...we can only be human together...
...we can only be human together...
...we can only be human together...

I started making beautiful Nigerian gemstone jewellery and products after cost of freight stopped me from importing craft from several African countries

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20 July 2022
13 minutes read
I started making beautiful Nigerian gemstone jewellery and products after cost of freight stopped me from importing craft from several African countries

My name is Pamela Diepreye Braide.

I am many things - I am into music, I sing, I manage a band, I have managed a joint, a venue, I revived the Museum Kitchen here in Calabar -  but currently I am a jeweller and my brand is Ediye by Pd Braide. Ediye is an Efik word for beautiful.

I am from Rivers State, Nigeria; my father, late Prof Victor Braide, being from Bakana, but I am very much a Cross Riverian. My mum, Prof Ekanem Ikpi Braide is from Ugep in Yakurr Local Government Area of Cross River State. His father was a civil servant, a permanent secretary in the Eastern Region, even during the Nigerian civil war. Her mum was Efik. My paternal great grandparents have their house in Calabar (capital of Cross River State). I still have the approvals for the house issued in 1920-something. My grandmum's father, on my dad's side was a returnee from Barbados via Sierra Leone.

I have lived in Calabar more than anywhere else. 

I was born in Ile Ife, then in Western Nigeria but now in Osun State, in the late sixties, and was probably there there till I was three years old. My mother was then a student at the University of Ife. She is an old girl of St Anne's School, Ibadan. She speaks impeccable Yoruba. She understands the culture. Her mother was a home economics teacher in Ibadan while my grandaunt - sister of my mother's mother - was in Lagos early in her life. Named Chief (Madam) Mary A Ekpiken, she is reputed to have organised women to seek equal pay once she realised that her thirty-eight pounds a week salary was eight pounds less than that of a man with equal qualifications and similar job title. 

My parents did what most did then, having their masters and doctorate degrees overseas. So, I was in the United States of America at two different points in my childhood, when both of them did their masters and when she did her PhD. So, I did some of grade school in America at different points.

Back in Nigeria, I went to primary school in Nsukka. I also schooled, briefly - not up to a year - in Command Secondary School, Kaduna when my parents worked there.

I ended up at Federal Government Girls' College (FGC) Calabar, finishing in 1984. 

From there, to the University of Jos where I read architecture. I did technical drawing and fine art in secondary school but as one could not sit for both in the West African School Certificate Examination, I dropped fine art.

But when I did my research then - I was an avid reader - on what I had affinity for, or what I would want to be, I found that creating adverts or designing products was the thing. During the holidays, while at FGC and after, I used to make crafts, different kinds of things, which I sold at fairs and such events.

But what was advertising at that time with parents who were still all about their children being lawyers, doctors? As far as my dad was concerned, people would always be sick and people would always need lawyers. He claimed not to understand what advertising or graphics was. So, I chose the next best thing to me -  architecture - as it has elements of design.

But, at a point, after I had gone fairly far, I stopped. I had a lot of issues with architecture and the department….I took a year out to do A-level art with a view to change to industrial design in Ahmadu Bello University (ABU). However, I transferred my credits to the then Enugu State University of Technology (ESUT) where I got my degree in architecture.

While I was in school, I was doing a lot of illustrations for my mum's public health campaigns. She is both a public health research expert and an academic. In her public health research, she used to oversee what was called the Nigerian Guinea Worm Eradication Project and a lot of all those disease programmes. So, I found myself during the holidays, when most people went to nice places, in the thick of some Nigerian villages with no electricity or potable water, with field workers administering questionnaires, and invariably, I would be the only person who could draw. So, when they wanted to do a poster or various sketches, I was the one doing them. Before it became something, I started being an IEC (Information Education and Communication) person in that field. Before I knew what was happening, I had illustrated some manuals for UNICEF. I took it a bit seriously when I wrote two papers on participatory approach to creating the posters for behavioural change, and they were accepted for presentation in a couple of conferences. My first conference was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I was nervous, by the way, because I was in my twenties and I had not before then presented a paper in front of a large audience. As it were, I delved deeply into development work - advocacy in different areas, volunteering with several NGOs and all that - and acquired significant experience.

I was also the Nigerian rep of what was called the Youth Employment Summit; so I did a lot of work around youth employment policy, employability and entrepreneurship. I am a Board member of KiND (Kudirat Initiative for Democracy), Debates Nigeria....

But, when I was in Jos, I had a keen interest in artisanal, hand-made things. I would go to the Naraguta Leather Works, when it was time to go home on holidays, and order leather goods, bring them to Calabar and sell them to students in University of Calabar (Unical) and people in town and they would make leather hats and other funky things for me. In fact, whenever I went to those conferences I talked about, I came back with such stuff; so I have done this like forever.

In 2016 or so, I took this whole #BuyNaija campaign seriously. I thought about it carefully and reasoned that it made a lot of sense. I held what I called Well-Made in Nigeria Fair at the now-shutdown Arts and Crafts Village in Abuja. I brought some arts and crafts from Kenya where I had done work for their government through WHO on their guineaworm closure.

I wanted to build a platform where different crafters could sell their stuff. When I now wanted to get more stuff from Kenya, Ghana, because I wanted to do mix and match from various places, the weight of the freight was ridiculous, so I stopped. That led me to re-invoke my own crafting skills and started making simple things like hand beads for men and stuff like that and people showed interest in them. 

Because of the way I grew up in the nooks and cranny of villages around Nigeria - I have been to a lot of places for many reasons - I have different viewpoints of one, people, and two, craft, food, everything, stories, of different places.

So, I took a deep dive and developed my line and I started making my products more than collecting from people. I also stumbled into making Nigerian gemstones through a colleague. 

I have always been fascinated by gemstones. I collect all these pieces of rocks. I stopped at the jewellery-grade gemstones because I did not know enough to buy them and that is a pitfall; if you do not know, they will sell you gas and you would be walking around happily and spending so much.  At a point, I needed hooks and accessories, I was told about someone named Godwin Akomaye who made them and was supposed to be a speaker at an event at the Hilton, Abuja, supported by the Ministry of Solid Minerals when Dr Kayode Fayemi was the minister and Raw Materials Research and Development Council. I think that was in 2017. When I spoke to him, he said he lived in Calabar and I was like that was impossible. How did I not know that someone making amazing stuff that I was keenly interested in lived right here in Calabar?

Eventually, I got linked through him to a lot of people in this thriving ecosystem - gem traders, lapidary arts and metal smiths  - and I got to know a lot of things about community mining licences, operational processes and all that. That is how I knew about the Malians, mockingly called stone-boys, who came into this country and are established in Ibadan. I got to see a whole new world.

The area I am deeply interested in is value addition. I came in when if I want my stones cut perfectly, I can get some guys in Jos or Akwa Ibom and I do not have to send them to Bangkok.

I was amazed that the learning curve for most of the things are not steep or long. You do not need to go to a university for four years to know how to cut a stone perfectly. You may not be a master cutter in four years but you would be a competent cutter in one year. In six months, you can actually start the rudiments of lapidary. It puzzled me when I found out that I went to school in Jos and did not know what was around me in that sector. 

This is a different branch of my life right now, so I had to step back from Abuja where I was into consultancy on policy advocacy, policy analysis, communications, different gigs and projects and invested into buying some machines which came in just when Covid-19 hit us and stepped into creating my own products from here in Calabar, with more learning.

I am energised now more than ever before to do many of those things I had envisioned including using gemstones for adornment. We are so blessed in this country.

I have high hopes.

I am not a one-woman riot squad. If I need certain things done, in large volumes, I know where to get them. I know where the fabricators of various things are. That is how we work in the industry.

I now have an apprentice and I have other people that I work with although they are not my apprentices. As a jewellery maker, you do not have to manufacture everything yourself. You can develop your prototypes and commission other people to do the jobs. I do not quite go that route though.

I hope to embark on trainings. I have linked up with people who are interested in either hosting me as a trainer or as a link to trainers. I would also be discussing with the National Directorate of Employment, whether in the next year or so, about having trainings in areas where there are market potentials. I like to give things institutional backing because that is the only way we can strengthen the institution and the sector.

I use the social media extensively to market and for research and development: it has given me valuable feedback. It has also been a platform for peer review system.

My handle on Instagram is @ediyeofficial.

It has been rewarding monetarily but I am in doubling down stage: I am still buying equipment and materials and undergoing training and doing research and development. So, could one make a good living from it?  The answer is YES. It is viable once you figure out what you should do.

I am happy with what I am doing and where I am at. Doing this condenses my creative abilities. I love challenges and I find this worthy of sinking my teeth into.

I think it is also important to make it clear to people that there are options that you can tackle that will be excellent because you are a Nigerian. There is nothing that makes me sadder than someone saying 'I did this despite being a Nigerian.' It is not entirely true. If I take that position, it means that I would be continually frustrated. If I am going to sell a sculpture or jewellery made of gemstone to somebody who revers Yoruba culture and I tell them that not only did I make it, the stone also came from Ile Ife, where else are they going to get a stone like that from and I add that the wooden border of the stone is carved by people who have been carving for the past four hundred years, where am I going to get that from? It is fantastic because it is Nigerian, so I decided to root myself into where I am and take advantage of the opportunities. And that is how I navigate through. I had to shift from my development mindset of always packaging problems, creating panic, fear…because people want to be associated with good, amazing stuff.

So, it is more than a business for me rather it has helped my eyes to open and see better.

TO KEEP US GOING

Dear Reader,

This initiative which started as a demonstration project for an intern of The Journalism Clinic has, before our very eyes, taken a life of its own, demanding a lot more resources than envisaged.

Your kind support will keep us going. You can do so securely here.

May I also request you to kindly join our community by subscribing to our newsletter so that we can deliver the toris directly to your inbox, hot and fresh. Please fill the form here. So, as we keep growing the brand, we will be sufficiently ready for long-term support through product placement and sponsorships.

Many thanks.
Sincerely,

Taiwo Obe, FNGE
Commonwealth Professional Fellow
Founder/Director, The Journalism Clinic
+234 818 693 5900
founder@thejournalismclinic.com.