Basket weaving: Students, elders compete, make brisk business in Enugu


Not many people know that Obollo-Afor, the headquarters of Udenu Local Government Area in Enugu State, is not just known for banana, avocado pears, cashew nuts and original honey, but so many other things.

Many people do not know that the baskets, with which tomatoes, pepper, Okra and other vegetable produce are packaged from the northern part of Nigeria and sent across to other parts of the country, especially the southern states, are made at Obollo-Afor.

Not just that they are made at Obollo-Afor and exported to the northern part of the country where they are in high demand, they are also made by children in primary and secondary schools, alongside a few adults.

Newspot reports that the school children who are engaged in basket making do so mainly to raise pocket money.

But over time, the demand for their services became so high that they began to get more than what they bargained for.


Investigation revealed that instead of offering an alternative means to supplement their pocket money, the kids are getting out of their parents’ control due to the volume of money in their pockets.

For the adults who feed their family with what they earn from the work, it is a cool, good business.

Now, the question one would like to get answers to are: how do they make the baskets? How do the school kids combine basket making with their academic work? Where and how do they source the raw materials? How long does one need to stay as an apprentice, among other questions?

At Obollo-Afor, they have various rendezvous where they gather to compete to determine who makes, not only the highest number of baskets per day, but also the finest baskets. The rendezvous, our reporter learnt, are named according to the village where they are located.

When Newspot reporter found his way into the interior of Ejuona Iheakpu Obollo village where one of such places is located, he came face to face with the secrets of basket making by the kids.

For 18-year-old Chukwuebuka Obetta, who just finished his secondary school education and is waiting to gain admission into the university, basket making offers an opportunity for him to raise more money to supplement what his parents give him as pocket money.

He said he started weaving baskets as soon as he finished primary school some six years ago.

He did not just wake up to start weaving baskets. He underwent some months of training under the supervision of his older kith and kin before he was certified okay.

“I cannot remember how long I was under apprenticeship because I was just learning from the older ones whenever I had the time,” he said.”

One would also want to know how they combine the art with their academic works.

But that is not a problem according to the young Chukwuebuka.

He said: “We normally weave during the long vacations, which always fall between June and August every year.

“We also weave during school periods, but that is after school hours and it is not every day because we still have to read our books.”

He told Newspot that baskets are always very scarce and expensive during school periods because only a few people engage in weaving at those periods.

He added that “during holidays, the products come very cheap because so many people are engaged in weaving during the period and that makes the products ubiquitously available, thereby crashing the price.”

On how many he could make in a day and how much a basket sells for during the holiday as well as during school periods, he said: “I can weave about 25 baskets in a day if I start from 6:00 am and close by 6:00 pm.

“But, sometimes, when you don’t have much energy, you can only weave like 15 per day.

“We sell one basket for N250 during the period of scarcity; that is during school period. But, during the holidays when everybody is engaged in its production, one goes for as low as N200.”

Those who stay at a weaving joint to make their own baskets need not bother about the market for the products as buyers trace them to their production points, where all the ready-made baskets are bought wholesale.

“Buyers come directly into our village here to buy the ones that are ready from us,” he said.

The raw materials for making baskets are from the palm tree.

One would also want to know how they get the materials.

Do they climb the palm trees to get the fronds with which they make the baskets or do they pay people to do it for them?

Chukwuebuka said: “Getting palm fronds doesn’t come that easy; it is not a walk in the park. We take some days off in a week to go in search of palm fronds and then use other days to weave.

“We climb the palm trees by ourselves and prune it in order to get enough palm fronds. Those who own the palm trees will even be happy with us because it is when the palm trees are regularly and properly pruned that they bear nuts.

“It is also when they are well pruned that it becomes easy for palm wine tappers to tap wine from them.

“So, what the owners ordinarily would have paid some people to do for them, especially those who cannot climb palm trees, are done for them free by some of us, who also need the palm fronds as raw materials for our work.”

On how much he makes during long vacations, which last for two months, he said: “It all depends on one’s ability. Some can weave up to 15 in a day. Others could only weave about 10 or less.

“But personally, I try to weave at least 50 baskets in a week so that in a month, I would be able to get about 200 baskets. So, in two months that the long vacation lasts, I would be able to get about 400 baskets and when you multiply that with N200, which is the price of one during holidays, it gives you about N80, 000.

“But, for those who cannot climb palm trees to get palm fronds, they would have to pay others for that service. So, you find out that from the N80, 000, such people would have to settle such miscellaneous expenses.”

He said he learnt how to climb palm trees from his father, who was a palm wine tapper when he was alive.

And for those who are not able to climb, they would hire people who can climb and pay them N300 per palm tree.

“The charge per palm tree is N300 and you need to get as many palm fronds as possible to get enough raw materials for the job.

“I learnt how to climb palm trees from my father, who was a palm wine tapper. He taught me how to use climbing rope,” he said.

For 15-year-old Sunday Ugwu, who is still in JS 11, he got attracted to the art because he saw other children doing it.

He also could not remember how long he had been in the business; he only knew that he had been in it for quite some time.

As little as he is, he also climbs palm trees to get raw materials for the job.

He does not rely on anybody to do it for him. He also narrates all he knows about the business.

He said: “I also climb palm trees to get the raw materials like my friend said. I can weave 12 or 13 baskets in a day.

“In a week, I can get about 20 because I don’t weave every day. So, sometimes, I make up to 80 baskets in a month. During school periods, we don’t achieve much but we start weaving once the school is over.

“We normally start weaving by 2:00 pm and close around 6:30 pm. But, it is not every day because we also need to read our books. We weave two or three times per week when schools are in session.”

On how he spends the money he gets from the business, he said: “The money I realise in this business is my pocket money because I have people who sponsor my education.

“I use the money to attend to some of my personal needs while I save the rest for future use.”

Twenty-five-year-old Ogbu Christian is a secondary school dropout.

He stopped in JSS3 when he could not find a sponsor.

He is one of those who use the money made from weaving baskets to solve other problems.

He is also one of those who pay others to climb palm trees to get the raw materials; he cannot climb a palm tree.

He said he has tried all he could but it has not been possible for him.

“I have tried several times to climb palm trees but it has not been easy, so I have decided to pay those who are perfect in climbing to get the materials for me.

“I can weave up to 25 baskets in a week and 100 in a month,” he said.

Corroborating what others have said regarding when they make the baskets and how they market them, he said: “We start weaving from 6:00 am and we close at 6:00pm or 6:30pm. Buyers come to our centre to buy. This place is called Ejuona Iheakpu.”

On how he spends the proceeds from the business, he said: “What I realise from this business is what I use to train myself in welding.

“I am an apprentice welder. I enrolled myself in the trade with the money I realised from weaving and I have been sustaining myself.

“I only have one year to complete the apprenticeship as I have spent two years. So, for the past two years, I have been weaving on a part time basis.

“I depend on weaving for all my needs, including clothing and feeding. I have been weaving for over seven years. I started making baskets used to package palm nuts before I came into this particular type that is used for tomatoes, Okra and some other fruits.”

Basket dealer speaks

Francis Anaedozie is the chairman of the Basket Dealers’ Association, Obollo-Afor.

He told Newspot that after they had assembled large quantities of baskets from different villages and hamlets within Obollo-Afor and its environs where production centres are located, they would transport them to the northern part of the country where they are used to package tomatoes, Okra, pepper and other vegetable products for onward transportation to the southern part of the country.

On how they get the products and where they market them, he said: “We stay here and school children who weave the baskets bring them to us to buy.

“Some of us also go into the villages and hamlets where these baskets are made to buy them and bring them to our depot here.

“We take them to the northern part of the country where they are in high demand. We take them to places like Gombe, Jos, Zaria, Kaduna, Kano and Benue states, as well as Ogbomosho in Osun State. They are used to carry tomatoes, Okra, pepper, among others.”

On how much they buy them from the children, he said: “It depends on the time.

“During the time of scarcity, we buy N250 each but during the time of plenty, we buy N200.

“How much we sell them also depends on the place we take them to. The amount we sell them in Benue State cannot be the same amount we sell them in Kano because of distance.

“We calculate our transport cost and include it in the unit cost of the product. For instance, in Benue State, we sell N350 each after the transportation but that cannot be the case in Kano, Gombe or Jos in Plateau State.”

He explained that the business is seasonal but that as long as there are demands, they would always supply them whether it is during the season or not.

Throwing more lights on the business, he said: “The demand for it is always high between June and September because it is seasonal.

“The period between June and September is when we have tomato Gboko; the demand for basket is always high during that period.

“Apart from that period, we are ready to supply at any time provided the demand is there. Some of us can load three times in a month, while others may load four times; it all depends on the volume of customers one has and the frequency of demand for the products.”

Negative effect of basket weaving

Although basket weaving is providing food on the table of most families in Obollo and its environs, parents are complaining that their children no longer listen to them because of the volume of money they make from the business.

Mr. Francis Eze, who runs a restaurant business, shared a personal experience with our reporter.

He said he stopped his son from weaving a basket when he discovered that the boy, who was still in SS1 at the time, was getting out of control.

He said he asked him to choose between basket weaving and going to school.

“I told him that if he continued to weave baskets, I would stop paying his school fees. That was how he stopped; I was almost losing him,” he said.

Another man, who was at the bar where Mr Eze was narrating his experience also told a story of how basket weaving denied his brilliant son the chance of going to the university.

He said: “My son, till today, still weaves baskets. He makes so much money from it but he could not go beyond secondary school.

“There was nothing I did not do for him to follow his mates when they were going to the university but he refused; he preferred weaving baskets.

“Basket weaving is good for those who use it to fend for their families but for the kids, it is spoiling them.”

However, despite the negative side of basket making, Chukwuebuka still has a piece of advice for youths who engage in crimes instead of productive ventures like basket weaving.

He said: “They should know that if you put your heart and mind in whatever you do, no matter how menial, you will feed yourself and cater for other personal needs, including fending for a family if need be.

“So, it is better to engage in weaving baskets than indulge in crimes. It is not easy to sit down in one place and do what we are doing but it is much better than loitering about looking for what you did not keep to steal.”

Stakeholder comments

Commenting on the economic benefits of basket making to the people of Obollo-Afor, Uchenna Godwin, a civil servant and an indigene of Obollo-Afor, described basket making as the first basic economic endeavour of young people in the area.

“This is an age-long economic activity in this part of the world. It is like something that most of our people start life with.

“It is the first basic economic endeavour of a young man in this area.

“It is also a means of survival. My own father was once a basket weaver. It starts as a kind of pocket money for those in school but gradually it becomes a very high economic activity where a lot of people now fend for their family and even train their kids in school with proceeds from it,” he said.

He cited instances of people who started making baskets as a means of getting pocket money but later took it up to a higher level, where they began to export it to other places and eventually ended up as transporters.

He said: “I know so many young men who started making baskets as a way of getting pocket money, but later transcended from not just making the baskets but also organising those who make them and transporting them to the northern part of the country where they are used to package tomatoes, Okra, pepper and other vegetables.

“I know a lot of young men who started by weaving baskets but later graduated to transporting it and today they are full-time transporters, owning a fleet of buses. Today, they are employing a lot of people directly and indirectly.”

He also cited instances of those displaced in the north by the activities of Boko Haram insurgents, who have returned home and have fallen back on basket making.

“A lot of people, families, and youths displaced by Boko Haram insurgency in the north have returned home to take succour in basket making. Most of them have picked up the pieces of their lives through basket making,” he said.

Describing it as a highly positive venture, which has contributed immensely to the development and survival of the people, he called on the government to encourage the people.

He said: “Basket making in our area here is something that needs the government’s encouragement.

“The government needs to encourage the weavers and equally enlighten citizens on the effect of deforestation.

“The problem we have here now is that people cut down palm trees recklessly and such actions are not good for our environment.

“The government should step in to educate the people on the need to preserve their environment.

“They must not fell the trees to get raw materials; they could do that by climbing the trees and cutting down the palm fronds which are their major raw materials.

“By doing so, they are also helping to prune the palm trees, a condition necessary for palm wine tapping, which is also another major source of income to most villagers here.”

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