ANAMBRA State stands tall in the league of states in Nigeria. The state has one of the highest proficiency in human resources, besides its capital endowment. It is an established fact that the state has produced prominent personalities who have contributed significantly to the growth of the country.
Interestingly, the state is the second smallest in terms of landmass, yet among the most viable and richest states in the country. Her place in the economy of Nigeria can’t be ignored. In economic development index, Anambra State’s prominence is often seen from the prism of trade and commerce, while her technological input to Nigeria’s development is largely un-highlighted.
Anambra State is the most populous and industrial state in the southeast geo-political zone of Nigeria. Her status as the most industrial state leans more on her technological ingenuity than on any other factor. A big player in the country’s industrial growth, her industrial manpower contributing a large chunk to the state GDP.
Except for established names in the state technological sector, the technological prowess of her people does not manifest in concentrated industrial parks or estates, but emanates in cluster of markets and places people would not have imagined for technological drive.
Anambra is home to Main Market Onitsha, the largest market in West Africa based on geographical size and volume of goods, massively patronized by merchants from neighbouring West African countries. A market described as the commercial powerhouse of West Africa.
A few kilometers from Onitsha Market is the Mgbuka Obosi, in Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State. Mgbuka is a huge market that springs image of second hand spare parts before most people, but the market offers more than that.
The market sprawls on a hilly terrain at the Ugwuagba area of Obosi, it has shops, stores and other business ventures shielding its view on the popular Onitsha-Owerri Expressway.
On a typical day, human and vehicular flow greets one at its main entrance. Vehicles and humans compete for space on a narrow road called City Biscuit Road. The Biscuit Company, which is almost at the centre of the road as you make your entry folded up long ago. Whichever direction you take on this busy road, you have to watch your back, as you may be hit by a vehicle, cart carrying goods or bump into people.
Auto spare parts and mechanic workshops welcome your sight on each of the road, with clang of metals sounding nonstop. People are always milling in and out of the stores and workshops. Occasionally, they make way for vehicles into the workshop. Brisk business by food vendors and articles peddlers takes place midst this near chaotic scene. Traffic jams on this narrow road is not uncommon at peak hours. Trucks and Lorries offloading cars or goods, sometimes cause holdup on this road in the process. It is wise to be calm as everybody is in a haste to enter or leave the market. This is applicable at other entry points of the market. In the market, you see sea of heads, all scrambling for space.
From every point of entry of the market, the sheer volume of business transactions that take place in the market speak much more for it. More pronounced are the sales and repairs that take place there.
This reporter approached a middle-aged man, with a smile on his face examining a car, which looked refurbished. On close contact, it was discovered that his car, which was badly damaged has been fixed beyond his wildest imagination. Of interest to him were particular parts, which he feared could hardly were fabricated at a lower cost. He told our reporter that his car was written off as scrap, but he was told to bring it to Mgbuka Obosi. He said he was not disappointed.
Ifeanyi Samuel, a trader in the market, spoke to our reporter on what the market is all about. He referred to the market as a solution ground for any car to be fixed besides the sales of auto spare parts. “International trade takes place in this market. It is well known in the whole of West Africa.” Pointing at a trailer stationed near the Bentraco Filling Station point of entry, which he said came from Mali.
“There is no kind of vehicle you bring here that we don’t fix. Whatever we cannot fix here, take it to any other place, I assure you that it cannot be repaired. There are some cars, written off, which you may think will be sold as scrap. Come back after it has been worked on, you will not believe your eyes.”
He boasts of youths in the market that exude talents. “In this market, we have many talents. Go round, you will see what the youth are doing. It will amaze you.” He bemoans their lack of educational attainment which places a limit on what they can offer.
“There are young ones in this market that are not supposed to be here because of their age. They ought to be in school. Even though they have acquired some basic knowledge in their crafts, education is vital to their sustainability.
You know education is very expensive in Nigeria today. It will be well-conceived if the state government can open a school in the market that is technology inclined where they can go to school in the morning , while they go for their various enterprises in the afternoon.”
“We have so many talents in the market that need to be developed. This requires government assistance. The government should initiate talent development programmes. They should bring such programmes into Mgbuka. Believe me, government will not regret it.”
Samuel wants the state government to look into the roads in the market, including the drainage system . The market, he said, was littered with dirt. “You see people drink water and drop the sachet on the ground, and throw the takeaway pack anywhere. When it rains, it makes the market dirtier. ASWAMA should make their presence felt in this market.
The first entrance from Oba, the road is so bad that a container can fall off a trailer. We will be grateful if the state government will look into this.”
“We are appealing to the government to come and help us. Our amiable governor, Willie Obiano, we have seen the good works you have been doing. We want to experience those good works here in Mgbuka, he said.
The head of the Volkswagen section of the market, Fidelis Edokwe took our reporter round the market. He noted that the market boasts of technicians that can fabricate or improvise auto parts. Besides being an international market, “It will interest you to know that some people from some research institutes do come to this market to get materials for their research and even use some of our products for their research.”
As a major player in the technological advancement and revenue drive, he implored the state government to look into the challenges facing the market. “You can see that despite the huge structure of the market, which individuals built from the scratch. The market terrain is soggy when it rains. We lack roads in the market.”
With a countenance that expressed sadness, he said their biggest threat was erosion. At a point close to the main entrance, he noted, “We have spent over four million naira on it, yet we have not been able to fix it. The one that runs from upperson is nearly running through the centre of market. The contractor charged N15 million to fix it for us”. He hopes the state government does something about.
Chairman Old Motor Car Parts Dealers Association, Mgbuka Obosi, Chief Emma Obiagwu, highlighted that the market is unique in the sense that it can fix any car, even the ones termed beyond repairs. The market is the largest concentrated old motor spare parts market in West Africa. Different African nations come to do business in this market. Beyond being a market, he noted that its technological capability speaks for itself. “We are trying. There are things we manufacture here but when you see them in Lagos and elsewhere, you won’t believe it was done here.”
“The market helps boost the economy of Nigeria. You can’t believe the number of foreigners that come to do business in this market. The market has helped in employment opportunities. However, it may not be visible. It will amaze you how the market has indirectly employed people in and outside the market.”
Obiagwu argued that it remains the priority of the government to spearhead the technological drive of the society. “On our own part, we have done the little we could, which is why we have attained the height we are in today. It is the duty of government to help us as it is being done elsewhere. When any government is solely committed to science and technology, it fastracks the development of any nation. They owe it more as a duty to promote science and technology.”
He noted that their pressing needs now are two pronged. “The market is on a hill and not motorable. We need better access to the market and within the market. Some people came here sometime ago, promising to mount streetlights for us. Up till now, nothing has been done. We need something that will boost the security of this place. For a market of this magnitude, we want the government to provide constant electricity.”
“We spend much on fuel to operate our machines and for other uses. This is what we want the government to do for us. Let there be stable power supply for our work. It will save a lot of cost and help to grow the market in every aspect. When this happens, everyone gains; we make more money and government generates more revenue. What we have in return for all these is that the economy will grow stronger.”
The Upperson section of the market is where one relates to its manufacturing concern. Don’t expect to see any factory. It is a cluster of stores and shacks. Within any of these structures the constructing, reconstructing or fabricating of motor parts are done. In one of shacks, National Light met bare-chested motor spring constructor, Nicholas Anijiofor. He is a man in his early sixties, sweating in the stuffy environment, as he hammered the spring into shape, assisted by an apprentice, who could probably be in his early thirties. Anijiorfor took no notice of this reporter as his concentration on the metal and a battery of generators’ noise silenced his greetings.
When he eventually looked up, the looks on his face showed the toils were telling on his age, though as he stated, he still feeds his family comfortably from his vocation. Anijiofor, wiping the sweat off his face, said he ventured into motor spring fabrication after leaving secondary school. “Since I ventured into this, it has fed me and my family. But things have changed today. We are faced with challenges on every side. This craft contributes a lot not only in generating revenue for the government, it also promotes technology.”
“How many people can afford company manufactured springs? They come to us to get it. And the ones we produce are strong as the ones one gets from any auto part manufacturer. You can see the way I labour to produce it. I have been in this business for over 20 years. If government can assist us with machinery, all manual burning, chiseling and bending will be minimized. With the right tools and machine, we will take technological advancement further,” he said.
Lucky Nwauwa sat with forlorn looks in front of his workshop as power outage rendered him idle. He is a young, energetic man of average height, in his thirties. All he wanted at that moment was electricity. He needs it as one needs air. Nwauwa fabricates propeller tube and other vehicle parts. He showed National Light samples of his works, assuring they are of the highest quality. “For those who cannot afford a brand new or second hand one, when they come with faulty ones, I fix it for them. I give the same standard as that manufactured by auto firms. Even when I mass-produce, I give the same quality. This is why most sellers want my product. I don’t disappoint.”
“I want to use this medium to plead with government to come to our aid. You can see, since I have been sitting idle with my boys. Let the government look into electricity. The cost of fuel is telling on my business. Another factor is machine to facilitate our works.”
Chukwudi Jacob, a graduate of Metallurgical Training Institute, Onitsha, decided to set up his venture, where he treads rod. “I graduated from Metallurgical Training Institute, Onitsha. After graduation I sought for white-collar job and when none was forthcoming, I decided to employ myself by opening this company. I did construction at the school. This small scale enterprise I operate has been helpful financially and technologically.”
Jacob stated that Nigeria has not taken science and technology seriously. “If we can upgrade ourselves, we would excel more than the Chinese. If you go to China and expect to see only big companies as most of us think, you will see more of clustered small and medium manufacturing outfits. Some even use their apartments to manufacture some of the products we import into the country. To further up our technological ingenuity, the government can offer us, if not grant, soft loans.
“With this assistance, we can advance the country science and technology. As at two years ago, I had 22 workers, but now, I have just five left because of the numerous challenges wrestling with our trade. That is why I plead with government to look into the challenges faced by manufacturers, especially in the science and technology sector. No nation advances without it. I need financial assistance. I produced the machines for my work myself. (He took the reporter round his workshop, explained some of the functions). With sponsors or financial assistance I can train people free, even though I paid to acquire the basic knowledge.”
“If we can be serious with technology, we will surpass the Chinese. It is unfortunate that we are so theory minded in this country. This is the reason we are lagging behind in science and technology. Government can correct this by helping small scale enterprises like us,” he said.
Opposite Chukwudi Jacob workshop is Oseloka Udeagwu, who reconstructs shock absorbers. He said it was because of him and others in the trade that some vehicles still ply our roads. “I have done shock absorbers since 1991. “Bring anything shock absorber to me, however you want it; repairs or fabrication, you will not be disappointed.”
He declared that people from neighbouring West African countries patronise him. Pointing to the man that just left, who he said came from Kaduna, he said. “There is huge potential in science and technology. People should take advantage of it. However, no matter the amount of money you offer me to go into any business other than what I’m doing, it will not work.”
I have done shock absorber for than 20 years. “I can assure you to bring any shock absorber, except, it is something I have not set my eyes on. I will offer you one-year guaranty.”
He emphasized enormous manpower exerted in his work and advocates state government’s assistance. “Nothing stops the state government from assisting us. Everybody will gain in the end, the state and the country will be better off. I would love to see the day I would mass-produce my works to be higher than what I am doing right now. How did Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and a host of others start? Just the way I’m doing with government assistance.”
Udeagwu paused for a minute, his countenance expressing sadness on recalling failed promises made to them to make them better. “It is disappointing that we have been promised several times, yet nothing is forthcoming. The last set of people that came here promised to assist us. They brought forms for us to fill, along with other processes we undergone. Until today, we have not seen anything. The government should come to our aid. Government presence is only felt when they come here to generate revenue; they should do something for us.”
This reporter’s journey in search of Anambra technological ingenuity took him to the city of Nnewi. The city is Anambra State’s second largest city and its industrial capital. Nnewi houses clusters of industrial companies, but what makes the city acclaimed ‘Japan of Africa’ is in her technological ingenuity. As the saying goes, ‘show it to an Nnewi man, he will produce it.’ The city is known for its automotive spare parts with the famed Nkwo Nnewi Market, as its centre of commerce.
The market has since the late 1960s controlled automotive spare parts in Nigeria. The city accounts for over 70 percent of Nigeria auto parts market. Unlike Mgbuka Obosi, Nkwo Nnewi, surprisingly offers no place where one could experience their technological prowess at work, rather, the market is solely dedicated to sales, repairs and servicing of motorcycles. Like the proverbial account of a camel passing through the eye of a needle, it was huge task locating small-scale companies in this city famed for her ingenuity. Yet, one still feels the peoples manifest presence in that regard. National Light combed the market several times and still arrived at the same conclusion.
More curious than perplexed, our reporter decided to unravel the reason behind this in the acclaimed industrial capital of Anambra State. Not many people would open up. Several people seemed to be apprehensive. Most people would talk about big players like Innoson, Ibeto Group, Cutix and ADswitch, Uru Industries Ltd, among others, but hardly would mention the small and medium players who actually are the force behind the city’s technological prowess.
An encounter with a trader who pleaded anonymity revealed that the reason is not farfetched. He maintained that the technological ingenuity of Nnewi people is not in doubt. He recounted how in the early 1970s, he got an LPO for some vehicles parts. “The parts could not be found anywhere in Nigeria. The vehicle manufacturers have stooped manufacturing it, he said. “Nnewi offered the solution as the parts which could not be seen were fabricated. He made it clear to our reporter that from experience that these entrepreneurs are skeptical of strangers.
He said these entrepreneurs’ fears are two pronged. Some of them are scared that their ideas might be stolen and what they termed ‘un-supportive role of the government’ yet tax them. The anonymous trader agreed to help facilitate a meeting with one or two of such entrepreneurs on a second visit because he has to contact them to assure them that our reporter has no ulterior motive.
National Light finally made headway when taken to an undisclosed location within the city. It was a large compound, which houses two other inner compounds. One never imagines to find such a manufacturing outfit in such a compound.
Our reporter observed different machines inside. In front of the workshop are iron seats for motorcycles. While this reporter waited for the man that runs the company, a man entered and began to pack the seats and a man of average height and slim built came and interrupted the man packing the seat. He happened to be Anthony Udeogu, who owns the factory.
He however declared the product and others are produced in Nnewi. Further buttressing the ingenuity of Nnewi people, he stated, “There are places in this city that you wouldn’t believe produces much more sophisticated products. You want to know why we produce these things in Nnewi? Often most of the quality of imported products can be measured with what we produce in Nnewi. The importers are after quantity, we are after quality.”
He asserted that they source materials in the city and its environ. Conducting our reporter round the factory, he showcased the machines he constructed himself, noting that he and others can do much more than that with government assistance and that they depend on sincerity.
“I have been in this business for long. Every government has promised us heaven and earth, with nothing to show for it. Why you find it difficult locating most of us is that we have come to believe in the insincerity of government.”
Government officials come claiming to be interested in our ingenuity, rather than assist or help to promote us, the next time you see them, they troop here to tax us. Not once, not twice. So we will agree to meet them as long as business is concerned. Just as we have political farmers, who benefit from government the same thing applies to us in this field.”
This is one of the main reasons we have not grown beyond this level in our drive for advancement of science and technology. Imagine where the government has been assisting, there are some degrees of quality goods that we should be producing by now. We have a pool of talents in Nnewi that we can assemble to produce any machine that we want but the assistance is not forthcoming to promote them. Every day, we cry for sponsors or financial assistance.”
On how the likes of Ibeto, Innosn, Chicason and others who rose to prominence and why they didn’t emulate them, he said, “honestly, I wouldn’t know how they did it. There is nothing we are supposed to do that we have not done. Even at that, how many of them in that category can be compared to our size and contribution in advancing technology. Check their figures and that of ours; you will understand what I’m talking about.”
Udeogu called on the state government to look into their plight. “Until then, we will find it hard growing beyond this level. All over the world, government with hunger for technological advancement takes serious her small and medium scale entrepreneurs. I assure you, if the government can be sincere enough to help us, there is nothing we cannot do, not only to make the state proud, but the country as well.
He stressed the importance of nurturing youths who are keen on science and technology. “We have large troops of talented youths in this city that when trained or assisted will surpass our achievement. Look at what I’m doing, I never learnt it anywhere, no training anywhere, but look at the level I have attained.”
“There are thousands of people who pray to be like me. I often meet many of them, but without assistance, they are stagnated given the economic situation of the country. Many get frustrated because they lack that stepping-stone to propel them. Many of them still come to help me here. I don’t have enough space to accommodate them, since I need help myself. Some students do come here industrial attachment,” he said.