Unsung Idi-Araba Tailors


Idi-Araba is a Hausa community in Surulere Local Government Area of Lagos State. In this community, tailoring is more than an occupation for the inhabitants, it is a culture, Ugo Aliogo writes

Yakubu Mohammad is a tailor with an uncommon knack for fine fabrics. As a fashion designer, he has been able to carve out a niche for himself in African fashion. He is renowned for making some of the finest Danshiki, Kaftan, Babariga, and female Buba designs.

Mohammed’s success story had its origin from the Idi-Araba community, an impoverished area in Surulere largely dominated by Hausas.

The community has very little chance of inspiring great dreams and ideas in the minds of purpose-driven youngsters. The prevalent cases of juvenile delinquencies pay credence to this fact. However, while most youngsters have found themselves on the wrong side of the divide, others, like Mohammad, have made different choices.

“The tailoring job kept me away from the streets and helped me to engage in something productive,” Mohammed said.

Still, Mohammed is worried that there is no support from the state government. Having spent four years in the business, he lamented that it is faced with a litany of challenges which, though, are not alien to other small scale businesses in the country. But his love for the business has kept him going.

“Funding is a major issue in the business. It prevents us from buying materials needed to do our job and power our generators. There is very little you can achieve in this job without constant power. Therefore, we are compelled to fuel our generators on a daily basis,” he said.

Tailoring is one of the unique activities which have helped to put the Idi-Araba community in the radar in a positive light. Many youths have taken to tailoring to escape poverty and crimes. The community is home to many artisans who are making a mark for themselves. Despite the numerous difficulties that confront businesses in Nigeria, the trade in Idi-Araba is striving very well.

What is the origin of tailoring in this community? Why is it given so much love and attention by indigenes of the community? These were some of the thought provoking questions that most people would ask. THISDAY investigations revealed that tailoring in this community is not just a craft, but a rich cultural tradition that dates back many years ago.

Perhaps, the early settlers began this tradition and passed it down to their offsprings.

Well, this mythological evidence may not be totally wrong since the same view is shared by the elderly. Besides, there are no written records to counter this evidence. To put this finding in proper perspective and justify if the mythological evidences are correct, THISDAY visited the Hausa community’s leader, who is also known as the Sarki Hausawa, Alhaji Idris Lawal. He is a highly learned gentleman in Islamic theology and historical records of the community.

Lawal supported the mythological evidence, affirming that despite being born in the community, he cannot trace the exact year this tradition started, since there are no written records, but oral traditions passed down from one generation to another have attested that it has been the lifestyle of the people for decades.

“There is no other work in the community more than tailoring. There is no much money in the business, but if you have something doing, you will keep yourself employed. Tailoring here is not a business here, it is what you learn. The tailoring practice in this community dates back to many years. Before I was born, the tailoring job has existed,” he said.

Like Mohammed, Lawal is not very pleased with the attitude of government towards supporting these artisans in the community. He lamented that they are not receiving the right support from government and the people are not comfortable with this development. This narrative is somewhat frustrating, especially in light of the efforts of the present administration of Lagos State, led by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, in supporting Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) businesses and cottage industries in the state.

Lawal said: “I believe that if government wants to help us, they should ask us what we need and I believe the help is supposed to start from the local government. During election periods, they come to us beg us to use our office to cajole our people to vote for them. They are only concerned about getting votes to enter public offices, but they are not concerned about the welfare of the people that voted them in.”

He appealed to government to assist the community tailors procure sewing machines, provide soft loans and technical supports to them through training and exhibition programmes. “The clothes they sew here are of high quality, as a result some of them are exported to London, South Africa and other places,” he said.

However, the Chairman of the Idi-Araba Tailors Association, Mr. Abdulsalam Musa, did not hinge the tailor’s difficulties on the government only. He said the association, itself, has not been able to muster the strength to build a strong synergy among its members, in order to present their case before the government.

THISDAY also learnt that the association is faced with numerous challenges, which have prevented it from functioning to optimal capacity. The leadership does not have the strong compliance mechanism to compel non-registered members to join; therefore the association is seen as a toothless bulldog.

For seven years, the association has paid annual trade permits to the government. The permit is supposed to cover only registered members, but non-registered members hide under the same umbrella, and enjoy the benefit due to registered members. This is an ugly development that seems to have defied the logic of sound reasoning. Investigations revealed that there is a crack in the leadership and running of the association. This fissure has complicated the smooth running of the association over the years, but currently the new leadership is struggling to stamp its foot firmly on the ground.

“We have complained to the local government officials about the attitudes of some tailors in the community who have refused to join the association and pay the trade permit. These non-registered members hide under the umbrella of the association. This unhealthy practice has affected our association negatively,” Musa said.

He stated that the lack of enforcement on the side of the collector is making these non-members not to see any reason to join the association, “if there is a serious enforcement measure to collect the trade permits from these non-memers, I believe that the association will pay less.”

Musa is frustrated that the local government council has not taken decisive steps in addressing the issue. Despite the fact that the association has been registered with Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), enforcement of disciplinary measures is very much a big task.

The disgruntled chairman affirmed that the membership response is very low, besides there are no stiff penalties for practitioners who are found guilty of the law.
“If there is a law, there will be compliance to compel people to join the association. Currently, what we are doing is that if you aspire to join, you join, if you don’t want to join. You stay on your own. The women are also with us, the association is open to everybody.” he said.