My World

May 4, 2019

Making a statement


The Central Bank of Nigeria head office in Abuja.

By Muyiwa Adetiba

I got a subtle compliment from an unlikely source last month. It was from a lady in the front office of a bank’s branch I have used for years. Most of the staff there are usually friendly and polite in a distant way, and that suits me fine. No non-official conversation of any kind apart from polite enquiries about home and family. I didn’t expect anything different this time especially since I had gone to lodge a protest and demand a refund. I had used mc for dead body’ because I still had to find cash to pay for my purchase.

May God save us from those who watch us without our knowledge. This young lady with whom I had exchanged casual pleasantries over the years, said as I sat in front of her: ‘You always wear the same thing. I have not seen you wear anything else.’ ‘I don’t mean that in a non-complimentary way,’ she quickly added. I was wearing ‘buba and sokoto,’ with a cap to match or what we called caftan suits in our youthful days. I had been wearing them long before they became the vogue. I find them very comfortable. As for the caps, I get them regularly from weddings, anniversaries and the likes, so why not wear them? But I still had to put the records straight. ‘I do wear other things,’ I protested mildly. ‘No, it’s good. I mean it as a compliment,’ She insisted.

Yes, I do wear regular shirts and trousers occasionally. But what you won’t find me dead in is a suit and tie. That had long gone with the youthful wind. Lately, I have drifted towards ‘adire’—the native ‘tie and die’ for my ‘buba and sokoto’ and even shirts. I have been rewarded with admiring glances and compliments from whites—and even non-whites—whenever I wear them to functions in Europe. This has increased my resolve to make some for my close friends in the diaspora.

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You can therefore imagine my relief and joy, when the Central Bank (CBN) announced that it would no longer support the importation of textile materials through FX allocation. I know the lobby and pressure to rescind the decision would be great. I hope the CBN doesn’t cave in. A conscious decision to save and protect our textile and leather industry should have been made at least two decades ago. Look at what our youths are doing with African textiles and colours. Unfortunately, many of these ‘African textiles’ are made in Asia with factories that are dedicated to the African market. Nigeria’s loss had long been Asia’s gain. It is sad that our textile industry was put to the slaughter through the active connivance of Nigerian ‘businessmen’ and so called leaders. Nigerians destroying their own for filthy lucre is not new. It exists in almost every sector of the economy. But that is another story for another day. Suffice to say that had we done the right thing, the boldness and vibrancy of our designers would have by now been matched by the boldness and vibrancy of our locally made fabrics. Nigeria, and indeed Africa, would have been announced to the fashion world.

Speaking of the fashion world, I was first introduced to Nigerian shoes in far-away Los Angeles. This was in the summer of 2012. Don’t get me wrong, I had seen them on the streets of Lagos and in some roadside shops like forever. But I never really considered wearing them. Then a close friend,a retired military officer, came into a function we were both attending in L.A. wearing a pair of half shoes,or slip-on as they are commonly called. Assuming he got them on this current trip, I asked him where he got them from. To my surprise, he mentioned Nigeria. I took a second, critical look this time and finding them at par with known and established standards, immediately asked him to link me up. On meeting the shoemaker, I had the luxury of having my feet measured and picking different desirable colours. I have since ordered for many friends, older and younger, who couldn’t believe they were made in Nigeria. Then a couple of years later, a close friend made an elegant pair of slippers for my birthday, with my pet name discretely embossed on them. A nephew who lives in New York, saw them and wanted to ‘appropriate’ them. I had to promise to get a similar pair for him for Christmas. I had to contact the friend who got them for me to link me up with the shoemaker. I have since spread the joy to other friends and relatives. In addition, I have purchased solid belts of different colours from him. I have gone to these details to show that we have an industry on the edge that can really spill over if we nurture and protect it. What we are looking for in ‘Sokoto’ (abroad) is right here in our ‘sokoto’ (trouser pocket). What’s more, the leather is more durable in many cases. Everywhere you turn, we have young men and women doing incredible things with leather and textile. I have also seen modern innovations with ‘Adire.’ They need our acceptance. They need our celebrities and public figures to drop their taste in foreign designer shoes and bags and opt for home wears. You can even get them custom made if you want.

Speaking of acceptance, a friend visited me on his way to the airport last month as he is wont to do anytime he is in the country. He lives in the UK, but also has a home in the US where he does most of his shopping. He is a shoe buff and I have been a grateful recipient of elegant shoes in the past from his wardrobe. Time flew as we tried to catch up local and foreign news. Suddenly, he said, ‘Do you like these?’ he pointed at the well -crafted pair of sandals he was wearing. My smile must have been a sufficient answer because he said: ‘One of my godsons makes them. I will get a pair for you.’ With that, he turned to his phone, got to a site and started showing me different designs. We picked two and within minutes, he had ordered. He then said something that was very instructive. ‘When people like us who have other choices are seen wearing Nigeria made shoes, they will know we are making a statement.’