Bright Prospects for Calabar Garment Factory

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After fighting off spirited attempts to scuttle its establishment, Joseph Ushigiale who recently visited the factory reports that the Calabar Garment Factory is emerging as a pioneering outfit that will drive the lucrative outsourcing business for local and global brands

Barring any last minute changes, President Muhammadu Buhari would again be in Calabar, the Cross River State capital for the official inauguration of the multi-billion naira ultra-modern Calabar Garment Factory.

For governor of Cross River State, Senator Ben Ayade, it is a remarkable sign of good tidings and a befitting way to start 2017 in grand style given the political capital he would reap from the factory’s inauguration by the President. Ayade is no stranger to such inauguration; recall that he scored a first, last year when he went down on record as the first opposition governor whose state was the President’s first port of call immediately on assuming office, to inaugurate the Super Highway, a 260km route that would link the Southern with the Northern Nigeria.

Started barely a year ago, the factory which stands conspicuously next to the Cross River State Pharmaceutical and Rice City companies currently witnessing a frenzy of construction works along the newly christened Industrial Boulevard, located along the President Goodluck Jonathan Bye Pass behind the Margaret Ekpo International Airport, has already been completed, equipped and ready for production.

According to the state Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Peter Egba, the garment factory ranks among the administration’s first signature projects to be delivered within its first year in office. “The idea is primarily to industrialise the state; the governor is deliberately initiating policies that would gradually change the perception of the state as a civil service and a mere tourism state to an industrial hub and wean the state off dependence on federal allocation.” He told THISDAY at the factory recently.

He said “from the inception of this administration, the governor’s direction has been to decouple the state from waiting every month for federal allocation to a state that is largely driven by industries and agriculture. These are areas we have seen that we have great comparative advantages. Therefore, what the governor keeps emphasising is to utilise these comparative advantages we hold over other states in these areas to create a full value chain for agriculture and industries.”

He told THISDAY that one of the major thrust of embarking on these two key sectors was because of the stark realities of the army of unemployed youths across the state. Egba acknowledged that with agriculture, the state has the opportunity to pull millions of indigenes from poverty and want, stating that it was for that reason that the administration is engaging in its current industrialisation push beginning with the garment factory.

“We have already engaged over 1000 workers to begin work in the factory added to this are the multiplier effects that come with other ancillary services. We are currently planning to add restaurants, warehouse and sick bay as we strive to empower the people. There are also plans to introduce microfinancing to the local farmers through the small holders’ scheme to grow cotton for the state to buy their produce as off-takers.

“This is the first project on the newly opened Industrial Boulevard to start and be completed by our administration. This will be followed by the pharmaceutical and cosmetic as well as the Rice City factories to create a production hub for medicare supplies, fashion products and rice seed multiplication,” he declared.

At the opening of the factory recently, Ayade explained that his concept of the factory was beyond creating employment opportunities. He said his idea is to provide a safety net for the underprivileged in the society as well as create a platform for skills acquisition.

According to him, “When we set up this factory, the intention was not just to create jobs but to guarantee that young men and women who have been challenged by circumstances of their births have the opportunity to better their lots.
“I’m so excited at what I am seeing here today – the number of people and their energy – and it is an indication that our factory has taken off. Remember, the factory has the capacity to create 3,000 jobs.

“Truly, if you call yourself a leader, your focus should be on the vulnerable and the weakest that we are engaging today. We will guarantee you good salaries, food and proper transportation.”Ayade urged the new employees, who he tagged ‘great fashion engineers’, to leverage on the opportunity to express their innate potentials and be the pride of the state.
He said, “We want to show to the world that we have skills, great fashion engineers. I call you engineers because you are going to provide the skills that we have not seen before.”

Egba disclosed that the factory has a capacity to employ 3,000 workers who will run on three shifts per day producing a minimum of 2,000 shirts per day. He disclosed that to forestall a future where the factory would be confronted with scarcity of raw materials, the state government has adopted the federal government’s backwards integration working closely with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to grow and process cotton.

According to him, “we have already keyed into the federal government’s backwards integration scheme through the CBN’s Anchor Borrowers programme to grow cotton in the northern part of the state where we discovered the climate is quite favourable for cotton cultivation. Afterwards, there are plans to set up both ginnery and yarnery factories proximate to the farms to convert the cotton into yarn for the factory.”

On the composition of the factory, Egba explained that the factory will operate a five line production chain running on three shifts; adding that there are 540 machines comprising industrial sewing, cutting tables, heat transfer, button fixer, and several machines for the production of jeans and different brands of t-shirts.

He disclosed that so far, the factory has already received enquiries from the Nigerian police, Peace Corps, private schools and a host of other interested clients willing to place their respective orders for different clothing products. For now, he said the factory has already produced uniforms for staff, homeland security, green police and other state-based security outfits.

Providing insight into the state government’s efforts to position the factory as a first choice outsourcing factory for global brands, Egba said “we have entered into an agreement with a Lagos-based firm to engage a reputable Indian company which will arrive Calabar very soon to audit our equipment and affirm our preparedness to provide cutting edge services to global brands. The firm will also be vested with the task of training our staff and prepare them for the task of partnering through outsourcing with global brands like GAP, NEXT, Mango etc. It will also be expected to recommend where there are manifest gaps in the production value chain and how such gaps should be closed to ensure maximum productivity.”

However, regardless of the significant milestone recorded by Ayade in delivering the garment factory, the path to the establishment of the factory was not without its own hiccups. In fact, it was strewn with thorns and dogged by controversy from day one. Ayade’s traducers had accused him of converting the garment factory, which was his former constituency project while he was senator to a state project. Ayade has denied this allegation.
To corroborate Ayade’s position, Egba explained that “the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) invited us to provide clarifications on the status of the garment factory and I categorically stated that the factory is a state government entity and also showed them evidence that it has right from the inception of this administration been budgeted for.

“I think what people fail to come to terms with is that the project is being operated through a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) approved by legislation to guide against official interference. The SPV authorised the warehousing of shares through Barr. Emmanuel Ubua and Dr. Edward Obiakachalla who are holding 1.5m shares each with the Ministry of Finance Investment (MOFI) holding 3m while the rest 4m are still pending unalloted until the need will arise to raise more capital for expansion,” he explained to THISDAY.