to produce enough where we can send out and people will patronize what we’re doing here. We also have a challenge as an association; this space is no longer containing us. This place is too small for this vision, a whole of Akwa Ibom state inside this place. We need a place like six times this size and basically that is the main challenge now; then the other small kind of working capital.”
Another challenge is still making the people of the state buy into the vision of seeing locally made products as good enough if not better than the imported versions.
“Like I earlier said. it wasn’t easy to push this vision into their mind because before now looking down on locally made product was like wisdom. This thing will not be durable, will not be strong. If you insist that the products are, It makes you sound as if you’re playing on their intelligence.
“If you sound that way it makes you sound stupid and the person following you will also see you as stupid. So having more Akwaibomites seen patronize our thing as a good thing is huge support already. Like 100% or 50% of Akwaibomites who loves our thing is enough support.
We’ve also got so much government attention here. The commissioner for trade and commerce Prince Ukpong Akpabio has been here many times; he brought in minister for trade and commence and general manager for trade and industry and about six commissioners in different parts of Nigerian. That’s a big thing and they bought out things, they also made announcements for us radio and television. That is a big one.”