Cane furniture has never been more popular. From cane tables, baskets to entire cane suites, everyone loves cane. Spokesperson, National Cane Weavers Association, Lagos State Chapter, Mr. Afokeoghene Endurance Etaneki, talks on how governments can help operators in the industry.
How did cane furniture come about?
The history of cane furniture emanated from an Asian man from Thailand ( Swede Pan-Tree).Â He and his family started on a small scale, weaving baskets using raffia palm, from there, they discovered that this business has potentials for boom.
They then introduced wood, there are some woods that are flexible in making artistic works, so from there they introduce some fibers. They used those fibers making some artistic designs, and as more discovery takes place they introduced a raw material that is known as willow cane.
When you cut it from the bush, it rushes out water, after the water has rushed out, you leave it for some days to dry, after it has dried, you can use fire on it to make any types of designs on it, then, from there it was further discovered that the raffia they are using might get finished one day, what is the alternative raw material they can be used instead of this raffia?
That was where the cane comes in.Â But the cane is not in Europe, you can only get it here in Africa,Â Â People in Europe introduced it to the Malaysians, and the Ghanaians took over and they are the ones that brought this trade to Africa, Ghanaians are experts in this business of cane furniture, they are very good.
Who started the business in Nigeria, and how has it grown?
In Nigeria, it was my own people, the Urhobos who introduced the business here.Â While in Ghana, theyÂ discovered that the raw materials for this product is available at home, (riverside areas in Delta, Rivers, and Calabar) so during their sojourn they studied the trade, came back home and established the business.Â The Ghanians have a very good cane industry.Â So, when our people returned to Nigeria, they said â€œ letâ€™s us try it here; they went into the jungle for the raw materials, and it worked for them, and that was how the cane furniture industry got its start in the country.
â€œWe started this trade here at Maryland, where you have the shopping complex now, but when the owners came and said that they want to make use of that place, we relocated to this site( under the Maryland bridge) which is the ultimate place for cane furniture.
So from that beginning, the business has spread across the country.Â Â Today, our membership strength is over 350 nationwide.Â Maryland here is our Headquarter. Our members manufacture exotic cane furniture for both local and exports market.Â We have different types of chairs, baskets, Santana chairs, etc.
What motivated you to go into the business?
I acquired this skill from my father. I started putting interest in the trade when I was in secondary school. After school hours, I did come to his workshop and, I recalled that he used to tell me that there is money in this business instead of answering â€œyes sir, yes sirâ€ to someone else.â€Â So I had mastered the trade before my university career at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
So how is the cane furniture market?
The market is very good. Apart from local customers, people from outside the country comes toÂ purchase our products.Â Â For instance, â€œrecently, a Nigerian VIP by name Adebowale, once traveled to London to buy cane chairs.Â On getting there, he was told that â€œSir, this itemÂ you want to buy we bought it from Nigeria, how come you left your country to buy a cane products in London?.
He replied: â€œWell, if you said so.â€Â They gave our address to him, he came back to the country, and he met us on a Sunday.Â We showed him a catalogue, he pointed out what he wanted,Â Â and we produced it exactly to his taste and satisfaction, and he acknowledged that truly, local cane furniture are of top quality.
After he took delivery of the products, he compelled the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry Mines and Agriculture and the Lagos , the Ministry of Commerce, to have an interactive session with us.Â It was a very big seminar, they told us that they have seen the opportunities and the potentials in this cane business, and the positive impacts it might likelyÂ have on the economy in terms of job creation and foreign exchange earning for the country.Â They also told us that they wanted to move us from this site to another place where they would put us in cluster instead of being scattered all over the whole State.Â They spoke grammar to us and left, since then, we have not heard from them again.Â We told them that if that is the case, it is good, we appreciate that, since then, they have done nothing instead government officials only come back to collect their taxation and go away.
Lastly, whereâ€™s the shoe pinching you and other operators?
We are facing numerous challenges. We are calling on governments- local, states and federal to help us in promoting this business because if you go to countries like Thailand, Malaysia, there, the government do everything to encourage business in the informal sector like this through appropriate incentives and even sending operators to developed economies for them to learn new ways of doing the business and come home to replicate it.
Their governments even help to equip operators with weaving machine that is designed for mass production.Â Another challenges we are grappling with is that the Lagos State Government is making moves to relocate us to outskirt of the town. We are appealing that the place where they wanted to relocate us to should be a place that is closer to our customers .Â If they should take us to the outskirts of Lagos, it may be difficult for our customers to locate us.
Apart from these, although we pay all our normal dues and tax, yet, the police, and Kick Against Indiscipline(KAI)officials disturbs us a lot. Umpteenth times they came and raid us, and even when our members presented their Identity Cards, nevertheless, they tell us to come and settle, and even after you have done that, another group would come after two weeks to come and make a fresh demand for settlementÂ again all in the name of government.