The furniture sector in Nigeria may not be the stoutest part of the economy, but plans are afoot to change that and create a strong and sustainable value-added segment of the economy.

Furniture making has long been considered a subcategory of carpentry and disregarded by those who believed having a degree or white-collar job serves as a mark of success. Possessing a wealth of raw materials, Nigeria's furniture industry has been somewhat neglected, though it has the potential to be no less than a gold mine. At the moment, demand for furniture is higher than the supply and a large number is imported. Investing in producing affordable and quality furniture will not only develop an aspiring market but will also allow a number of semi-skilled workers to enter the industry.

Research conducted by A.A. Ogunwusi from the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) pointed out that “Nigeria used to be a major producer of exotic furniture for export in the 1960s to the 1980s," accounting for around 70% of GDP. According to Ogunwusi, “deficiencies in technologies and finance, lack of qualified manpower, and their rapid turnover are major problems militating against optimal development" of the forestry sector, which ultimately supports the furniture industry. It is estimated that there are over 400 operating furniture companies in Nigeria; however, there are many more cottage furniture makers operating in the informal sector with limited access to finance or energy.

Nevertheless, the future of the furniture market in Nigeria looks set to be bright as this industry tends to move hand-in-hand with the real estate market, which, according to PwC, grew at an average rate of 8.7% between 2010 and 2015.

One such furniture maker is Tony Ohifeme Ezikiel, CEO of ITEX Furniture, who gained a reputation worldwide after a seminar room at Oxford University was named after him, the first-ever African honored by the institution. In an interviewed by TBY, Ezikiel mentioned that his ultimate plan is to be the IKEA of Africa: “We will start with the ECOWAS region, because there are no manufacturers of our size between Nigeria and Senegal." Another outstanding furniture maker in the country is Ibukunoluwa Awosika. She founded Quebees Limited in 1989 (now called The Chair Center Limited) and is also the MD and CEO of SOKOA Chair Centre Limited, a joint venture between The Chair Centre Ltd, Sokoa S.A of France, and Guaranty Trust Bank Plc., created at the time when furniture imports were banned in the country. Another example in this industry is Anselm Tabansi, Managing Director of Svengali Designs. He pioneered the manufacture of wrought iron furniture in Nigeria in 1993, evolving to the production of stainless steel balustrades and then wood-based furniture production. The Nigerian furniture market is large, with great potential, and Tabansi notes “in line with the backward integration policies of the current government to encourage local production I believe we are in pole position todrive the policy and elevate our production capacity to fill the expected void in the market place."

Taiwo Ayodele Adeniyi, Group Managing Director and CEO of Vitafoam, also has plans to expand to the ECOWAS region. “In Sierra Leone, we already have a full-sized factory, the largest of its kind in that region. That location was chosen following ECOWAS' decision to allow free transport of goods along the West African coastline. From there, we have access to Gambia, Liberia, and Guinea," he said, adding, “We chose Sierra Leone because it is an investment-friendly environment."

In fact, the economic environment is key for the development of the industry. Access to raw materials as well as skilled furniture makers is essential. This industry, as a matter of fact, creates an opportunity for innumerable Nigerian youths who have the potential to embrace their talent and learn the craft of producing and carving quality modern furniture. There also lies an opportunity here for entrepreneurs who want to invest in providing training in this aspect. Tabansi told TBY that advanced courses on design are being taught in schools and in a globalized world people have started to demand new concepts. “Initially when we first started, people were constantly surprised by our mettle. Our designs are bespoke and original. Over time and up until now people gravitate towards Svengali because they identify with my eclectic and contemporary sense of style," he said. The furniture market growth is expected to grow in line with the rise in income levels to become a more popular industry.