Does this sound familiar?
The term “Aba Made” is a popular Nigerian expression to mean “Fake or inferior products”. However, this interpretation has not always been so. The history of the popular Aba trade market can be traced to the Ngwa clan of the Igbo people of Nigeria which developed to be a major trade settlement in Nigeria. This market was constantly described as the “Japan of Nigeria’ due to the existence of its renowned commercial operations revolving around textiles, garments, crafts, shoe production, bags and spare parts market. Consequently, the Aba trade market was prosperous and thrived until its collapse due to what is described by Techpoint Africa as ‘a complete breakdown in infrastructure’.
Today, the phrase ‘Aba Made’ is no longer used to depict the past glory of the Aba trade market but rather pirated or inferior products made in Nigeria as a counterfeited copy of an original product. Products specially branded with this name are generally used to derogatorily describe goods that are fake imitations of high-end brands like Gucci, Fendi and the likes. Notably, Guardian Newspaper reports that Aba produces 800,000 shoes and 90,000 bags per day.
The relationship between Aba Made Products and Intellectual Property is one that revolves around the concept of Counterfeiting. Counterfeiting is simply unlawfully copying or imitating an item without proper authorization with an intention to deceive or defraud by presenting such item as genuine. This in fact defines the present reality of Aba Made Products in Nigeria today. It is said that a large number of Aba shoe and bag makers use names of popular brand labels like Balenciaga, Nike, Adidas amongst others aimed at deceiving or confusing the public as the original. These fakes are sold to unsuspecting customers who cannot distinguish the original from the fakes and end up ripped off.
In addition to this, the use of false geographical indication labels and appellations of origin by Aba Made products is one that is highly prevalent in Nigeria. With shoes and clothes tagged “Made in Italy or China” and the likes, unwitting consumers pay more for such items with the expectation that they were imported from foreign stores. Of course, a geographical indication in IP are signs used on products with a specific geographical origin while appellations of origin is a special kind of geographical indication used on products that have a specific quality exclusive or essentially due to the geographical environment where the products are produced.
The overall effect of using false geographical indications and brand names on these Aba Made Products is that it affects the valuable reputation companies or locations have acquired over the years and instead misrepresents the true origin and quality of such products. Apart from this, the current situation is a pointer to the absence of confidence in Nigerian Made products. By deceiving the public to buy a somewhat worthless imitation of a genuine product, damage is done to the reputation of businesses and this is what IP aims to prevent. It can then be seen that Aba Made Products jointly infringe on trademarks and geographical indication protections.
The reality is that the problem is not with the products or the way they are made but rather the use of deceitful labels to convince consumers otherwise. It has been restated numerously that Aba made shoes are strong, durable and cheap while Business day further reports that one million pair of shoes are produced by more than 80,000 leather makers in Aba each week with about 48 million pairs produced each year. This is commendable in itself and shows strongly the presence and existence of hardwork in this Nigeria trade order.
However, the future for an Aba made framework that does not entail Intellectual property infringement or anti-counterfeiting is one that chooses to own the tag “Made in Aba”. Consequently, the way forward is educating artisans and craftsmen on the implication of infringing on other businesses’ trademarks and the geographical indications of countries. Asides this, rebranding this system is the best step to end this menace and this is by deliberately building unique individual brands labelled as Nigerian Made with innovative creations and respect for the built brands of other fashion companies. The moment we begin to accept that “Made in Aba” is something worthy of pride, then IP would be more valued.
For the Research team, IPTLCUI