Written by Sarah NEGEDU

The many businesses at Abuja’s building material market

Arguably one of Africa’s largest building material market, the Abuja International Building Materials Market Dei-Dei, gives credence to the notion that one does not necessarily require a university degree to become successful, as the market hosts some of the wealthiest, yet uneducated businessmen in Abuja.







Providing equal opportunity to the educated and the not-too-literate, the Dei-Dei furniture market has demystified the grandeur associated with university degrees, as some of the most successful men in the market hardly have any form of formal education.

To them, the years of tutelage under the watchful eyes of their masters, is all that is required to break even in the business world and beyond.

For those with higher qualifications, the market is some sort of leveler, a place where an MSc. degree does not necessarily give one an edge over the school certificate holders, but rather the depth of their skills and experience in the business of buying and selling.

Though a little education is still required in the business, some shop owners who spoke with Metro said the basic requirement to accept a trainee into the business is the ability to read and write, but most importantly a good business acumen. And so to impress their bosses, apprentices and shop attendants employ all gimmicks in the books to lure customers into patronizing their products, even when it is against their wish.

Nicknamed, ‘Mushin in Abuja’, the Dei-Dei building material market boast of every component required for building construction. Little wonder patrons to the market joke that any building materials that cannot be found at the market can only be found in Lagos or China.

Some graduates who spoke with our Correspondents say though they were initially forced into the building material business due to the level of unemployment, the business has so far been worth their effort, as they have become more successful than some of their counterparts employed in the public sector.

Chinedu Obodo, a granites and stone supplier and graduate of English from Enugu state university of science and technology, said he has no regret in the line of business as he makes close to a hundred percent interest on most of his business deals.

Another graduate, Engr. Okey Nnamani said his long search for job after graduation landed him into tiles business, a move he has since not regretted. "I graduated from the University of Nigeria Nsukka with a second class lower degree in civil engineering since 2007 and searched for job for three years to no avail. I had to start coming to my elder brother's shop here in Dei Dei just to ease out boredom, but I saw myself liking the business ,especially when I noticed that there are equally other university graduates that are plying their trade here.

"I decided to learn how to sell tiles and I am telling you that it was a good decision that I took, because I can count myself as a successful business man today. By the grace of God I own three shops here, I own a house in Kubwa, and presently erecting one in my village."

The master-servant approach to learning a business is practiced at the market, a system which traders say ensures orderliness and maintain hierarchy amongst the apprentices in the market. The system is said to be well recognized at the market, that apprentices have form themselves into associations where members go to for support and assistance.

Speaking on the lord-servant relation, or what is also known as the ‘Oga and Boi-Boi’ relationship, a trader at the market who does not want his name on print said, though the system which is borrowed from the eastern part of the country has been in practice since inception of the market, some traders have now bastardised the system, that some parents are no longer willing to give out their wards to learn business in the market. He said the activities of shylock bosses have made some people go into the business without necessarily taking out time to learn the business from an ‘Oga’.

“We have situations in this market where a Boi-Boi committed seven years into learning the act of buying and selling building materials, and when the time was ripe for him to be settled, his Oga came up with all sorts of accusations, just so he won’t pay the boy the money required for him to start his own business.

“Some Ogas have become very greedy and heartless. Some of them will wait till the tail end of a boy's stewardship tenure before finding faults on the part of the boy, thereby extending the number of years agreed, or even out rightly denying the apprentice his settlement.”

The ‘Oga-Boi-Boi’ relationship is one in which an intending apprentice goes into an agreement with a trader to spend a number of years with him learning a trade. At the end of the agreed period, the apprentice is given huge amount of money to start up his own business in the line of the business he learnt from his boss.

The system allows the bosses the opportunity of having extra-hands to help run his business without necessarily paying for them immediately. This "Boi Boi and Oga" agreement is only respected when the young man must have meticulously served his master.

The apprentices are not devoid of blames themselves, as some of them employ schemes to rob their masters of their money, and also swindle customers, thereby bringing disrepute to their bosses’ business.

Words like Apriko, Awaa, Pinko, among several others have been used as coded words to connote stealing and other illegalities. According to our source, Apriko at the Dei-Dei market is slangs for inflating prices of commodity, or selling a master's goods without recording it on the sales book. The monies are then diverted into personal accounts of the sales boys without the knowledge of their masters. It is therefore not strange to find sales boys owning cars and houses at the expense of their bosses and customers.

Shop owners have also been accused of engaging in illicit businesses, where they connive with workers to buy off stolen goods. The practice which has become popular at the building material market is code named ‘Awaa’ to describe the act of buying goods from employees of big construction companies at ridiculous prices.

Most shop owners, according to our source, live for the days they can make successful Awaa deals, as they say millions of naira can be made with a single deal successfully carried out. Though some of such deals have landed some shop owners in police nets, they act is still very much in practice, and said to be growing strong with the collaboration from some top staff of the construction companies.

With so much competition in the market and the quest to impress others, some shop owners have also been accused of involving in all sorts of fetish acts just to enhance their sales. From the bizarre, to the horrendous, shop owners at the market, our correspondent gathered, have been caught carrying out all sorts of rituals, some of which includes using their sales boys for money ritual, and even eating their own excreta just to make sales.

It is however not all gloom at the market, as traders are also involved in a lot of spiritual activities. Thursdays for instance, are dedicated to prayers, when all shops are compulsorily closed for two hours to allow all traders and their apprentices’ commune with God. Businesses are also stopped every 12noon in supplication to God and serve as a reminder to all that they are answerable to a Supreme Being.

Despite the numerous schemes and shady businesses said to be carried out at the Dei-Dei building material market, patrons say they are endeared to the market because it represents the one-stop-shop where one can get all that is required in building a house.



pIX: Stock pic.














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