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Last Updated: Friday, 8 August, 2003, 08:46 GMT 09:46 UK
Nigeria's expert copy-cats
By Dan Isaacs
BBC, Lagos, Nigeria

If you saw a product labelled "made in Nigeria" in your local shop would you buy it?
Shoes at a Nigerian market
Cheap imitations of popular brands flood the market

Maybe you would think twice.

Not only are Nigerian goods not known for their quality, but the country's manufacturing sector has been so run-down over the years that the export of processed products has all but collapsed.

It is partly as a result of poor economic management over the years, and partly because those goods that are produced are often labelled as having been made elsewhere.

Struggling

Nnewi is a small town in south-eastern Nigeria with noisy streets, dilapidated buildings, and crowded markets - typical of so many in Nigeria.

But in a country where the manufacturing sector has all but collapsed under the weight of bad roads, intermittent power supply and limited pipe-borne water provision, the town is struggling against the odds.

Small and medium sized industries have set up here, and are producing not only for the Nigeria market, but also - albeit still to a limited extent - for markets abroad.
Onitsha market
Genuine and fake goods are all available at Onitsha market

"We are proud of what we are making. It may not yet compete with equipment from UK and Germany. But because we have a name to protect, we are striving all the time to improve our quality," says local businessman Sam Chukwujekwu, whose factory makes machine tools, lathes, saws, and boilers.

On the shop floor Mr Chukwujekwu told me about the problems of the absence of mains power, lack of water, and communications.

"What we do is that we run our generator. For water, we harness rainwater," he says.

These problems increase his production costs by 25%, he says.

Labelling

Mr Chukwujekwu makes sure his products bear the name not only of the country of manufacture, but also his home town, Nnewi.

But some firms in the area are somewhat less scrupulous about labelling their goods, well aware that even for the Nigerian market, goods which say "Made in Nigeria" will not sell next to those from abroad.

The main outlet for the goods is the vast Onitsha market - one of the biggest in West Africa.

And all around the market are products that are made here - car spares, t-shirts, shoes - absolutely everything. And most of them say they are made elsewhere.

In one shop there are Nike and Adidas shoes. Peugeot car parts, Bosch car parts - the list goes on and on across this vast market.

Survival

Just down the roads is a factory producing car spares of all kinds - from batteries to brake pads.

I went to meet the factory's general manager, Emmanuel Agu to ask him why his company was somewhat economical with the truth about some of its labelling.

Nigerian working in a factory
We are in deeper slumber now. In another ten years we will be more than 20 years behind
Emmanuel Agu
Factory manager
"You see, a lot of people buy reliable products, known names. And the only way that you can compete is to make those brands for them," he said.

Mr Agu denied that he was cheating his customers.

"The label doesn't say 'Made it Japan' it just says a company name and then 'Japan'.

"It is all part of the survival strategy, because when you are operating in a system that you have everything stacked against you, there are a few things that you have to do to survive".

The irony is that no international manufacturer or designer is likely to prosecute for copyright infringement.

Very few of these products make it outside Nigeria' s borders, and the volume of production is probably too small to bother with.

Deep slumber

But ultimately, many of the manufacturers here do want to compete on equal terms, with goods that proudly say "Made in Nigeria".

But factory manager Emmanuel Agu is not optimistic about the future. "I think we went to sleep. We relied too much on oil and it made everybody lazy, especially the leaders.

"Quite frankly. I think the country was better in 1960 than it is today," says Mr Agu.

He feels that Nigeria is still to wake up.
Watches
Every designer name is available

"I think we are in deeper slumber now. In another 10 years, we will be more than 20 years behind," he says.

It is a real problem for Nigerian entrepreneurs.

Fighting against a decaying infrastructure and all the extra costs that it entails and yet determined to produce and sell their goods in competition with products from abroad.

Their survival strategy of labelling goods as if they were made abroad is just part of their solution.

It is not only a breach of copyright regulations, but it also means that Nigerian-made brands - however good the quality - will never gain that reputation for themselves.


SEE ALSO:
Nigerian murder suspects charged
21 Oct 02  |  Africa
Crowds mourn Nigerian minister
11 Jan 02  |  Africa


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