Nigerian local handicrafts are not only exquisite; they also partly showcase identity. Coming in diverse colours and forms, these art pieces could be used for interior decors, as well as to embellish attires. Knowing the intrinsic values of these artworks, some craftsmen use them to express ethos, depicting in textile materials of different flora and fauna motifs, which are cherished by some people.
And tourists are spending their hard earned money on them. Others carve aesthetic figures of human, plants and animals, as well as design beads and ornaments that bring out the uniqueness, diversity and relativity of the Nigerian, and by extension the African peoples. Highly appreciated within and outside the country, arts and crafts, though mostly undertaken by local folks, is a money-spinning venture.
Ahmed Musa, who deals in different decorative baskets, foot mats, drink covers and other items made with grass and cane, said the arts and crafts business has a lot to offer to the economy, and until the grassroots craftsmen are motivated, government would continue to lose huge sums in revenue through such neglect.
Explaining that the sector is open to all, Musa said he makes between N80, 000 and N150, 000 every month.
“I make decorative covers, food pads and trays from grasses, bamboo and cane. I sell them in the open markets and to middlemen, who resell them to people that take them overseas. I make between N20, 000 and N30, 000 every week. Some people buy the baskets to store precious items such as necklaces and jewellery, among others. To this category of people, the basket helps to preserve their jewelries for as long as desired,” he said.
He explained that the baskets come in different sizes and designs, and buyers acquire them for different purposes, too. According to him, the table pads and food covers also made with grass are in high demand.
“While ladies like the very small, handy baskets either for keeping their clothes or storing precious items, ranging from ornaments to needlework materials, hotels go for the pads and food covers. The food pads protect tables, especially those with glass tops from scratches and losing their lustre,” he said.
While Musa and his peers make gold out of weaving grasses and canes, there are lots of other craftsmen that deal in ivory, wicker and leather works, pottery, textiles, jewellery, bronze, brass, glass casting and such others. Scattered across the country, these craftsmen sell their products, which is estimated to be in hundreds of million Naira to middlemen, who take them to locations such as the airports, five star hotels and other outlets for tourists to buy and in turn make huge profits.
Danladi Ahmed said the business is a lucrative one and huge sums of money in local and foreign currencies exchange hands everyday. He explained that some of his clients include tourists, especially those from Europe, who love local arts and crafts for their aesthetics and the stories behind them.
“Almost every craftsman has a story behind his work; he has a reason for using a particular colour and at times for coming up with a specific work. Some of these stories are so captivating that any buyer would want to get them. However, I am not good at stories, so, I only buy and resell. I make between N150, 000 and N300, 000 on the average. But during festive periods or festivals such as the Calabar or Lagos carnivals and others, I make good money because tourists, who come for the events, usually go back to their countries with one or two artworks. These tourists love our cloths and masks and appreciate them so much.
“Some even buy and pay in foreign currencies. For instance, there is hardly a week I do not go home with at least US$100 or European currencies. Most of us prefer dealing with tourists than Nigerians because they value these works more and are ready to pay for them. For instance, a piece of art work a Nigerian would be unwilling to buy at N3, 000, a tourist would jump at it for US$50 or more. Imagine the profit after exchanging at N200 to a dollar,” he said.
For Nurudeen Yerima, who sells artworks at Obafemi Awolowo Way, Ikeja, it is always good to have a piece for everyone. In his view, to make regular income from the business, one should be able to sell to Nigerians and tourists alike. Not only that, one should also be able to sell what the layman needs.
“Aside big profile artworks, whose prices run into hundreds of thousands of Naira, I still sell locally made ornaments such as bracelets, necklaces and headbands. The prices of these items range from N1, 000 to N5, 000. And with these, I make regular weekly income of between N30, 000 and N50, 000. People would buy if they are cheap; so I try to get some cheap ones, especially the ornaments that would attract our womenfolk because they love beautiful things,” he said.
What would it take for a new entrant to go into the business?
Riz Afuron disclosed that the business needs some years of apprenticeship. She said despite the flexibility and viability of the market, one needs to undergo some years of training to know how to buy, preserve and even amend damaged works. While enumerating some of the challenges in the business, she explained that apprenticeship is important because it would help the individual to know how to handle leather works and others, which could perish if poorly handled.
“The business goes beyond buying and selling. One must first develop interest in the trade, and then learn how to amend or reconfigure any of the ornaments, as not knowing how to do this would put one at the mercy of the buyers. One should also learn how to handle minor wire works because some of the earrings, bangles, necklaces, wristbands and beads are strung together with strong twine or flexible wire and glue.
“It is also proper to know the best polish to use on wood, leatherworks and metal carvings, so that these items would maintain their sheen and market values for a long time. Knowing this would help preserve the different artworks from termites, mould and rust,” she disclosed.
On how the various works are acquired for sale, Frank Ehiorobo explained that most of the marketers go to the grassroots, buy items from local artists or even commission them to carve.
“We cannot be in the business of carving and at the same time in merchandising, though some of us do this. However, most of us depend on local artists for our products. We tell them what we want and they carve to our specifications. You could see that some of the necklaces are made from seeds of a fruit that come from a particular tree in a given region. This means one has to monitor the tree till the fruits are mature for harvest. This is a thing people from that locality can only do,” he said.
Explaining that selling artworks has moved from shop affairs to Internet, Ehiorobo said the Internet provides space for marketers to reach out to wider clients globally.
“Local market is becoming saturated and anybody that knows his/her worth in the business has to look out for new grounds, such as the Internet, where millions of people could be reached,” he said.
Advising new entrants to first learn the ropes and start small, he noted that the business would grow faster, if one combines shop affairs with the Internet.
“No matter what, open your shop at the right location — a busy mall or street; network with others in the business and create website to post your products. With this, you attract traffic to your business. Internet gives one the privilege of showcasing variety of works, some of which the office may not be able to contain,” he said.
What It Takes To Go Into Artworks Business
• Locate shop at a busy mall or roadside.
• Learn how to preserve, amend and polish the various artworks.
• Know the right polish for the different artworks
• Network with colleagues in the business to be on top of your game.
• Undergo apprenticeship to know how to buy and sell products.