Nigeria has been producing traditional, handmade, beautiful fabric designs for centuries. But preservers of the ancient art say modern manufacturing and cheap Chinese imports threaten this way of life.
Kano’s Kofar Mata dye pit is one of the last surviving hand-coloring textile makers in Nigeria.
Over the years, the workers at the pit have become fewer and fewer due to reduced patronage.
Mamood Abubakar bends over the one-meter deep dye pit in a continuous dipping process that produces rich indigo fabrics.
Abubakar has done this for the last 70 years to earn a living and sustain the tradition, but as he gets older, he worries about the future of the trade.
"This place has been around for more than 500 years," Abubakar said. "Arabs, Whites, and people from all over Africa come here because this business is not a small one. We expect that the youth should desire to be part of it so that when we are gone, they will replace us," he says.
Not far from the Kofar Mata Dye pit is the Kantin Kwari Textile Market, the largest in Nigeria.
Ismaila Abdullahi, a designer at the market, says cheap Chinese manufacturing means it doesn’t make good business sense to produce textiles locally.
"The progress we have made in this business is that we now have our own graphic designer, who draws the designs and sends them to China for them to produce the textiles and send back to us," he said.
Hamma Kwajaffa, the director general of the Nigerian Textile Manufacturers’ Association, blames the decline in locally made fabrics on Chinese imports, which he says are often smuggled into the country.
“They take our designs and go to China and bring it to sell it cheaper. Five yards like this, they will sell it for 1,000 naira, while our factories cannot produce this product at less than 3,000 naira. Because these smugglers they have no workers, they don’t pay taxes, they don’t add any value, so they can afford in sell it cheaper,” he said.
Nigeria’s Central Bank said last month that it has provided cotton producers with more than $300 million in loans in recent years to support the domestic textile industry, once Africa’s largest.
In 2017, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, filling in for the president, ordered the government to give priority to products made in Nigeria when buying uniforms and footwear.
John Adaji, the president of the National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, says the policy needs to be expanded.
“South Africa had a policy on textile and it simply said, ‘Buy South African — wear South African.’ And they have a tax in force that enforces that. So, it is government. Government must be seen to provide an enabling ground for business,” he said.
Craftsman Abubakar says the government should buy their handmade fabrics and export them to the world if they want these traditional Nigerian textiles survive.
By Ifiok Ettang