Nigeria's once-flourishing textile industry collapsed years ago and abandoned factories are decaying from lack of use. Some former workers blame cheap clothes from China for the collapse but others blame mismanagement and a lack of government support.
When former textile workers recently toured their old factory for the first time in a decade decayed machines and bits of cloth and debris littered what used to be one of the largest factories in Nigeria.
“Here in Kaduna there’s not any other jobs that these people are doing," said Wardem Simdik, chairman of the Coalition of Closed Unpaid Textile Workers in Kaduna. "The only job we are doing is okada job, those people who are riding motorcycles here and there. And some of them got [in] accident[s] and died.”
Most of the clothes for sale in Nigeria are imported from China. Industry leaders say their low cost helped drive the textile factories out of business. But they stress that corruption, mismanagement and lack of resources are equally to blame for the industry's collapse.
Umar Mohammad, former deputy-secretary of the Textiles Workers Union, says they warned the government for years that without help the factories would close.
“Then, at last, the industry started collapsing one by one until today [in] Kaduna, where only one or two textile industries are working,” he said.
Former factory workers say about 9,000 of their ranks are waiting for back pay in Kaduna alone. And they insist that if factories re-open, the locally-made clothes will outsell the lower-cost imports.
“It was just mismanagement," said Joseph Gabriel, a former marketing manager. "When I was working, even our products, people were waiting to collect. People were rushing to buy. We were unable to meet up with the demands.”
Workers say the failed industry in Kaduna affected more than the economy.
A bridge separates Kaduna city, which is divided like the country as a whole with mostly Christians in the south and mostly Muslims in the north. Clashes between the two groups are common.
But former textile workers and their families say the violence is fueled by poverty that has intensified since the jobs disappeared. They say if people had enough money to survive, they wouldn’t fight on the streets over small sums of money.
“No help. Everybody’s going up and down," said Tina, the wife of a former textile worker. "Everybody has to mind their business. That’s why you’re going to go down to fight. To get something to eat.”
The former textile workers say they will continue to protest outside the old factories and lobby for back pay. But returning to their jobs, they say, is still the ultimate goal.