MEET NGOZI, BAUCHI'S CELEBRATED FEMALE CARPENTER
Mrs. Ngozi Aniobi is a celebrated female carpenter in Bauchi. Her works elicit public interest because of the high quality of furniture she produces. She is also a source of inspiration to many. The hardworking widow is the only known female carpenter in Bauchi today.
When you see her at her workshop along Bakin Kura Street, you can't miss the dexterity and uncanny passion in her. She saws, drills, chisels and polishes pieces of furniture with amazing drive.
Interestingly, Ngozi's four children have shown interest in furniture making. The children usually assist their mother whenever they are on holidays from school.
Four 11 years, Enugu State-born Mrs. Aniobi has sustained the furniture business started by her husband in 1980 to an enviable success.
'The secret is hard work and God,' she tells Daily Sun. 'Even sand paper, the commonest work in furniture, I must supervise to make sure it is okay or up to my taste.'
The managing director and chief executive officer of Liberty Furniture says her best times are when she is in the workshop working.
'It was not easy at the beginning, but with God, all things are possible,' she says. Only recently, the National Youth Organisation recognised her efforts by awarding her outfit the Best Furniture Company in the state.
'I was at the shop when the coordinator came to inform me of the award,' she tells our correspondent. 'I am very happy about it and I pray that such encouragement will make us work harder and open doors for the government to know we are doing a good job,' she said.
Yet for the woman, it has not always been a bed of roses. By the time her husband died in March 2000, Ngozi was still a novice in the art of furniture making. Her world stood still as she pondered what the future held for her and the four children he left behind.
'It was a very sad experience,' she tells Daily Sun at her residence in Gwallameji in the Bauchi state capital.
'He felt sick and was taken to the hospital. He was operated upon, but died a week after the operation. He had appendicitis and the doctors did not discover on time.'
To be a widow with four little children isn't what any woman would bargain for, and Ngozi did not see it coming.
'My last child, Miracle, who is now going to JSS III, was just about a year old when he died,' she says.
After overcoming the shock of her husband's death, Mrs. Aniobi was faced with some tough realities. She had just a little knowledge of the business. When her husband was alive, Ngozi was a critic of his works.
'He knew I loved to see beautiful furniture and when he realised that, he always sought my opinion on his works.
'Before my husband died, I was not actively involved in it. But after his death something inside me told me that I could do it. Also, I don't like begging and I didn't want my children to stop schooling because of money.
'It was not easy when I started. I had a lot of challenges from the workers. Most of them were not faithful. I will give them money to buy materials but they would abandon the job. They would go and collect another work from another person.
'As time went by, I started to do things myself. It was only one of the workers that was faithful to me.
'Sometimes, I told them that a particular job was urgent, but they would end up disappointing the client. Most of them were not motivated enough and were impatient. They believed that they were only working for me and I was the one making the profit.
'One of them, an elderly man in the business, even told me point blank that he could not work under a woman. He used to challenge me and cause problems for me a lot.
'They even told me that I could not survive in the business for more than six months because it was not a job meant for a woman. But I was not discouraged. Rather, I continued to work and I taught my first son Emmanuel when I discovered that he had strong interest in it.
'Today, to God be the glory. He can do any kind of furniture from upholstery, bed making and grills. Whatever it takes to produce nice furniture, my son has learnt it.
'Since my husband died about 11 years ago, there was never a time that I closed the business. I discovered that life is not easy because somebody has to pass through challenges.'
Soon, Mrs. Aniobi was able to surmount the challenges. She quickly wormed her way into the hearts of those who patronised her.
'I was not bothered by the poor attitude of the workers. The ones I felt I could do, I started doing it. I took time to teach myself, studying the antics, researching, and making improvements here and there.
'Gradually, I started doing it myself and today, it is hard for somebody to polish furniture up to my taste. I prefer to do it myself. I will always want to do it myself.
'Many will come and say madam, how did you find yourself in this? It really attracted customers to me and I try not to disappoint them.'
Mrs. Aniobi, a deaconess at the Living Faith Church, also known as Winners Chapel in Bauchi, nearly had a brush with a client on account of the lackadaisical attitude of some of her workers.
She recalls: 'One day, a woman brought her work and I had told the boys what to do. I left for the church because I was attending a bible programme which usually started from seven in the morning and ended at three in the afternoon.
'I had given them instruction on what to do but they did not do it. And when the woman came, it brought problems between me and her. Later, the problem was resolved.'
Mrs. Aniobi, with an experience of over a decade in the business, says she's confident that the type of furniture being produced in the country can compete favourably with anyone from abroad. 'My appeal to the government, particular in Bauchi State, is that those of us in the business should be patronised more by the government because we can produce very good furniture that lasts.
'In Bauchi, I thank God that the SUBEB has been patronising my services. But I want to appeal for greater patronage by the government so that we will grow bigger.
'There are machines that we need to boost our production, but because they are very expensive, many of us cannot afford them.
'If we can get these machines, we will do better jobs than those being imported which are normally expensive.'