Culture, they say, is a way of life and that is why people go extra miles to preserve it. But in the case of Nigeria, it is a different ball game as many had abandoned theirs in preference to foreign culture in the name of modernisation.
But despite the influx of foreign culture to Nigeria, there are few who are bent on preserving theirs and one culture that has retained its value is the specialised woven cloth, known as Akwa Ocha. Akwa –Ocha is the pride of the ANIOMA people and as the name implies Akwa Ocha is “Cloth that is white or better still white cloth.”
It is the traditional cloth worn and used by the ANIOMA people of Delta State, otherwise known and referred to as “Delta -Igbo.” Akwa Ocha is a fabric made from wool and exists in wrapper; this fabric is worn mostly during important occasions like weddings, marriage ceremonies and birthday parties.
The cloth, which is hand-woven by women, is very strong that it can last for 100 years.
It was on the need to preserve this culture that Mrs. Bridget Momodu, the Chief Executive Officer of Unique Weavers, at No. 35, Charles Street, Boji-Boji, Agbor, joined the business.
Benefits of the trade
According to the Utagba Ogbe, Ndokwa West Local Government Area of Delta State born weaver, the weaving business is a gold mine and if supported by the government it will generate revenue, employ many and definitely reduce the number of unemployed people in Nigeria.
For the 2007 Business Administration graduate of Delta State University, Abraka, who have been into weaving for the past two decades, she is “a weaver by profession, it is my hobby, though I did not study it in school. My going into the business derives from two needs: to help provide a means of living for teeming unemployed youths by training them and to revive the weaving of Akwa Ocha.
“I have been into weaving for over two decades and have also been training people on how to weave and after training them, I give them jobs and pay them salary at the end of the month.
She disclosed that her brand of Akwa Ocha is unique in the sense that while others use vertical loom that weave small pieces, she modernised her own and introduced different background colours.
The uniqueness of this product is that it is an identity for a given geographical area of Aniocha, Ndokwa, Ika, and Oshimili people, but it has now transcended to other local government areas in Delta State. Anywhere you see Akwa Ocha, people know the value, they appreciate it, it is symbolic.
Continuing, she said that her going into the business really changed her perception in many areas. She said: “Before I went into study Business Administration, I was already into weaving and when I graduated there was no job, so I said, ‘why look for a paid job when I have a job that can take care of me.’ So I entered to it fully. I thank God for the job because I don’t have to start hunting for job in Nigeria where they are no jobs.
“You saw what happened during the immigration test where many applicants died and some wounded. I don’t need to go into those ones. I now find out that being self-employed is very good.
“Currently, I have over 15 people that work for me; they are paid, they are all weavers, I trained them and now they are working for me and I pay them. Even when they were in training I paid them too.
In the course of running this business, she had encountered a lot of challenges, with the major one being finance, to adequately cater for the business. “For instance, she said, “here, we are staying is a rented flat, we are not the owner and the place is small. We need a bigger place that can accommodate our machines so that we can increase production.
Apart from Akwa Ocha, we also produce rug and bedsheets of all kinds, but we cannot do it here because we do not have space.
“We need a lot of materials to work with, look at the type of loom I am using, it can be upgraded, it has two shafts, if we can get a bigger one that has four shafts, it will help us.
“The machines need to be modernised to an extent, so that they will make production faster. If you look around there are no finished products, so the products cannot be exhibited because they not available, they are all booked.
“Once we finish the products, they are delivered to those who booked for them. That shows that there is a great demand for Akwa Ocha. We cannot meet even the demand. So there is need for expansion, increasing the loom and shafts so that we can produce more. On that, we are appealing to the federal, state governments and corporate organisations to come to our aid.
“Self-employment is what is required in the country now. This business, if well funded, will help to alleviate the suffering of many as they will be on their own after the training and there will be no need for looking for jobs. All you need is to establish your own business and before you know it, you will be employing other people.
“The idea of people coming here to acquire knowledge is what the government should look into and that can be realised if we are given the incentives to do so.
“Giving loans to the unemployed to buy Okada will not solve the unemployment problem, but if such loans are channeled to businesses like this, it will make a lot of difference in the society.
“To buttress the point more, buying Okada will not help the country, rather you are promoting the economy of Japan. But if you expand small scale businesses like this you will help in employing other people apart from feeding your family.
“We are talking of not being able to meet the demand, which means people are interested in the Akwa Ocha, but with the looms and machines we have, we cannot meet the demand and that is why the government should do something for us,” she added.