By Alfred Agudiebube
The Ariaria International Market needs no too much introduction, but no matter how famous someone is, introduction is very paramount for proper and formal identification. Ariaria is located in Aba, the commercial hub of Abia State in South Eastern Nigeria.
The market has 11 sections and over 37,000 shops with activities that go beyond mere trading of goods which include tailoring, textile trading, leather works and footwear production, printing, fabrication of tools and mechanical parts, pharmaceuticals etc.
You choose to call Ariaria a market as it is popularly known, but people on ground knows that it more than a market and could easily be called an industrial market because it is famous for “Made in Aba” products and is most popular for its booming footwear manufacturing and receives thousands of visitors from different parts of Africa on daily basis. Ariaria is arguably the busiest market in West Africa due to the activities that go on it.
Over the years Nigerians and several administrations that have gone and gone have been clamouring for diversification of the economy, but the easy proceeds and quick gains coming from the oil and gas sector of the nation’s economy or other things the eyes cannot see have made it sound impossible.
Just as the Bible puts it, “for everything on Earth, there’s time and season”. Using that as a base, everyone who is observant and is updated on the issues on ground will draw the conclusion that the time to create other standard sectors of the economy is now and this time around there’s no going back.
The Federal Government under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is willing, Abia State Government concurs, Aba, the commercial hub of the Eastern Nigeria is ready and Ariaria International Market is available for the new move that will see Nigeria breath again and take over the African market with a different product outside oil and gas.
To achieve this, the Federal Government decided to focus on the Micro, Small and Medium sized Enterprises (MSME) as means of creating a possible alternative route to one sector dependent economy that is already dwindling.
Making MSMEs a strong sector of a nation’s economy requires just few things. One them is the needed skills which Aba and Ariaria can even export, machines which is a solvable issue and then constant electricity which is the main bottleneck to the growth of MSMEs all over Nigeria.
As a sign of seriousness, the Federal Government introduced the Energizing Economies Initiative (EEI) to be implemented by Rural Electrification Agency (REA), an agency under the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing.
The project is now done, dusted, delivered and commissioned by no other person, but the number one citizen of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari who was in Aba within the week to inaugurate the 9.5 megawatts Ariaria International Market Independent Power Plant.
Federal Government Energizing Economies Initiative and its benefits
The Energizing Economies Initiative (EEI) is a Federal Government of Nigeria initiative that supports the rapid deployment of off-grid electricity solutions to provide clean, safe, affordable and reliable electricity to economic clusters (e.g., market places, shopping centres, industrial facilities) across Nigeria through private sector developers.
According to information made available by the agency, EEI has already launched three pilot projects in Ariaria Market (Abia State), Sabon Gari Market (Kano State)and Sura Shopping Complex(Lagos State).The Energizing Economies Initiative has commissioned the Sura Shopping Complex Independent Power Project in Lagos state which is providing safe, reliable and affordable electrify to 1,047 shops.
The EEI has another 13 markets in Phase 1 at various stages of development and construction across the country leveraging solar home solutions and gas-to-power.
Benefits of EEI
ReliableElectricity– To provide clean, safe, affordable and reliable power support to over 80,000 shops within 16 economic clusters across Nigeria in 2019.
MSMEEmpowerment – To empower and transform over 340,000 Micro, Small and Medium sized Enterprises (MSME).
JobCreation – To create 2,500 jobs for Nigerians across various sectors.
ElectricityforNigerians – To serve more than 18 million Nigerians with the initial 16 economic clusters.
TargetingEconomicClusters – To deliver electricity to over 300 economic clusters throughout the country.
CleanEnergy – To reduce harmful greenhouse carbon emissions annually by 25,000 metric tonnes.
Putting the president through on the project before the commissioning, Mr Damilola Ogunbiyi, Managing Director, Rural Electrification Agency (REA) said, “Ariaria Market Independent Power Project (IPP) is part of the energizing economic initiative project (EEI). The first phase of the project has energized 4000 shops.”
He continued, “These shops are presently receiving constant, clean and metered electricity with the remaining shops expected to be connected this year. In a bid to empower small and medium scale enterprise (SME’s), which are at the center of Nigeria’s economy, the Energizing Economies Initiative (EEI) seeks to address any power deficiencies experienced by economic clusters such as markets, industrial clusters and shopping complexes through off-grid solutions.
“This is in fulfillment of a commitment made by this administration to increase energy access through sustainable and renewable energy solutions. To date almost 10,000 shops have been electrified as part of the initiative within Ariaira Market, Sabon Gari Market in Kano, Sura Market complex and Iponri market in Lagos, Isikan market in Ondo.
“The Ariaria Market Independent Power Project is funded, constructed and operated by Ariaria Market Energy Solutions Ltd (AMES) and consists of the following infrastructure – an independent gas-fired power plant, an extensive distribution network and metering systems for each shop.
“The pre-paid meters mean that there is no more estimated billing and the traders only pay for what they consume, therefore we encourage energy conservation and payment of power supply. It is therefore very clear that, this administration is committed to ensuring that, Nigerian businesses are given the ability to thrive and thus boost economic activity in a conducive and healthy environment.”
The position of the ministry of works, housing and power on the Ariaria IPP
Speaking during the commissioning of the Power Plant, the Minister for Works, Housing and Power, Babatunde Fashola told president Buhari that the Mini-grid policy he approved in 2016 has yielded a huge fruit that will change the economy of the entire nation.
“There are many things that are happening across Nigeria as a result of the policies programmes and approvals that you have midwifed and championed. We could go to the Enugu Port Harcourt road or to any of the Housing sites across the 34 state.
“But we chose to invite you to Ariaria market so that you can see the impact of your policies on ordinary people who work hard every day trying to earn a living and support their families and their children. Those are the people we know you care so much about. So I thank you for agreeing to come.
“As you have heard, this is a market of almost 40, 000 shops. Traders, getting on producing what you value most, made-in-Nigeria goods. So this is a market from which export goes to Gambia, to Seirra-Leone, to Central African Republic, and many other Africa countries. So when you approved the Mini-grid policy in 2016, you were approving within one year of your tenure of office what should have been done in 2006 when the Power sector reform act was done.
“So it was not done ten years before you came. It has brought Nigerians to own that policy, invest their money here and say we will follow this government and build.They are not asking for government guarantee, they did not ask for the exchange rate at 306, they just went to the market and followed your policy and this is energy.
“Some of the things you have not heard is that there used to be 6000 generators here supplying power in an inefficient way. So by that policy and there investment, they are helping you fulfill the agreement you signed when you signed the Paris Climate Change agreement. So again policy has impact.And you have heard that this is a wholly-made Nigerian undertaking.
“Let me remind you when that you that when I made a recommendation for you to constitute the management board of Rural Electrification Agency (REA), I specifically pleaded that all members of that board should be young people and you appointed a Managing Director who was less than 40 years old. You have heard the testimony of those he had led.
“Our road to this day was not easy. We faced obstacles. The local DISCO, EEDC took the investor and some of us to court. But there was one man who stood behind us. All he needed was a phone call and he said he would provide the land. He provided this land. And I will repair the road. He repaired this road.
“There was also another supporter, Engineer Berth Nnaji. So I want to publicly acknowledge and thank them for their sacrifice. It shows that if the common good is our common goal, politics means nothing if we chose the development of our people. This project has delivered 15 kilometers of cable made in Nigeria by small businesses.
“It has delivered 780 concrete poles made in Nigeria by Nigeria businesses. It has provided 150 transformers. It has delivered a Customer Care Centre where anybody who is connected to this place and has a problem can go and it is young people working there. It has also supplied 4000meters and we are still counting because we have 33000 shops to go.
Abia State Government Speak on the Problems of Ariaria, Solutions and the Impact of IPP
The Governor of Abia State, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu during the inauguration of the power plant declared the day as perhaps the happiest day in his life since 2015 and thanked the president and federal government for their impacts in Abia.
In his words: “It became clear to us that our strategy to develop Abia must take bearing from two things; the things that our people can do very well and leveraging on the policies of the federal government.
“And we decided to do a study on the problems of Ariaria International market being not only a place that promotes trade and commerce in the West African Sub-region but also as a centre for the manufacturing of shoes, garments and all kinds of leather products. The World Bank recognizes Abia as a state that has over 200,000 people doing all kinds of things and we know that each and everyone of them employees at least four persons.
“We have nearly 1 million artisans doing all kinds of things and most of them are located around Ariaria market here. So we noticed that four problems were the major issues limiting Ariaria from flourishing. One of them apart from road infrastructure is power, market share, automation and capacity building and funding.
“I want to acknowledge that the Vice President who you brought here on two occasions to come and hold SME clinics brought Aba people face to face with the agencies that were responsible for funding as well as encourage us to begin the construction of this road.
“This road 20 years ago nobody could imagine that it was possible to access Ariaria end to end. Beneath this road is 6 and1/2 kilometers of drainage with four pumps pumping water from Ife-obara basin to Waterside. That is the rigour and depth of thought that we applied to make sure that we complement the efforts of the federal government.
“Am happy to say that when this option came for power to be provided in this beautiful way, we rallied round and said we must do the needful o give Aba people the option of which power source to chose. Of course, this is far better than whatever they had seen before now.
“I am happy to say that Aba is one of the few areas that is now enjoying uninterrupted power supply in few shops in this market with the opportunity to scale up and to impact the entire neighbourhood. I am also sure that many houses around here are applying to the REA to be allowed to key into this beautiful initiative.
“I want to say today that capacity building which used to be one of the problems have been solved when we sent 30 young shoe makers to China to learn how to do shoes in an automated way. I am proud to also say that then machines have been imported and they have arrived here in Aba awaiting for installation.
“We are happy that you allowed 50,000 pairs of military boots to be ordered from these ordinary people here at N10,000, that means N500 million injected into the economy of Ariaria International Market. There is no better way to care to them.
“We are happy that you have come today to give us the opportunity to have a choice and steady power. On behalf of these traders and ordinary people in Abia, I want to thank you Mr President for your wonderful initiatives and the wonderful things you are doing for ordinary Nigerians. And we will continue to promise and commit to the fact that Abia will continue remain the focal state in the South East for all the initiatives of the Federal government.”
The position of Federal Government on the Ariaria IPP
President Muhammadu Buhari after listening everyone, thanked the Govenor of Abia state for his responses for the project when the Minister for Works, Housing and Power asked for his collaboration saying that without such cooperation, the project would not have been smooth.
In his words: “Today with this programme we have demonstrated that if the common good is our mutual objective it can be achieved irrespective of party differences and constitutional limitations.
“Electricity has no party colour. I was elected to office on the convincing argument of my party made about commitment to security, developing the economy and fighting corruption. Some of the sound economic choices we have made for Nigeria are self-sufficiency, self-reliance, National Productivity, Job creation, promoting made in Nigeria goods and facilitating the ease of doing businesses.
“Our effort in local production of grains and staples such as rice is now well known as we match on towards total production and I’m pleased to note that Abia state is also a contributor.
“By providing a dedicated electricity supply to Small businesses in this area, we strengthen the Made-In-Nigeria Policy which Abia and particularly, Aba and Ariaria Market are well known. This market I am informed has 37,000 shops all of which will be connected one after the other.
“I am pleased to be here for the milestone commission of 4000 shops but now is fitted with power .being a market that supplies shoes, bags, clothing and trunk boxes and many household accessories for Nigerians and many African countries like Chad, Cameroun, Zambia and Central Africa.Reliable power supply is critical for it to be in business to ensure sustainability and improvement.
“I am told that traders in this market only got power for four hours per day which consequently affected the viability of many businesses. That is the said lethargy was inherited by which we are replacing the older power supply for cleaner and better for environment.
“Those who turned their backs on this problem still has the courage to campaign about unemployment and poverty, Nothing they say can change what we have done here to provide relief for the neglect. What is happening in Abia today by way of clean, independent and reliable power to markets and small businesses is happening in Kano, Lagos and Ibandan.
“Those are also being created through investment in power like this. Similar initiated have started in nine federal universities and we have planned to cover 37 universities through government funding. Slowly but very efficiently, we are cleaning the mess.
“We are moving our economy away from rent and heading resolutely to building an economy through investment, enterprise and hard work. To all the businessmen and women in this market I say well done for contributing to national productivity and job creation.
“I salute your fortitude over there when no previous government attended to your concerns. I assure you that now that we are here, you will experience a better day and prosperity as the African markets awaits more of your products.
“In order to provide support to businesses and to pursue growth and national prosperity, it is my pleasure to commission the Ariaria market independent power plant.
FROM THE TOWER OF TRUTH