With no readily available government jobs and no desire whatsoever to engage in illegal activities to make ends meet, some Nigerian youths are taking the bold step to explore mediums that have never been considered before to ease the harsh economic reality on themselves and their families, Beatrice Bondyi writes
In this age and time, when the game of soccer is the passion of every average youth, 24-year-old Imrana Idris and 41-year-old Yusuf Garba have decided to take their love for the game to another level. The duo, who ply their trade a few stone throws from the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Stadium in Bauchi State, locally produce soccer balls that can be used by professional players.
With full attentiveness, the business partners can be seen putting leather together in their pieces. Bit by bit in different colours, they sew the leather with their bare hands until they become full soccer balls, depending only on their ingenuity to get it right since they are not financially buoyant enough to buy machines and the necessary tools to make their work easier and faster.
For the sake of their reputation, Idris and Garba use quality leather for their balls. They line the leather with cotton materials to ensure they are firm, then use thick thread fortified with honeycomb to sew the leather manually before fitting in a bladder and key valve to pump air into the ball which apparently, is finished at this point.
To get the size of the balls right, Idris says that he has to take the measurement on leather and in the beginning, it was not an easy task. He admits however that doing it over and over again, he has gained much experience and so it has become a walk in the park for him. The finished product is also expected to come out in colours and to achieve this, Idris choses already coloured leather since he cannot afford paint for the desired coats.
Idris has been in this business since 2007 and for him, it was a decision he had to make to ensure his survival. ‘‘I learnt the trade to make ends meet,’’ he began. “It took about six months for me to learn the basics and after one year, I had mastered the trade.’’
According to the young man, it takes about one and half hour to produce a single ball and in a day, he produces four or five balls. He went on to explain that selling the balls, which costs between N1, 700 to N1, 800, is seasonal and the money earned is nothing to write home about when compared to what professional players of the game take home.
“The sale is of the balls is seasonal. Usually I gather the balls for two to three days before selling. Sometimes the sale is at a snail speed while other times it is very fast.’’
He also lamented the sorry fact of having no support from anywhere, a situation he says makes it difficult for them to cope, sometimes. ‘‘There is no government intervention. We only try to use the meagre resources we have so that we can make a little profit to take care of our needs.”
On his part, Garba confessed that his love for the game led him to learn the skill and mentor other young stars. Garba, who was a driver with Awalah Hotel in the state, decided to learn the trade of making balls just so he can fend for himself and his family.
“I started teaching some youngsters this trade since I perfected it myself about 12 years ago. When I came to learn, I was made to pay before I was taught, that was in 2003. I said no problem and I paid N2, 500, at the time. When I completed the training, I started gathering youths around to teach them what I had learned but didn’t charge them. So far, I have taught five people, three still work with me while two are already established, themselves.’’
Those who patronise them, Garba says, are local teams.
“It is youths and local football teams that patronise us. They buy balls from us and because the population of youths in the state, to a large extent is big, the business is doing well. Professional teams like Wikki Tourists, do not buy our balls but I sometimes repair and work on their balls if it is damaged and they want it fixed. But since they never pay me for my services, I have since stopped working for them.’’
He too lamented the lack of government assistance but blamed it on the absence of a strong cooperative society.
‘‘There is no assistance from government whatsoever. The reason is that you have to belong to a cooperative before you can be assisted and we don’t have one. We do not have someone who can stand for us and lead us to the appropriate authorities. We really need assistance because we do everything manually. There are machines and tools that can aid us in this our work. If there is a way I will be given machines necessary to boost this business I know what to do it. If we are able to get the machines, we can open a company that will employ youths even in urban areas.”
A footballer, Ahmed Salim, 24, who plays for a local team, Wunti Unity Waves, said his team uses both the local and foreign balls. “We use both the locally made and foreign balls. The foreign balls have more quality and finesse and are of better standard. I believe if the necessary tools are given to them they will produce better balls.’’
The vice chairman of Wikki Tourist Football Club of Bauchi, Ahmed Alhaji Azare, while explaining why his club does not use the locally made balls, emphasized the need for such talents to be encouraged in our society.
“Wikki does not use those locally made balls because the balls used in the premier league are prescribed and supplied by the league management company with all the sponsorship plan and so on. Another issue is the issue of quality. The boys that are trying to manufacture these balls are doing their best but when compared with the ones supplied by LMC, you find that there is a lot of difference. If you look at the quality, the main problem is the in accuracy in weight and size and the standard of Nigerian professional league demands high quality balls.
‘‘If they can be further encouraged, I am sure that with time, they will be able to produce those balls that even premier league teams can use. We will patronise them if they produce quality balls because it is good to encourage indigenous manufacturers.’’