The commercial city of Aba in Abia State used to be famous for the ingenuity of the locales. They copied and produced all manners of products. In fact, any product that was not made abroad was popularly referred to as “Made in Aba” or “Aba made”.
In the 60s, 70s and 80s, it used to be the pride of the nation. It was a giant among Nigerian markets. Traders came from Ghana, Cameroon, Liberia, Togo, and even Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Ivory Coast, to buy goods for retail sales in those countries.
Located in Aba North Local Government Area of Abia State, Ariaria International Market is among the giant markets in Africa. The “International” in the Ariaria International Market truly meant something in the days when Aba was a giant. Ariaria shone and sparkled. At the time, it was the major market where one could find ‘made in Aba’ products. In that market, there was no type of product that one would not find.
Goods and items are arranged in orderly fashion or manner so that you have each part, unit or line dealing with one line of product. For instance, there are areas where you can buy beautifully-woven beads of various kinds, shapes, sizes, colours and makes. This is followed by seemingly unending line of stalls dealing in clothes and clothing materials, ranging from industrial/corporate wears to individual.
Clothing materials sold here are of top grades and also relatively cheap. Sunday Sun was told that most top Nigerian designers and corporate institutions such as banks come to Aba to buy clothing materials.
Many of the “packet shirts” emblazoned with foreign labels are actually sewn and packaged at Aba before being taken to other parts of Nigeria and West Africa for distribution and sales. There are sections dedicated to sales of books, ranging from textbooks to novels, and religious books. Closely following are stalls selling various stationery.
There are sections dealing in clothing accessories like jewelry, beads, as well as sewing machines, etc. There is a section that deals in the manufacture and sales of foams for bedding and such things, Just as there are sections that deal in chemicals, industrial and agricultural. There are sections that deal in sewing threads of all kinds just as there are sections that deal in electronics, electrical parts and fittings, shoes for men and women.
At the shoe factory lane, one would find where most of the shoes, (ladies and men’s,) are made. Artisans and skilled workers could be seen working assiduously at designs, coupling this and that, appraising the work they have done, looking for possible angles that needed retouching here and there.
Sources say that shoe accessories like Nora soles, shoe gums and other fanciful fittings are imported from China, Italy and Spain. There are also sections of the market dealing in drugs and other pharmaceutical products. The result is, for someone who has the money, a walk into Ariaria International Market presents an opportunity of something akin to a one-stop shopping that could take you from one part of the big market to another.
Many buyers of men’s shoes, ladies’ shoes, children shoes, wholesale and retailers, could be seen trooping in and out of the showrooms either to make purchases or to place orders for designs that are very much in demand in their parts of the business world.
Ariaria International Market started as far back as the days of our colonial masters and has not ceased to produce quality goods, services and successful business men and women. Goods and service that cannot be found in Ariaria International Market does not exist. Some people consider it a tourist attraction.
The market has created employment for many and force hundreds of thousands out of poverty. It is reputed as one of the largest markets in the west coast of Africa and is comparable to and shares the same status with the ever-bustling Onitsha International Market. Known for their ingenuity, artisans who dot the entire landscape of the market have been able to invent products that compare with and even surpass the quality usually touted by foreign manufacturers.
Both local goods can be found in Ariaria market. Nevertheless, most companies in Nigeria are still in existence today simply for the help of the market. For instance, the market has gone a long way in generating revenue for the country.
Nigerians prefer foreign-made shoes, and that is why one finds ‘Made-in-Italy’ on the products in order to sell the locally made goods.
Today, the market has lost its past glory. Most of the artisans have left their business due to lack of patronage and poor condition of the market. There are no more apprentices. They have all joined okada and tricycle (Keke) operation to fend for their families since the market is no longer generating enough income. Even those elderly and experienced ones, who could not stand hunger, have also joined okada business too. Some are now bricklayers.
Traders from other African countries went to Aba for shoes. They would come to the market and ask artisans to produce certain number of shoes or bags or other products for them. That was the Ariaria market of the old glory. It is no longer the case. The Nigerian market has been filled with China products which are very cheap but their durability is contestable.
Nigerians patronise these Chinese products, not only for the cheap prices, but because they are flashy. The penchant for foreign goods has forced local manufacturers to imitate foreign-made shoes; hence, they sometimes, imprint marks like made-in-Italy on their products.