Every week, Zikoko seeks to understand how people move the Naira in and out of their lives. Some stories will be struggle-ish, others will be bougie. All the time, it’ll be revealing.
Several times, I’ve tried to track someone who fits into this profile of Textile magnate for #NairaLife. I failed every time, include this time. But this post is an attempt to cope with a failure. It’s my first time trying this, but here it is; the NairaLife of a textile magnate as told to me by her son.
Hey man, I really want to talk to your mum, but it’s not looking feasible.
Yeah, but she’s told us a lot of stories, so I might be able to give you your story.
We’ll try. How about you tell me the first money she ever made?
At 17, she left her small village and headed to Lagos to work as a maid. This was 1975. Her mum was a petty trader and her father sold drinks.
Woah. Did she describe what the work was like?
She’d do housework in the morning, then head to the market to sell stuff. She’s never mentioned how much she earned, but she said that every month, she’d save something that felt like 10 shillings.
Nigeria had already switched to the naira by 1975.
Yeah, but I think people were still actively referencing the pound and shilling at the time.
The main reason she was even able to save that much was that she still found time to go and sell ice water.
Pure Water’s ancestor eh?
Yes! And that flavoured water that they called condense. A few years later, her boss passed away, so she had to leave. Then she got married in 1980. To be honest, it felt more like an introduction, the way she described it.
At 21 right?
Yes. Whatever it was, it didn’t last, but it was during that marriage she tried to sell gold – it was actually GL (gold layered), not pure gold and that was her first break. It wasn’t much of a break, to be honest, but it was important. The market was really good at that time.
We’ll get to the marriage part, but how did she pull it off?
She joined a co-operative and took a loan from there. Then she added her savings and that was what made the difference for her. Now, about that marriage.
About that marriage.
She left because she wanted children badly, and the man had some sex-related issues.
That’s quite sad.
Yeah, it is. She sold gold for a few more years before she switched to another business.
Beauty products. Apparently, gold business stopped booming when she joined, so she had to try another business.
But she also didn’t stay long with cosmetics – about a year. She discovered the next big one: clothes.
Yes. At this point, she’d already saved up a lot of money from doing business over the years. But to start the business, she needed a lot of capital. So she applied for a bank loan. Did I mention that at this time, she’d already re-married?
Yes, she married someone else in 1983, my dad, haha! Anyway, she applied for a bank loan and needed collateral. Her husband owned a house, but when she asked him, he didn’t drop his house documents.
Wow. Why didn’t he give her?
Family issues. My mum actually married into an already polygamous family. The other wives? Those ones didn’t agree o. That period was the most difficult time for her.
Wild. Did she eventually get the loan?
You know that friend that you really like, but somehow, both of you don’t end up marrying each other? Yeah, he was the one who gave her the documents to his properties as collateral. It was one of those really big houses that people built in the 80s that had a lot of rooms. Big deal then.
How much was the loan?
Enough to fund containers of lace material. She can barely remember the exact numbers. She struggles to remember numbers. One thing she remembers for sure is that she took that loan from Metropolitan Bank, and what happened next surprised everybody.
She travelled to Bangkok, where she bought two containers of goods. It was a massive hit. She made about three-fold of the goods she bought in revenue. In a really short time, she completely paid back the loan and started funding more return trips to China, South Korea, and even Rome at the time. Then she rewarded herself with her first house.
That is incredible.
She did this year in, year out. By 2001, she acquired another piece of land in Lagos and built a house. Then we moved into the new one and put the older one up for rent.
Has she ventured into anything else since then?
In the mid-2000s, she tried importing other stuff, but the markets were too unpredictable, from bags to flasks. She had another big break again later.
What was that?
A Bureau De Change – she got a licence to start one. When I knew the details a few years ago, the business was doing up to $200,000 monthly. She also invested in treasury bills.
That is wild.
Then real estate. Buy, develop, rent out. Recently, she bought a duplex in one of these quiet estates – about 65 million. But altogether, she has five houses – four in Lagos and one in her village.
Your mum is on a rampage.
Hahaha. The funny thing is that she didn’t go to any school at all. Not even primary –
She actually started at a grammar school, but someone came from Lagos to take her to become a maid. She didn’t spend enough time there for it to feel like education. Don’t forget that she was living in a village in the sixties and seventies. It’s one of the things that pushed her to make sure that all her kids got the best at any time.
Your mum didn’t go to school, but her financial intelligence feels solid.
Remember when she was living as a maid? The woman she was living with sold fabrics. The woman used to travel, so she’d leave her with the shop to manage.
Also, the people selling gold used to travel a lot, so that’s where the yearning to travel came from. When she married my dad, she got more exposed to how importing and all those things worked – my dad had worked in the importing/exporting business in the past.
I find it interesting, your mum’s relationships was how she got her education.
Yeah. When she’s with people who are more educated than her, she stays quiet and absorbs.
Let me give you an example. There’s an older woman that my mum respects a lot. She’s richer, well educated, and one day in the 2000s, my mum opened up to her like, “I have all this money, and I don’t know where to put it.”
“Shares,” the woman said. And that’s how my mum bought her first set of shares in the early 2000s. She’s been giving my mum advice since then.
That is interesting.
Everyone I know who’s worked with her — whether it is people selling fabrics too or just associates — all of them are better off. Let me tell you about my favourite one.
There’s this guy she hired in 2002. When he just started, she quickly realised how dependable he was. The problem was, he didn’t have any education beyond primary school.
So she sent him to school. He became that older guy in secondary school. Wrote WAEC. Got into a polytechnic, studied accounting part-time. All this while, he was still part of the business.
That is amazing.
He literally runs the day to day of the business right now. The Bureau De Change was his idea. Now, what my mum did was give him money to start his own fabrics business.
Instead of him having to start from scratch, she buys for him with his money and he stocks his goods in her stores. So he’s making money without having to worry about all the moving parts of running a business by himself.
So, she’s incubating him.
Exactly. Right now, he’s at least 10 million naira liquid in personal cash. At this point, in fact, he’s actually family.
Whenever she’s successful at anything, she’d always drag someone else into it.
I’m curious to know how those relationships she’s built has affected you and your siblings.
The interesting thing is, the relationships she’s built work well for her directly. But not necessarily directly to us the kids.
You know how people always say “oh your parents have connections and all that?” That didn’t really favour us. She did have a lot of connections, but in the markets, not necessarily in other places. But even that is not important to me. I don’t even see it as a negative, just her reality.
There are five of us children, and she made sure to give us the best possible education she could afford.
How much will you say she spent on y’all’s education? Round figure.
First of all, between the first and fifth child, there are 10 years. One government uni, Three private universities in Nigeria, one abroad. In that time, she’s spent no less than 40 million. I know this because the one that went abroad in the UK cost her about 30 million.
I remember this one because when he was misbehaving and stressing her life, she used to call that amount a lot, like “Odindin taty million”.
I’m curious about how she made the school choices for y’all.
You know the interesting thing is, she knew she wanted to give us the best, she just didn’t know what the best was.
So for example, when we were in secondary school, we found out about a much better one from our friends. So we told her we wanted to go there, and she moved us there.
My dad wasn’t really involved in all this, because even if you’re a responsible person when there are too many kids to care about, attention is divided. Frankly, we didn’t need him.
Anyway, when my brother was going to university – a Nigerian private university – we told her the price of the school fees per session, and she screamed. It was just over a million naira.
But you know what changed her mind?
My brother’s admission letter came by mail, and when she saw the packaging of the box, she was like hmmm, it looks like it’s not a waste of money.
Let’s talk about business, what are your mum’s biggest strengths?
She has a serious appetite for risk, but most importantly, she knows when to cut her losses and move on.
About losses, tell me about her biggest loss that you remember recently.
Election season is good business because you make a lot of ankara for political rallies. So, she commissioned one of her people in India to design it. What did they do? A horrible job. The politicians rejected it.
That was a big loss. The worst part is that she had to take a loan to fund that project. I think the amount she asked for in loans, it meant that every day, the money she had to pay back way +30,000. Every day of the week.
Woah. Did she pay off the debt?
Yes she did. She just rallied all her funds and cleared that. It hit her real bad. The whole family felt it.
At least now she’d debt-free right?
Debt-free ke? No oh. All these people are never debt-free. She’s owing her foreign partners, for example. A lot of the time, when they take these goods from Asia, they don’t even pay for it in full. There’s already trust, and so people pick up goods and pay for it later. It’s a risky business, but the rewards are high. When you pick up goods and you don’t make a profit, you bear the risk.
Take that ankara contract, she ended up selling it as stock.
That’s what they call it when they have to sell less than the landing price. The thing is, when you’re making clothes for politicians, especially election season, you make container loads.
Crazy. Tell me about containers.
Let me break it down for you. One bundle of lace has 15 yards. The way they pack the bales in a container, one bale of lace might be up to 20 bundles. And one container can hold up to 500 bales.
What you’re telling me is that a container can hold up to 150,000 yards?
If your maths is correct, yes.
How much does a bundle of lace cost?
To be honest, I can’t tell you much about that, since I’m not really involved in the business, but there are ranges. There are the general laces, but because of the reputation she’s built over the decades, she mostly sells the premium ones.
But I can tell you that when they’re making sales, ah.
What is ah?
A few Decembers ago, they sold over ₦7 million worth almost every day for two weeks.
Aha. One day – I think I was helping her look for some info on her phone – I saw an account balance SMS of 127 million.
Serious question: did they split the message into two because the zeroes were too much?
Hahaha. I used a toothpick to count the zeroes. This was sometime within the last two years o, but it’s tougher these days sha.
Yes. People aren’t going to parties, so people aren’t buying clothes as much.
What do you think her business looks like in, say 5 years?
This question is one of my leading sources of worry. You know how parents hand over the management of their businesses to their children?
It doesn’t look like that’s what’s going to happen in this case.
Two of my older siblings want to japa. My younger sibling is already abroad. I’m the only one whose mind is still here.
So, you want to join the business?
Nope. I have no interest in it.
Yes. Notice how I don’t even know much about the business?
I’m trying to understand why you’re not interested in joining the business. Tell me about what you currently do.
I work as a Client Accounts Manager in small financial institution earning ₦80k, net.
Yep, it’s crazy. The company I currently work for, the pay structure is annoying, and there’s very little growth year on year – I’ve been there for three years, started as an intern.
To be honest, it’s like that 80k is just money for me to leave the house. My mum is nice and all, but you don’t want to be at home with her all day. The kind of things you’ll hear ehn.
Have you ever considered just working for her?
I don’t want to work for her. I want to do something else, and I told her about it. She’s ready whenever I’m ready.
Right now – and I know it sounds strange – but I feel stuck, because even though I know I want to do something else, I’ve not figured out what the other thing is.
On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your happiness?
3. To be honest, I have no money needs. I live with my mum, but I also have a flat in one of her houses that I can move into whenever I like. I have over 2 million in savings that I’m not touching. But I feel the need to be more involved in building something.
I just don’t know what for sure yet.
Have you ever wondered why your mum has stayed successful?
I asked her once and she said something I’ll paraphrase, “I always have people to ask questions to on things I don’t understand, and I keep them near. I know how to manage credit facilities, and most importantly,” she always says this one, “I’m always willing to take risks.”
Of all her five kids, there’s not a single one of us to match the appetite for risk that has brought her to where she is today.