OWOICHO: USING SHOEMAKING TO CREATE EMPLOYMENT IN NIGER DELTA
By Usman Adamu Atabo
Tucked somewhere on MTN Link Road, beside Access Bank, Rumuokwurusi, Rivers State, is a young, 33 year old man, Stephen Owoicho Audu from Benue State. At a time when most Nigerian youths are jobless due to scarcity of jobs and even those working are losing theirs due to the rising cost of production and living, he is using the skill of shoemaking to produce assorted shoes and sandals for both male and female customers as well as using his skill as a cord winer to produce leather bangles, wrist watches, phone pouches, wallets, bracelets, jackets etc.
He also has 3 workers who he pays a monthly salary working with him.
Owoicho produces over 100 pairs of shoes every 2 weeks which he pushes into the ready market but believes, if the government, organizations or individuals can give him a grant or a loan, he can produce up to a thousand pairs as there is a ready market.
“The government assisting, can also help me to increase the number of youths I am currently teaching the art. For now, I have 12 of them due to a lack of space. 2 of them are undergraduates affected by the ASUU strike,” he said.
Owoicho also believes the government can help him to study more at Asutoria in Milan, Italy.
“I was supposed to travel there last year but could not because of funds. We have the volume based production and the craft based production. Designers like Georgio Armani use craft based production because the products are more durable. This is what I will learn there,” he explained.
Owoicho gets his foreign materials for production from Aba and Onitsha Markets but he explained that the major one from Nigeria is Maco which he does not like using because “it is not compressed.” This means that the weight of the wearer presses the sole down and it does not rise again. He, however, explained that the best leather of all is from Nigeria and it is called Nigerian leather. It is 10 times more expensive than the others and more durable. It is used only for special orders because of the cost.
Each pair of shoes for the male folks cost between five thousand and twelve thousand naira while that of the female folks cost between three thousand, five hundred naira and five thousand naira.
Shedding more light on the training aspect, Owoicho said he gets offers from parents every day to train their children but he turns them down because of a lack of space and said the training takes a year. Payment is usually a token and it is done upfront. Students, he said, can use holiday periods to learn.
He also explained that the leather bracelets, wallets, phone pouches etc are only done on demand.
Owoicho holds an NCE from the College of Education, Oju in Benue State and started making shoes after his Junior Secondary School education in 2003. He used the skill to augment his education from then on.
“My father used to say my education was the easiest among his children as I usually call him to tell him I have paid whenever we are asked to buy anything but allow him to pay me whenever he has the money,” he stated. He worked briefly as a chef and a teacher but had to leave to concentrate on his shoe making business as it became more demanding.
He is the 2nd child from a polygamous family of 8 but one is deceased. His father is a driver of luxurious buses like “The Young Shall Grow,” “Chisco,” etc. He is still a bachelor.
At a time youths are complaining about a lack of jobs, he explained he moved into a bigger office he now occupies during the lockdown of 2020.
His advice for the youths is that they should put in their best in anything they are doing with all their mind and he advised the government to support the creative industry generally.