This week’s subject of Navigating Nigeria is Santa who’s enjoyed an interesting career journey. He started out as an events promoter who became an engineer, Uber driver and dog father before venturing into farming. He’s not resting yet though and has his eyes set on becoming a billionaire in Buhari’s Nigeria.
How did it all start?
I officially finished secondary school in 2004 but I didn’t get into the university until 2008. I was working for a company in Lagos that was a subcontractor to Globacom. Between 2005 and 2007, Glo did this promotion called Campus Storm, so we travelled around Nigeria visiting various institutions, hosting gigs and concerts. Faze and Stereoman were the headliners then as the song Kolomental was the rave of the moment. We’d then have local talent join in when we got into the universities. Comedians like Basketmouth and Okey Bakassi would also perform.
I wasn’t really bothered about continuing my education because I was making money. It was my mother who cried out that I had to go to school so as not to bring shame to her name. You know how African mothers are.
That sounds familiar. Lol
I tried Covenant University and I passed the written exam but failed the oral one on purpose. There was no way I could have survived in that environment — phoneless and too many restrictions. It wasn’t a lifestyle I was used to, I needed freedom.
I applied to four universities — the University of Jos, the Federal University of Technology Yola, University of Port Harcourt and the Niger Delta University, Bayelsa — but none was successful.
A friend from secondary school told me to try the Federal University of Technology (FUTO) in Imo State. It didn’t work out, but then he advised me to enrol in the school’s pre-degree programme as a way to get in via direct entry, so I did.
My girlfriend at the time was from Benin, so I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to apply to school there. I’d always been fascinated by engineering and how power worked. While doing my pre-degree programme, I wrote JAMB again and applied for electrical/electronics engineering at the University of Benin (UNIBEN) as first choice, while I registered FUTO as second choice. Luckily in 2008, I got in UNIBEN. Last last, na woman carry me go UNIBEN.
I won’t say I went to school for myself. I’ve always been on the streets hustling from when I was a child. I’ve always understood that to get the bag, you need to put in the work.
During my internship, I worked at an internet service provider (ISP) called Layer 3 in Abuja and we had lots of clients. I was in the customer service department. Being restricted to an office environment wasn’t my lifestyle. I had a no-nonsense boss and she wanted me to be on my A-game at all times. It was good, but there was no room for errors. I knew then it would be difficult for me to work for someone. So I started to restrategise.
I finished university and got posted to Imo State for NYSC. I served there for about six months then redeployed to Abuja to work for an engineering firm. Unfortunately, the firm and NYSC didn’t pay me for the final six months of service. Thanks to my parents who provided transport fare.
I went to complain at the NYSC secretariat and they explained that the payment issue was because I used the account created in Imo as my salary account and that I had to open a new account in Abuja. I fixed that and got an alert of ₦120k just before my passing out parade. This was a lot of money back in 2016.
See flex for government pikin
When I saw the alert, I had one option — go out, have fun, forget about life’s worries and blow the money. Just as I was looking for my fellow corp members that night to go and flex with, I don’t know where the inner voice came from that asked me to think again. After spending this money drinking alcohol, what next? Because after that money was spent, there was no way I’d have been able to raise it again. I held myself back, quietly drove to my house — I had a car now. I had the ₦120k on me and I slept on it. By the time I woke up, I’d had a vision.
I grew up with dogs both in my father’s house and my grandma’s home in the Niger Delta. There was always a dog around and I’d always wanted to have a proper kernel established with dogs. This was how the idea for my first business came. I bought two dogs — a rottweiler and a boerboel named Xena and Boogey — for ₦50k each and used the remaining ₦20k to buy food for them. But I started feeding them homemade meals like eba and soup when the food finished and there was no money left.
The full Nigerian experience
When I wasn’t home, my mum would feed them. Whatever we ate, the dogs ate. I did this for over a year but it wasn’t sustainable. I had to think of how to sustain the kernel but I was unemployed. I had to look for something to do to raise money to cater for myself too. I still be guyman, I had to drink beer and track girls. I learned about Uber and had a driving license, so I joined the platform. They were doing promotions at the time and it was a whole lot of money. Sometimes I’d go home with ₦100k, sometimes ₦150k. From there, I made enough to feed myself and take care of the dogs. It was around the first time I had my first litter.
Boogie gave me 11 puppies. I had a stud deal with a friend whose male dog I used to breed her. I gave one of the pups to him and sold the remaining 10 for ₦50k each. I had my first ₦500k in bulk from the sale of my dogs. I reinvested the money into the business, bought more food for them and was thinking of expansion. I met with other dog owners in Abuja and the idea of pedigree dogs — dogs with known parentage going as far back as 10 generations — took form.
These kinds of dogs are pricier so I started doing my research and found there’s a good market for dog breeding. In four months Boogey and Xena were in heat. I mated Boogey with the same stud from earlier and she birthed the same 11 puppies, 10 of which I sold. Xena gave birth to 10 but lost six of her pups, leaving me with four. I sold each of Xena’s puppies for about ₦150k because they were extremely good. I made ₦600k from Xena and over ₦500k from Boogey. That’s how I made my first million naira.
You were eating good
From then, more expansion. I bought a female pedigree rottweiler called Arya, then a boerboel male, Zeus. In total, I had five dogs. I also had my Uber business going on at that time and even bought a car for my girlfriend’s mum. Business was booming.
The older dogs died, but they birthed healthy litters that people bought off quickly. I also sometimes bought back bitches I had sold off for breeding purposes. I’ve sent my dogs all over the country to mate.
My dad had a water factory as well as a dormant fish farm that wasn’t operating due to financial issues. I took over those after his death and used the proceeds from my dog business to renovate and get the farm working. That’s how I got into fish farming in 2020.
A man of many talents
People today get the impression I’m a farmer but I’m not — I’m an investor. I saw an opportunity and took it. I’ll always put my money where my mouth is, always. I started hatching and selling juvenile fish and made money from it. I moved to the water factory too which is a capital intensive business. I renovated the factory, sold off the old vehicles and bought new ones. I got a license and also bought landed property, but I was lucky too that my parents had bought property around Abuja so I had enough space to really set up my businesses.
I also learned from my friends who had land and saw how they were maximising it for profit. One of them planted ugwu vegetables and sold them off every three weeks for ₦300k. I also had someone who really helped me with setting up irrigation beds and identifying the right seeds for my farm and so I got into crop farming as well. I learned about crop rotation, alternating between crops like ugwu, pepper and ginger.
Has it been smooth sailing for you?
Not at all. I had a falling out with some of my farming friends over the business and had to learn some lessons the hard way. I leased out plots of my land to some people and I watched and learnt from their mistakes which guided me. I also went into yam farming, inspired by my girlfriend.
We were having discussions about marriage and then she brought the list of things I needed to pay as dowry. Part of it included 100 tubers of yam. So I thought to myself, “Instead of buying the yams, why don’t I just plant them?”
I reached out to someone and struck a deal with him. I had the land, he had the expertise. I’d pay him to manage the whole process from the beginning till the end and he agreed. He made around 2,000 heaps across my various plots and then went to his village to get yams seeds. He brought back 1,100 seeds which we divided into two and started planting in April this year. His brother also joined in when he got busy and managed the process of spraying the farm with herbicides and man, it’s a delicate process.
We also planted beans around the yam heaps because beans grow by spreading. That way, weeds don’t take root around the yam heaps. It’s win-win as we harvest more crops and also tackle the weed problem. I currently have a thousand yam tubers for sale and over a thousand seedlings for the next planting season. I can’t complain.
If you could go back, would you do anything differently?
I have no regrets whatsoever — I’d still choose this same path over and over again. The pivotal point for me was during my internship. That experience made me realise I wouldn’t do so well working under someone and I’m better off for it. Although if you ask me, I’ll say nothing has played out yet and I’m not doing alright. I still need the billionaire status.