Working Lives: Ndi Anambra-The Car Parts Dealers of Lagos
We set out to talk to the Igbo spare parts dealers but discovered almost every one of them in the car parts clusters at Ladipo, Ijaye and Alagbado are from Anambra State. Another small discovery is that everyone has learnt the trader under an older brother or “uncle”. The average period of apprenticeship is 7 years after which the boss completely bears the cost of setting up the apprentice in business, paying for his shop as well as the stock. Delve in and discover more about the Working Lives of spare parts dealers and how the apprenticeship system works.
WLs: The Engineer’s Son Who Became Car Parts Apprentice After Father Died
“I started learning the trade under my uncle when my father died and I could not further my education. … God has blessed me immensely. I have been able to build four houses- two in the village and two here in Lagos. I also bought this complex where my shop is currently”.
Where are you from?
I am from Anambra State, Ekwusigo Local Government. But I was born in the North, in Maiduguri, Borno State to be precise. I lived with my parents in the North.
Which school did you attend and when did you graduate?
I attended Command Secondary School, Ichi. I finished but could not go further for financial reasons.
Tell me about your family?
My dad was a civil engineer in the 1960s and 1970s in Maiduguri. We left Maiduguri in the early 1980s and came back to my hometown in Anambra State. I continued my primary education and I completed secondary school. But my dad died, so I could not further. My mom was the only one taking care of 5 children. She told me to go and learn a trade so that my younger ones could also have an opportunity to go to school. I left for Lagos after that decision was made. My younger siblings are all graduates. I was sending money back home every month to the family from Lagos. I more or less became the bread winner. I am not a graduate like my younger siblings but they all respect me so much.
When did you get to Lagos?
I got to Lagos in 1989. I was staying with my uncle in Ojodu Berger. I was learning how to sell spare parts under him. I lived with him for about 6 years while also learning the trade.
How did you start selling spare parts on your own?
After 6 years of learning the trade under my uncle and serving him, he set me up. He paid for a shop for me and that was how I started on my own in 1996.
How much did it cost you to establish the business?
The Nigerian economy was still good then. I was able to start up with N100,000. My shop was in Akute before I moved down to Alagbado where I am now.
Masters have to set up their apprentices after training. Is it a good deal for the masters?
Yes, it is a good deal. The apprentices take care of the shop when you are not available. They attend to customers while also learning the trade in the process. Now, imagine if you have to pay them salaries for 6 or 8 years that they are working for you. Calculate the money and you will see that it is a good deal for the masters. It is a win-win situation. Also note that while these apprentices are still under me, I give them stipends. It is not like I do not give them any money at all. But it is still a good deal.
Does it not reduce the master’s capital?
In terms of capital reduction, I do not think giving an apprentice N1 million to establish after 7 years of serving you is a big deal. Some even serve you for more than 7 years. Really, there is also no fixed amount that bosses have to invest in setting up apprentices. It is up to each master. But that does not mean you should now give the apprentice something that is nothing to write home about.
How do you prepare for this investment?
The moment an apprentice starts under me, there is a plan for it. I set aside a particular amount of money monthly ahead of when they will be done learning the trade and I will then establish for them.
Does this investment limit the number of apprentice you can train?
Each boss has to know his limits. At the moment I have about 5 boys under me and I am definitely going to establish for the 5 of them. Yes, some masters default on agreement and refuse to set up their boys properly. But this was more in our days. I do not hear of cases like this again. These boys are now sharp, you must fulfill your promise. We are also now having signed agreements, depending on how you got the person to start working under you. It is not like those days when we were still learning and we did not know anything about an agreement. There is no fixed amount to invest in a graduating apprentice’s business. It all depends on the agreement each apprentice has with his boss.
Where do you live and how much is the rent?
After completing my training, I moved from my uncle’s house to a room in Berger. I was paying N3,000 per month. But before I got married, I rented a two-bedroom flat in Ogba. I was paying N300,000 yearly. But right now, I live in my own house. I bought the land at Alagbado in 2011 and I started building it in early 2013.
Do you import the spare parts from abroad?
I import parts from China and Japan. And I also buy from Trade Fair here in Lagos. We mostly buy from China because it is cheaper and then we can also buy on credit and pay later. Most of the Chinese know us and trust us so well to give us goods worth N10 million or more on credit. They know that the Nigeria market is always booming; we will surely come back and buy more. You can import if you have N3 million or N15 million. But you do not have to import to be in the business. I established for one of my boys in January 2020. I got him a shop and gave him N1 million to start with. He is doing quite well.
What type of spare parts do you sell?
I deal with Japanese spare parts. Any car from Japan. Honda, Toyota, Mistubishi, just name it.
What were you doing before you started selling spare parts?
Nothing. I started learning the trade under my uncle when my father died and I could not further my education. This is what I have been doing ever since then and God has blessed me immensely. I have been able to build four houses- two in the village and two here in Lagos. I also bought this complex where my shop is. The owner wanted to sell the complex and told us all to leave. The location is very good for my business. I did not want to lose customers, so I decided to buy the building. I paid N25 million for it in 2015.
How many hours do you work in a day?
I resume by 8 a.m. and close by 7 p.m.
What are your bests day like on the job?
Everything depends on the economy. For instance now, some people want to fix their cars but they do not have money, so they park the cars in their compounds so I cannot do business with them. But when the economy is good, people will have money and they will of course patronize me.
Have you had any shocking encounter with a customer before?
When I was still working under my uncle, I had a funny experience with some 419 guys. They wanted to spend fake naira notes at our shop. They did not know I have been in Lagos for a long time and I understood how things worked. Thankfully, they were nabbed and handed over to the police.
Who are your customers?
Apart from mechanics that come to patronize me, car owners themselves also come to buy parts. Many people prefer to come and buy the parts themselves and take it to their mechanic. You know how Nigeria is now, we do not trust each other.
How much do you make in a day?
Hahaha. I do not think I can disclose that.
How much do you spend in a day?
Sometimes I spend N2,000- N3,000 on myself in a day to buy recharge cards, on feeding for the day and also my transport fare back home when I do not bring my car to the shop.
What other things do you spend money on?
Paying for my children’s school fees but that is on hold now that school is not is session. I send N50,000 to my mother every month. I also spend about N20,000 having drinks with friends.
For how long have you been selling spare parts?
I started in 1995. That is about 20 years now.
Do you have savings and how much do you save in a month?
Yes. I save above N100,000 every month.
Of course, you are married?
Yes, I am happily married with four children.
Do you have plans to venture into something else and leave this business?
Yes of course. One has to diversify his business Nigeria. I have plans to invest in property and the livestock business.