In time past, furniture making used to be seen as a venture for illiterates but societal development has changed that perception, as more educated and enlightened individuals now engage in the business.
With various modifications and creativity coming into play in the business, it is noticeable that most of the successful furniture firms are based in the city, thereby indicating that the furniture business thrives more in urban and semi-urban areas than in rural areas.
The business, which is seen more as an art than a vocation, has generally proven to be a lucrative venture but there are major challenges facing this business which need urgent attention.
Idu Furniture Market, known as the ‘Furniture Village’ along Karmo-Gwagwa road, Abuja, is where The Independent Furniture Association operates. The market contains over 1,500 shops where both household and office furniture are produced and sold.
The chairman of the association, Donatus Ebisi, who learnt the craft business from the scratch, said the venture is lucrative. He said they were initially scattered by the road side but were given this place as a temporary market by the government in 2009.
The expanse of land contains shops where locally made furniture such as bed, cushion chairs, wardrobes, dining table and chairs, and other furniture are displayed.
Though some of the furniture on display in showrooms look like imported ones, the chairman said all are locally made. “If you go to our sign board, you will see where our logo reads “Truly made in Nigeria”. What you are seeing may look foreign but we want to assure you that what people are importing in terms of furniture we have better ones here in terms of quality and durability. The locally made furniture stands the test of time.”
Ebisi said every piece of furniture in the showroom is locally manufactured, adding that people importing furniture are just wasting their time. He said buying the locally made ones are far cheaper than getting the imported one which are expensive due to custom duty.
He said sometimes in 2004 they approached the government to give them a place to stay and do their business instead of operating from the road side which was against the rule of the Federal Capital Territory “and this place was given to us on a temporary arrangement.”
Initially, sales were low because not many people were aware that they were there.
“When we got here newly, we used to go around scouting for customers but I can say that customers now come here to look for us,” he said.
The furniture market is not without challenges as the traders complain of accessible roads to their business place.
“We have lots of challenges but the topmost on the list is the problem of access road. Before you get to this place from the city you must pass Karmo Market and because of the traffic jam sometimes at Karmo, people try to shun this place. But now they are trying to fill up the potholes on the road,” he said
Another challenge mentioned was lack of befitting structure for their businesses since the area is a temporary site.
“We could not put up permanent structures because this place was given to us on a temporary basis. You can see how this place is left unfenced. This is why some of us cannot approach financial institutions for loan because any of them that wants to grant you loan facility must see that you have a standard place,” he said.
The chairman said if the government cannot support them financially, they should at least give them an enabling environment to do their business. “If the government gives us solid support by giving us a permanent business place, we will in turn give our own support to the development of the FCT.”
According to him, several efforts were made in the past to reach the government but all were futile.
“When El-Rufai was in office, we visited his office several times. We have written several letters even to the development control and urban and regional planning department. If you go to Abuja Geographical Information Service (AGIS)we have files there but we guess there is delay due to government bureaucracy. You know how our government handles things. Where they are supposed to give listening ears at times they do not listen at all,” said Ebisi.
The chairman said they are right now working with the Abuja Metropolitan Agency with the hope that in the nearest future they will gain something.
Another challenge according to the traders is the problem of accessing loan facility to enhance their businesses.
He enjoined the government to invest in the market, adding that if they focus on the market in the next five years, the place will not only to be the largest furniture market in Nigeria but in West Africa.
“We want a situation whereby the government will come and see what we are doing here and encourage us by supporting our efforts. We are hoping that it will soon turn out to be a place where every state that boarders the FCT will come and get their furniture,” he said.
Cliff Anene is a graduate of Production Management and has a workshop and showroom in the market. He said he has been in the business for over 20 years, right from Benin in Edo State and has never worked under anybody since he started the business.
Anene said anyone who thinks the craft is for the illiterate is far from the truth. He said that most of them in the place are graduates and some are still acquiring more education.
Anene, who runs an organisation known as Cliff Furniture Association Limited where he trains children for a token of N200 per day just to engage them by imparting knowledge in them, said he does this to keep the children engaged and to train them to be self reliant.
He said he has no regret in learning the craft and engaging fully in it because it is a lucrative business from where he is fending for his family and training two of his sons in the university.
“Going through the National Directorate of Employment, we ought to be the master trainer like it was done in the time of the former President Ibrahim Babangida where we trained people and incentives were paid to us,” said Anene.
Another furniture maker, Anthony Ejike said he worked with Julius Berger before coming to do what he knows best – carpentry.
Ejike said he trains youth freely since most of the youth are not too serious, ‘If I see the ones that are serious I train them for free to impart knowledge in them.”
He said the problem is not being able to secure loan to enhance his business even after they were asked to join NASSI so that they can get loan facility.
The market is opened to everybody whether rich or not at moderate price.
“Like beds, we have the ones sprayed with carpet and the laminated ones which we sell for between N90, 000 and N95, 000 while the wood one goes for between N65, 000 and N70, 000. There are also lesser ones too depending on what you want,” he said.
The secretary of the Independent Furniture Designers Association Nkem Godwin said they have just written to the department of youth development in the ministry of social development to collaborate with them on training and empowering the youths.
“Our intention is to train them while the government will empower them in the aspect of tools and setting them up in businesses. Our aim is to reduce crime and unemployment in the society. If we are able to train between 100 to 150 at a go and the government empowers them, it will go a long way in reducing unemployment,” he said.