Written by Bede NNAJI

The many sides to 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 host 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 tertiary certificates, 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 and beyond.

For those with higher qualifications, the market is some sort of leveler, a place where the MSc. degree does not necessarily give one an edge rather it is ones depth 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, good business acumen. 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 boasts of every component required for building construction, no 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 traders who are graduates in the market told our Correspondent that though they were initially forced into the building material business due to unemployment, the business has so far been worth the while as they have become more successful than some of their counterparts in paid employment.

Chinedu Obodo, who holds a Bachelor Degree in English from the Enugu State University of Science and Technology, and deals in granite and stones, said he has no regret in his choice of business as he makes close to hundred percent interests on most of his business deals.

Another graduate, Engr. Okey Nnamani, said his long search for job after graduation landed him in to the 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 businessman 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 the traders say ensures orderliness and maintains hierarchy amongst the apprentices in the market. The system is well recognized that apprentices have formed 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 gain experience in business.

He said the activities of shylock bosses have made some people go into the business without necessarily taking out time to garner the right experience and leverage 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 settle the boy by setting up a shop for him.

“Some ‘Ogas’ have become very greedy and heartless, they will wait till the tail end of a boy's stewardship before finding fault 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 some years with him, sometimes up to a period of ten years, and 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 boss’ 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 slang for inflating prices of commodity, or selling a master's goods without recording it on the sales book. The monies are then diverted into the personal account 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 is 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 custody, they act is still very much in practice.

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 include 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 is dedicated to prayers and 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 allegedly carried out at the 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 for building.

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