Abuja’s arts and crafts market, Jabi, is a destination in the nation’s capital that residents may not know exists, but over the years it has become a port of call for tourists and vacationers.
Located in Jabi/Life Camp, along Airport Road, it is one of the largest arts and crafts markets in the country, and you are sure to see a marriage of beautiful African arts and cultures on the street. .
Sculptures, traditionally woven baskets, handmade ankara, tie-dye clothing, artifacts, wooden carved images of humans and animals and many handmade bracelets, beads, slippers and shoes could be found on the market.
A tour of the market will show that Africans manufacture 90% of the works and goods on display. Some of these works are also exhibited in 5 star hotels as decorations and for home beautification.
On a good day, you are sure to find Nigerians and expats rushing to get these works. A conversation with some of the traders revealed that the market has been around for more than two decades, with its customers from all walks of life, including Americans, Germans, Canadians, Israelis, Arabs and Africans.
They told the Guardian that sales dropped drastically after COVID-19 as they barely made any sales throughout the week. Traders unanimously agreed that sales were quite high before the advent of COVID-19 as they all looked forward to daily releases, but that is not the case now.
They said that their expatriate clients have returned home to their country, coupled with government policy, which is not favorable to art dealers. Salisu Musa, a young man from Kano, who practices basket weaving and bead making, said his sales were much higher before the lockdown, adding that despite life returning to normal, he has yet to the type of sales it had before COVID -19 era.
He said some of his expat customers have returned to their country and those around him don’t frequent the place like they used to. Musa, who gets all his production materials from a village in Kano, said, “I make the whole basket myself. We have real African artwork here with a bit of bangles from China, which are mixed with our own African beads to form a new design, but the basket is purely African.
He urged Nigerians to start buying art again because “art is life.” For Ali Iliya Magaji, from Kebbi, who sells works in bronze, iron, ebony and others, his patrons are mostly expatriates.
According to him, his major challenge is the repatriation of some of his works to the country. He said that when tourists buy his works and bring them back to their countries to keep in their museums, when Nigerians, who visit these countries, see these works, they conclude that they were part of items stolen from Benin, and subsequently begin to demand the repatriation of these works.
He called on the Nigerian government to make proper inquiries and request receipt of the purchase of these works as a means of confirming the legal transaction whenever they see these works outside the country instead of asking categorically repatriation.
Nkechi Udume, who sells wood carvings, said she gets her client mostly through referrals. She also lamented the decline in sales and patronage and urged Nigerians to buy more art pieces to beautify their homes, offices and as gifts to friends and relatives.
Richard Nake, a Togolese, who has been in the craft all his life and made a living in Nigeria for nearly three decades selling them, said his works add beauty to existence and he is proud of his job.
He said all the artists in the handicraft market have gathered from different states of the federation, with a few like him from neighboring African countries joining to register with the Corporate Affairs Commission. Subsequently, were able to start the market.
Nake also urged the Nigerian government to help them secure a place that would be their permanent site, as sometimes property developers sue them claiming that they own the land their market is on.
“We need our permanent site. We are currently on the side of the road and would like the government to make this our permanent site here. We need a place of our own. The developers chased us from where we were. We need a permanent place where the Abuja arts and crafts market will be located,” he added.