Craftsmen in Borno express fear their centuries’ old business will go extinct



When it comes to its role as a commerce hub in northeastern Nigeria, Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, has made its name known; having been blessedly located at the borders of three nations, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, with abundant resources.

The northeastern state is a hub for agribusiness, with a lot of other businesses along its very wide value chain. It has one of the most fertile soils and water bodies of different sizes. It is also a big source for livestock.

But despite that, it is yet, not left behind in crafts and (local) manufacturing.

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Craft, true to the people’s very old history, is similarly old.

People’s craft also reflect their culture. And as cultures continue to interact with others, they also continue to evolve largely as a result of external pressures.

These changes, which fuel the wider evolutionary processes, have a way of affecting craft. For instance, the transition from use of clay pot to electric fridge, for cooling of water, naturally affects the producers of the former.

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This has come heavily on local craftsmen and women in the state. Their case is even more, because craft in that part of the world, as in others, is largely hereditary; which means that most of them inherited it as a means of livelihood from their families as a mark of identity / honor and thus have no other alternatives.

For instance, Mal. Yusuf Abubakar, a husband of two, said 45 of his 67 years was in crafts. He has been a popular dealer of many handcrafted cultural items, such as calabash bowl, cups and ladles.

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Sharing his experience, he said he started it as an apprentice under his parents 45 years ago. At the time, he said there was patronage from far and wide, even beyond the seas.

He however lamented on how this is now turning into a shadow of itself.

'Maiduguri crafts is at the verge of collapse, if nothing is done and that means the state will lose one of its oldest businesses,' Mr. Yusuf told our reporter.

Their business serve both economic, socio-cultural and historical purposes. For instance, the engravement on the tools they make carry deeper cultural meanings; but even more, help to preserve a people’s heritage. Sites where they are crafted are, elsewhere, a tourist attraction.

He is worried the industry is facing the threats of extinction in the state because of poor patronage from the local population, as well as little attention from government. Embroidery, local clothing and caps, are among the few which still enjoy wide patronage.

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'Most of the time, our customers in some parts of the western region are aware of the worthiness of our handcrafted goods, which are sold all over the world.

'Here in Nigeria, majority believed that adhering to western traditions was the ultimate objective, but the truth is, even westerners admire when individuals in other cultures practice their own customs,’ Yusuf said, worried that even the western culture which puts the most pressure on their business, still recognizes the worth of their handcrafts.

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True to Yusuf’s concern, elsewhere, governments make intentional efforts to promote and keep the local industry active, as well as protect it from external pressures.

They build businesses around the local art, set up museums, organize regular exhibitions and make them centers of tourism.

'Before the Boko Haram crisis, the industry operated at a global scale and had patronage from all over the world.

'There are several products that draw wide patronage for us, including from abroad,' Yusuf added.

Lawan Shetty, a dealer and craftsman, said 'here in Gomburu, we sell a variety of items, which are primarily sold throughout Borno and beyond, the business is wide, beyond one’s expectation.'

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Shetty, 32, also explained that one of the advantages of the business is that it is an employer of labor. He said many were employed through it, until Boko Haram crisis occurred in the state.

The 13 year old insurgency has caused a breakdown of several business activities in the North East, with many still struggling to recover.

Shetty added that in addition to jobs, they sector also helps the state generate more revenue.

'We pay N1, 200 to the state government every month as tax, and we are also charged for exporting our goods.

'Despite these, the local government authorities also come and collect their own, the business is overloaded with taxes while it cannot even sustain itself,’ he noted.

Abdulkarim Muhammad, another craftsman, called on the public and government of the state not to allow the business to collapse.

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He said the government should continue its support for farming, so that they can complement their businesses with it—otherwise they will be left with no choice other than to desert it for better paying occupations.

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