A COVID STORY: ABIA DID NOT UNLOOK

When I look back on the roller-coaster that was the last six months, I shudder to think what would have happened if we had not looked inwards.

I recall it began in December with unconfirmed reports of a pneumonia-like illness in China which was causing rapid fatality.

By the second week of March 2020, the reality of the pandemic set in following WHO’s declaration and Nigeria was unprepared, scratch that, the entire world was unprepared for the magnitude of the devastation that this fast spreading disease wrought.

Videos from far advanced countries told a tale of helplessness. Hospital personnel were stretched, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was scarce leading to the patronage of black-market suppliers. In certain instances, PPE had to be re-used thereby endangering the lives of those saving lives.

If someone had told me a few months ago of the role we would come to play in the fight against this virus, I would have doubted it. I remember how it all started, it was a hot Wednesday afternoon, the air conditioning in the room had packed up and the ceiling fan rotating above me was blowing hot air, I tried to forget the heat and discomfort I felt by burying my head in my task for the day. My attempt at forgetting the heat was interrupted when my phone beeped.

It was my boss Sam Hart (the Director-General, of the Abia Marketing and Quality Management Agency(AMQMA)). He informed me that he had been put in charge of the local fabrication of PPE by the Private Sector-Led COVID-19 Committee. The task before him was enormous, the disease was novel, it had no known cure or proven treatment plan. Hence, prevention was the advisory handed out by local and international health authorities.

As a recognized advocate for local fabrication, at the close of work that day, Sam Hart convened a strategy meeting with the staff of AMQMA . We went home that night with a heightened awareness of the significant role that Aba had to play in the fight against the novel virus.

The next day found us at the popular medical line in Ariaria International Market (“Ariaria”) scouring through the market for PPE with little success. In unconfirmed reports from the traders, we were made to understand that earlier in the year, when the spread of the virus was gaining momentum in China, the Chinese had mopped up most of the PPE that had been imported into the country. Therefore the available inventory in Ariaria was being sold at exorbitant prices as the traders smelled blood in the water and were looking to make a killing from the pandemic.

We finally laid hands on some PPE which was the remnant of the stock that had been utilized in 2014 during the fight against the Ebola Epidemic. It was the ray of light which we needed to galvanize local fabrication. The stock which we found was distributed as samples of the needed medical supplies and was then replicated by the garment industry in Aba.

Notable names like FAB QUE, KLOT PLANET,BEYOND CLOTHING and a large segment of the garment industry quickly adapted their garment making processes to fit the need that had risen from the pandemic and within days this process led to the realization of over $700,000 in sales revenue by garment making businesses and the creation of over 2,000 new jobs during an national lockdown.

The fight to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus has been a collective effort. From the Abia State Governor who led the way in his state by providing a grant to artisans to aid the fight, to organizations such as the Victims Support Fund, Ford Foundation and the Nigerian Army who believed in the efficacy of the PPE produced by the Aba Garment Industry.

Special recognition goes to Sam Hart whose work with AMQMA provided the needed strategic leadership for tackling this enormous challenge, and coordinating new supply chains for the garment industry during a difficult time. “We are not out of the woods yet” he once quipped after spending the entire day motivating artisans at Ariaria in a bid to fill orders.

Until a cure is found, the processes set off by our team over the in the past few months will prove invaluable. It is for this reason that I and the rest of the AMQMA team like Nwachi our efficient driver who has crisscrossed the length and breadth of the country to make deliveries, to Obinna, Egobekee,Prosper and Chigo who have spent days and nights putting the extra hours to ensure that we survive the highs and lows that have come with this pandemic (including the subsequent national lock-down with its attendant effect on the local economy), are incredibly proud to have contributed our quota to the struggle to defend the human race against the havoc being wrought by this pandemic.

Therefore, while we applaud the improved sales revenue, and bask in the glory that the ingenuity of Aba artisans have brought to the state, what is most fulfilling is the fact that when the story of Nigeria’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is being told, it will be said that Aba was efficient and that Aba was a brave partner. Scholars will write that at a critical time in our nation’s history; Aba did not #unlook

Teacher, Fixer, Made in Abia Promoter.