In this Exclusive Interview with THE COMMERCE AFRICA, Ayobami Ogunmoroti spoke on his life struggles and why he set aside his university degree to establish a thriving Beans Cake (Akara) Business in the heart of the Federal Capital Territory. EXCERPTS…
Can we get to meet you?
My name is Ayobami Ogunmoroti. I am from Ifaki in Idosi Local Government, Ekiti State. I was born June 27,1990 to a family of seven and I am the last born and the only University graduate. I started my education in Ifaki at Anuoluwa Progressive College. I eventually finished my secondary education in 2008.Things were rough generally and I didn’t proceed until after about eight years. The delay was not completely because of the hardship, but out of my desire to pursue a professional course of study in the University. I wanted to study law but to no avail. Successive attempts at writing post-UTME always fetched me wrong courses. At Adekunle Ajasin University, they gave me Philosophy instead of Law. I rejected it. At Kogi State University, Anyingba, they gave me Political Science and I rejected it. I came to Ekiti State University, they didn’t even give me admission at all because my score didn’t meet the cut-off point. I attempted University of Nigeria, Nsukka and that point, I was desperate to take any course offered to me.
Finally, I was offered Political Science/Education and that is what I studied between 2014-2018 and came out with Second Class Honours (Lower Division)
What is the socio-economic status of your parents?
My parents are illiterates. My father was a bricklayer and now in his 80’s while my mother was in to retail sale of palm wine. We are seven in the family. One female and six males. It was an attempt to have another female that brought me according to the account of my parents.
You give an impression of being a self-motivated individual. You said you are the only one that is educated in your family. What motivated you to desire to break the jinx?
You will recall that I told you I am the last born of the family. I happen to be the tallest. My father said I am a replica of his own father who desired education so much but didn’t have opportunity to go to school. So, my father resolved that the dream of his father would be fulfilled in me. Therefore, he dared to take me to even a private school. But by the time I finished Secondary school, he had become old and didn’t have the energy to undertake bricklaying that was his Trade.
So, I took up the challenge and proceeded to Lagos and got a job with LAWMA.
Is your father Polygamous.
What’s the education attainment of your siblings from the other wife of your father?
They are in school now but not with the sponsorship of my father. But when I said I am the only one that graduated, I didn’t mean to say my other siblings are illiterates. It is simply that they didn’t proceed beyond secondary education. They went in to learn trades.
The need to catch up with my peers compelled me to fight to pursue education to the extent that I went to learn Ladies hair plaiting and styling to fund my education. It was such that I made money out of it to take care of my schooling.
I set up small saloon such that as I was in school, I was making money out of plaiting hair for ladies. I was buoyant, so to speak, because I was never for once sent out for non-payment of school fees.
Why didn’t you learn barbing instead of ladies’ hair care?
I had a feeling that a man in a vocation presumably meant for ladies will enjoy some advantages. I actually saw a guy in Ikotun, Lagos who was plaiting for ladies and I saw how they queued up to be attended to.
So, I approached him and offered to be his apprentice. He accepted me and within six months I completed the training.
I did all this during my University days. When I finished in 2018, I added make-up to my line of business. In fact, after my graduation, I deliberately didn’t make myself available to be mobilized for NYSC because I was still learning make-up and tying of head gear for ladies at Ikere-Ekiti.
While waiting to proceed for NYSC, there was a fund called IYE-FUND (Ifaki Youth Empowerment Fund) set up by Ifaki sons and daughters who were well- to do to support indigent youths. I was the President Of Ifaki Student Union at the time. It was a privilege for me. I secured a loan of N200,000:00 from that fund. From this loan, it was possible for me to complete my make -up training and buy the kits for practice.
When I proceeded to the National Service, I started to pay the loan from the NYSC allowance.
While I was serving, I was practicing my trade, teaching other Corp members to tie headgear and makeup and was making money in Yenegoa, Bayelsa where I went to serve.
While serving and drawing lessons from past disappointments, I already made up my mind not to depend on anyone but be self-reliant.
With a second-class honor in Political Science, why didn’t you seek for employment in Public Service?
I have never worked for anybody in my life. So, employment, was never in my calculations. To start with, I don’t have anyone to look up to. In my student union days, I had a lot of rapport with politicians because I did a lot of projects. I even went in to publishing a magazine. I was able to pay school fees for indigent school pupils, buy sandals, school uniforms for them from my solicitations to Professors, Politicians and businessmen in our communities.
So, on graduation, people expected me to capitalize on those networks of relationships. But the point was that, by the time I graduated, I had already put a lady in the family way. So, I thought to myself that I needed to be responsible and looking for non-existent job was not wise at all.
Let’s not forget that when I was serving, I was paying back the loan that I talked about. Now, with a lady carrying a baby for me, I knew I had to buckle up.
I discussed my predicament with an elderly man from Port-Harcourt, an engineer who was working in Bayelsa State and he counseled that I should pray for divine guidance.
Thereafter, I received a divine visitation. In my dream, I saw my friend, Abiodun Emmanuel in white garment. He told me if I wanted to secure a Government job, I should start a community service. But, if I wanted to work for myself, I should go into Culinary business. So, I went on YouTube seeking what I could sell. Along the way, it just struck my mind that I should start to sell akara (bean cake). Immediately, I started strategizing. I soon went in to frying akara. At first, it was soaking oil but people around me kept on encouraging through their patronage. But, someone came up to explain why my akara was soaking oil and it was due to insufficient heat that I was applying.
So, I needed to change my gas cylinder. I did all that and experienced a great improvement. In two or three months, I noticed a long queue waiting for me to serve them with my bean cake. I became very popular. The bean cake was booming and giving me more returns than the makeup and (Gele).
Soon, my customers started demanding that I should include frying bean cake in the morning. I couldn’t do that because I was still serving. But, I got to a point when I knew that indeed, there was a divine dimension to it all.
I made so much money then that when my fiancé put to bed, it wasn’t a big deal for me to send N80,000 instead of the N70,000 that was the bill. My dad was curious to ask where the money came from considering the stipend that NYSC was paying.
So, when the service year was over, I stayed behind and looked for accommodation to continue with my business.
But, soon, some Bayelsa boys started attacking me. They would collect my hard earned savings; beat my salesgirl. I arranged for the arrest of one of them. But, curiously, the second day, I saw him walking freely on the street because he had been released.
I got to know that 85 per cent of those that were coming to attack me were cultists.
What was their case against you?
They were always in groups. So, as I settled one, the other will come to demand their own. I had no alternative than to relocate to a more secured place. That was how I later settled for Abuja and came here in December, 2020.
The problem I had was that I didn’t know anyone in Abuja. At that point, the name of our former Governor, Segun Oni was suggested. I was advised to link up with his Personal Assistant who I was told was in charge of Engr. Segun Oni’s Property. Luckily, I had had relationship with Segun Oni when I was publishing my magazine. He obliged me and gave me a space in his house.
Before you proceed, while in Bayelsa, how much was your average income per day or per month?
I can’t be categorical. But I recall that after all expenses paid, I always still had between N80,000 to N90,000 savings every month.
Back to my sojourn in Abuja, it took me about 4months to find a location to set up my frying spot. I crisscrossed the city and most places I was scared by rent which were never less than N400,000 per annum.
Like I said, the odds were enormous but, I resolved that I was not going to give up. It may interest you to note that in all this, I didn’t think of drawing up a CV for the purpose of seeking employment and up till now, I don’t have any.
It was another incidence of divine intervention the day I got my present location in Garki. I just set out with a carpenter and went opposite Garki market and asked the carpenter to proceed to set up for me.
It was at that point someone reminded me of the need to contact the owner of the house where I wanted to use front space. As God would have it, the woman, a Yoruba, assured me that she would prevail on her husband to grant me the permission to stay where I identified. And she did.
Having secured the spot, the next hurdle was how to take off. It needs to be pointed out that my savings were already depleted with the troubles the miscreants in Yenegoa gave me.
Again, it was Engr Segun Oni that I ran to. I went to demand for N10,000 that I felt was sufficient for me to take off. He queried why I wanted to be frying akara and not do a CV for possible employment. I explained to him that I didn’t know who would be able to assist me look for job. Besides, I told him that frying bean cake was not a new thing to me.
So, at my insistence, he gave me N30,000 which was enough to start me off and settle the accompanying logistics.
The following Monday, I started business in earnest and I took shots of my location and sent them to Engr Segun Oni as proof that indeed I had started.
Do you have a sustainable plan to build an enterprise around this business or it’s just a stop-gap measure?
From my explanation, you will understand that there is nothing like stop-gap measure. If I am to stop frying beans today, what next do I have to do? Nothing. I have looked round and I discovered that there is nothing like Akara Restaurant in the city. My plan is to have the first Akara Restaurant in Abuja and bring Akara spots to people that need it.
I desire to make Akara Ayo the talk of the town within the capital city. I also wish to have many motorcycles to enhance my distribution to customers.
My ambition is to build a business around frying Akara such that my children will have something to inherit unlike my father that could not bequeath any such thing to me. I reasoned that if I secure a civil service job, it would not be something that my children can inherit. The best that can come from it is my pension which will be personal to me.
It is instructive that President Buhari recently declared that government does not have job for anyone even if you graduate from Harvard University. So, no reasonable Nigerian youth will be waiting for a job that is not there. I choose to start something on my own.
Is your business registered to enable you take advantage of the incentives of government to MSMES?
You recall the loan I told you I secured in Ekiti while I was waiting to be called up for NYSC.To be eligible for it, you needed to get registered.
Something happened when I wanted to register my company with Corporate Affairs Commission. I sent “SMS Beauty Concept” as my choice business name to the person that was to register it for me. A ‘divine error’ happened. The guy included “SMS FOOD and Beauty Concept“ at a time I had no dream of establishing a culinary business. Once registered, I couldn’t do anything about it and I was forced to accept it. Today, I am in culinary business and I simply adopted the name. What a merciful God we serve.
What one word of advice would you want to give to the Nigerian youth?
I want to advise them to aspire to be self-reliant and not trusting in Government to give them employment. Like I said earlier, a business that is yours, belongs to you forever. In civil service, on retirement, you can only receive a pension. I hold that the years of efforts in civil service if engaged in one’s business, invariably, you are better off.
For those who may still want to work in public service, I have no objection. Nevertheless, I counsel that they should set something up to fall back on in retirement and not completely hope to depend on pension benefits.
You strike me as a grassroots person given your antecedents, do you see yourself going into politics and contest election?
Yes. I read Political Science and I understand the failure of Government. Misplacement of priority is partly one of the reasons we are where we are today. When I was President of Student Union, I saw what my predecessors failed to see. They were there doing debates and quiz for Secondary students and giving awards to the best students. But, during my tenure, I saw something beyond that. A child is brilliant, the question to ask is; where is he from”? What is his family background? A child may be brilliant and comes from a rich family where they can take care of him. A child may poor and comes from a poor background. Have you tried to probe if his performance is a result of his poor background?
So, I tried to go into all that beyond organizing debates and quiz competitions. I came to discover countless number of primary school pupils that were abandoned by their parents and were walking down to school barefooted. Some came to school in tattered clothes. Many of such came to school on empty stomachs. So, I spent my tenure as President to deal with all those issues. That way, I was able to solve 70% of their problems. At a time, I did a statistics of students in the whole of Ifaki, Ekiti who had no school sandals. I discovered over 250 students with no sandals and I provided for them. Another 120 students with tattered uniforms were provided for. I felt fulfilled that time when parents saw me on the streets and acknowledged that their children reported what I did for them.
There was the case of a young lady who lost her parents in a ghastly motor accident the same day and was living with an aged woman. She put on hijab and wrapper to school. Honestly, I saw in many students a degree of deprivation that I didn’t experience even in my disadvantaged status. Poor as my dad was, I never went to school barefooted.
So, in that particular lady’s case, I ensured that I addressed her case and kind of rehabilitated her.
Yes, I can go into politics but I am not impressed by the way it is being practiced presently.
I detest self-appointed messiahs who merely use people for their selfish ends. I would prefer people to see leadership in me and invite me to serve.