A Woman Furniture Manufacturer Thinks Outside the Box

September 11, 2022

When Onyinye Gift Ikechukwu engaged her creativity and entrepreneurial spirit, something interesting happened.

By Victor Eyike, bird story agency

photo of Gift onyinye

In a yard down on Benin City’s popular 5-Junction Road, ten men gather for a daily ritual. They are greeted by a strongly built young woman wearing workman’s tan overalls and leather shoes, who leads them in prayer. Afterwards, the men pick up their tools and head their various ways, each to a carpentry workstation of their own. Onyinye Gift Ikechukwu, the woman in the overalls, does the same.

Ikechukwu is the proprietor and chief designer of Cheeo Furnitures — a hub open to skilled furniture builders in this city in Edo State.

Work starts in earnest in the yard, where several pieces of furniture, including tables, chairs, beds and other pieces of home decor, are already complete and on display for sale.

“The yard is usually open to any furniture maker. So, different people come here to work. I start my day by praying and changing to my uniform before sorting out the materials for use in the day,” Ikechukwu explained, before getting down to work.

Although there are several other furniture yards on this stretch of road, Cheeo is unique. In most yards, a businessman owns the business and the artisans — many extremely skilled — work for a wage. At Cheeo all are equal — everyone rents space and retains their independence. And Ikechukwu has gained something of a cult status amongst her fellow artisans. Where many people see her as an unwelcome intruder into the menial, “man’s world” of the furniture-making business, her co-workers at the hub see her as something of a local hero.

Furniture maker Chude Smart said Ikechukwu’s open-yard concept not only accorded the artisans space to work but attracted more customers. It also provided something they can’t get working alone.

“Whenever we’re here, we’re supported by our mates. Sometimes we borrow materials from one another. It makes the work easy and fast,” he said. speaking his local dialect.

Ikechukwu also offers something the artisans would not get elsewhere: social media marketing. Ikechukwu turns to social media – particularly Instagram – to market the products in the yard.

“The bottom line is, there are so many skilled furniture makers, You just have to put your work out there through social media platforms and try to reach clients before your competitors,” she said.

Although Ikechukwu had qualms when she ventured into furniture making, she was determined to make her mark in a male-dominated furniture manufacturing sector that rakes in more than 50 billion (almost 120 million US dollars) annually, according to the Nigerian factual site, Nigerian Finder. Only 19 at the time, she was ready to ride out whatever challenges came her way.

“I was seeking admission into the tertiary institution at that time and I was getting declined, so I desired to try something different. I tried several skills, but it just wasn’t working for me. Then I tried furniture making and I knew it was the real deal,” she said.

Although she did manage to continue with her studies, Ikechukwu’s parents were not comfortable with her decision.

“My parents were sceptical about it, especially my mother. I was coming back home with injuries and they wished I focused on something else. But now they have adjusted, they clearly see I have a deep passion for it and whole-heartedly support me and my work,” Ikechukwu said.

Despite their early reservations, Ikechukwu now credits her father, Ikechukwu Chidele, with providing some her most important support.

“My father was instrumental to my growth. His drive and diligence as a spray painter motivated me. At some point, I almost ventured into his industry but then I knew that was not my calling, So I delved into furniture making,” she said.

For his part, the elder Ikechukwu seems to now be a lot more comfortable with his daughter’s decision.

“I was surprised when she started a furniture design business. At first, I was scared she may be overwhelmed by the work to the detriment of her studies but over time, Onyinye has shown zeal and resilience. I am proud of her for what she is doing. She has my blessings in what she chose to do in life,” Ikechukwu Chidele said.

Even Ikechukwu’s mother, Ikechukwu Udoka Magdalene, has become one of her greatest supporters, and credits her daughter for changing her perception of the craft.

“I was always bothered about her safety and how she would be able to combine schooling with furniture design. She has been doing a fantastic job and I am extremely proud of her, Udoka said.

Though the daring move may be breaking down gender bias, Ikechukwu, like many Nigerians from average families, can’t afford to look back. Cheeo has now become the lifeblood of the family. It pays the bills and funds her own further education.

‘I am the firstborn child in my family, I have two siblings. My father is a spray painter while my mother is a local gospel singer who makes and sells snacks. I am not from a wealthy home, but my parents have been doing their best to ensure we have a roof over our heads and go to school,” she said.

“I wasn’t born into affluence, but I was taught to keep hustling by my parents. With my furniture business, I am now able to chip in, besides paying my fees.”

Having passed her examinations and qualified to attend university, Ikechukwu is now studying at the University of Benin, one of the most prestigious tertiary institutions in Nigeria.

“My parents always wanted me to get a formal education, irrespective of my desire to be a furniture maker. I had my primary and secondary education in Benin City, Edo state. I am studying public administration at the University of Benin,” Ikechukwu said proudly.

Looking back she says that it was worth it all despite the ridicule she suffered from friends — especially for doing the many odd jobs required to initially raise capital for her now booming furniture business.

She also confesses to being tempted to quit college and go full-time into business, but said doing so would “literally kill my parents, who have struggled so much to ensure I and my siblings get a good education.”

“Honestly, I have been worried that someday I may succumb and quit schooling. But still, I know education is vital and I have to keep balancing my schooling and work,” she added.

She is also extremely aware of how important her business is to the families of the other woodworkers who use her hub facilities. Buying materials in bulk helps increase their profit margins.

“We get our materials from different suppliers. Some sell their boards at a cheaper price compared to others,” she said.

Ikechukwu has now earned the respect of her colleagues, not just for starting the hub but also for her woodwork. At first over-protective, they now see her as one of themselves.

“They don’t discriminate at all. There is mutual respect here in the yard. Although some clients are sceptical of trusting me with their work, I try to convince them with pictures and videos of my previous jobs to earn their trust. So my gender as a female doesn’t really hinder my work,” she said.

On average, she makes about 200 sales a year.

“Although the cost of production is increasing insanely, the market is still buoyant and profitable,” she said.

But it is not always smooth sailing. Like any business venture, Cheeo has its ups and downs, especially when customers dry up.

“I get discouraged sometimes, we keep waiting for customers but get nothing. This weighs me down mentally but then I have to stay motivated and keep pushing,” she said.

She remains bouyed by local customers like Chuks Ideh, who likes the quality she gets from Ikechukwu.

“I always prefer to make my furniture from scratch than purchasing from a vendor. Furniture is an asset we can’t do without in our homes. I do not care if it’s a man or woman handling the job, as long as it meets my requirements,” Ideh explained.

Furniture buyer Ibidun Joy said buys from Ikechukwu because of the reliability she finds from the yard’s artisans.

“It’s difficult to get a reliable furniture maker, So when I search for one, I always seek recommendations from my friends. I have seen Onyinye severally whenever I come to purchase furniture from the yard. What she is doing is great. She deserves all the accolades,” Ibidun said.

Those sentiments are shared by Franca Suwe, a second-time customer, visiting the hub to buy a queen-sized bed frame.

“The furniture business is a very stressful venture. I remember my brother, who was a furniture maker, always looking stressed trying to please very difficult customers. I once saw (him) struggling to just complete a wardrobe with a customer breathing down his neck. Onyinye is doing great, and I will continue to buy my furniture from her,” Suwe said.

“It takes a lot of convincing to close a deal because some clients prefer men while others will make almost unrealistic demands, especially on completion. Sometimes, I get lucky and get instant clients, especially those who see my work on my Instagram page,” Ikechukwu in turn explained.

Amos Ighorodje is one of the customers who found her online.

“I wanted to make a wardrobe for my room and when I mentioned it to a colleague in the office, he immediately referred me to (the) Cheeo Furniture page. Though I liked what I saw, I was sceptical when I saw that it was run by a woman, but she proved me wrong by delivering a top-notch wardrobe that is the envy of my friends,” Ighorodje said.

While many Nigerians insist on buying imported furniture, designer Bright Are called on Nigerians, particularly the “elite” to support local enterprises.

“Some potential customers believe it’s always better to import their accessories because they will get good quality, and a wide variety at very moderate prices. That’s a major problem for domestic furniture designers. It would help grow us and the economy if Nigerians can start patronising local furniture,” he said.

But Onyinye sees an opportunity in the challenge mounted by imported goods. That opportunity is to improve her quality and ensure competitiveness to win more customers.

Her eye is set on turning Cheeo into a household name and top furniture manufacturing company in Nigeria – and beyond.

“In the next 10 years, I hope to make Cheeo furniture a household name in Africa with unique products to compete in the export market,” she concluded.

Join The Conversation

Bring a friend.

You'll like this

January 14, 2020

Firstly, this is a safe place Secondly, this was done for the sake of science Lastly, leave your home training at the door and come in So, the other day I was wondering (not so loudly) the cost of adult toys. With dwindling wages and increased unemployment, what’s the cost of a decent toy that […]

September 10, 2018

Making legitimate money online for many young people would be the ultimate dream. For so many young people across the world, being able to find steady income-generating opportunities online, would allow them to quit their toxic day jobs and become their own boss.   In addition, being able to spend quality time with family while […]


Now on Zikoko

February 2, 2023

From Lagos to Atlanta, fans never stop comparing and pitting their faves against each other. Just like Rihanna can’t beat the Beyoncé comparisons 17 years into her awe-inspiring career, Davido still gets Wizkid comparisons daily despite just a year between their debut. Similarly, Seyi Shay was compared to Tiwa Savage when she came out with […]

Recommended Quizzes

November 19, 2019

Regardless of what society has tried to tell us, enjoying sex is not something to be ashamed of. So, in a bid to celebrate our generation’s sexual agency, we’ve created a quiz that will accurately (again, keep your complaints to yourself) infer how many people you’ve spelt with. Try it out: 11 Quizzes For The […]

how tall are you
March 11, 2020

Did your parents give you enough beans when you were growing up? If they did, then you’re probably around 6’0″ and above. Either way, we created a quiz that can guess your current height (pretty accurately, if we do say so ourselves). Take to see if we nailed it:

November 27, 2019

Do you have a face that could make angels jealous, or should you really be walking around with a nylon bag over your head so you don’t scare children? Well, this quiz is here to answer that by telling you exactly how good-looking you are. Take and find out: 11 Quizzes For People Who Aren’t […]

More from General

December 12, 2022

Vol 8 | 12-12-2022 View in Browser Brought to you by | We should pop something today! The first Naira Life story was published in February 2019 and since then, we’ve been putting out the most honest stories about Nigerians and their money. Today, I’m happy to be sharing the 200th Naira Life story. This […]

November 11, 2022

We know a lot of things are happening right now but let’s not forget that millions of Nigerians are still suffering the effects of flooding. Although coverage of the issue has reduced, it’s important that we keep in mind that a large part of over 30 Nigerian states are under water.  This is not just […]


Trending Videos

Zikoko Originals

September 13, 2022
Vs The World is a Zikoko original video series that follows best friends Astor and Hassan as they take on the world.
August 23, 2022
Zikoko Ships is a Zikoko Original series where we invite two people who share a relationship to play the Zikoko card games
December 14, 2020
What happens when a group of chatty young Nigerians talk about things they're passionate about? You get Nigerians talk. A show that discusses very familiar struggles for the average Nigerian. From relationship deal breakers to sex education with Nigerian parents to leaving Nigeria, be prepared for a ride.
November 2, 2020
'The Couch' is a Zikoko series featuring real life stories from anonymous people.
October 26, 2020
A collection of videos documenting some of the events of the EndSARS protests.
June 22, 2020
'The Couch' is a Zikoko series featuring real life stories from anonymous people.
June 22, 2020
Hacked is an interesting new series by Zikoko made up of fictional but hilarious chat conversations.
June 4, 2020
What happens when a group of chatty young Nigerians talk about things they're passionate about? You get Nigerians talk. A show that discusses very familiar struggles for the average Nigerian. From relationship deal breakers to sex education with Nigerian parents to leaving Nigeria, be prepared for a ride.
June 2, 2020
Quickie is a video series where everyone featured gets only one minute to rant, review or do absolutely anything.
May 14, 2020
Isolation Diary is a Zikoko series that showcases what isolation is like for one young Nigerian working from home due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Z! Stacks

Here's a rabbit hole of stories to lose yourself in:

Zikoko amplifies African youth culture by curating and creating smart and joyful content for young Africans and the world.