He studied Economics because his sister said it was a good course, studied for MBA as advised by his parents, so as to end up in an exquisite office where he would earn a six-figure salary. But what he truly wanted was to be a motor mechanic.
Somewhere in Nigeria’s commercial nerve, Lagos, 30-year-old Taiwo Abiri is living his dream of making money by getting his hands dirty. For years he watched Youtube videos on car repairs and tried his hands a couple of times on things after learning on Youtube. In fact, Taiwo’s first engine oil change for a car was done following steps he had learnt on Youtube. To him, the video streaming platform played a critical role in shaping his dream for the future. Years of watching such videos and reading a lot of books about how automobiles work had piqued his interest in car repairs and he never went for the MBA his parents wanted for him. Two of his friends studied with him ahead of their application and they both did well; one went to France, the other to the United States but Taiwo chose to stay back in Nigeria and learn how to repair cars. His friends are doing well now, but Taiwo is not doing badly either; last year he made a revenue of N25 million ($126,000) at his makeshift shop. He moved to a bigger place towards the end of last year and he said he was just getting started. “I haven’t even done up to half of what I have in my business plan,” Taiwo told me.
As we sat to discuss at his container office, he asked again for The Nerve Africa’s website address, punching in the alphabets one after the other on his old unbranded laptop that looked perfect for a mechanic. His internet was messing up and he gave up for a while, apologizing for interrupting at intervals to courteously bark out orders at apprentices working on cars at his garage.
“I wanted to go to a technical school in the U.S. to learn about car repairs but I couldn’t because my parents were not supportive. I did not want to go for my NYSC. The school had already taken me but the money was a lot. I couldn’t pay. They just wanted me to do an MBA. My Dad said being a mechanic was bad of a university graduate,” Taiwo Abiri recounted.
With the much needed parental support not coming, financing was going to be a big challenge. Taiwo knew he had to find a way to fund his way through his automobile repairs training and so he got a job at a real estate firm after the one-year compulsory service to the nation under the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). He had just one thing in his mind; work for a year and save enough to learn how to repair cars and start his own car repair business.
As he narrated his experience at the real estate firm, a man with middle eastern origin walked in and presented an invoice to Taiwo. “They supply us lubricants,” he told me as the man left the container office to supervise the offloading of the lubricants. We continued our discussion while he was away.
Abiri told me how he saved as much as he could throughout the year he spent at the real estate firm. He had completed a Project Management Training by the time he got the job as an Assistant Portfolio Manager. He resigned after spending 13 months there and enrolled for apprenticeship at a garage owned by some Lebanese men on the Lekki-Epe axis of Lagos, ensuring that no one at the garage knew he had a degree.
“I wanted them to treat me the way they treated everyone there,” he says, adding that he worked there without being paid for 20 months.
The man who I assumed was an Emirati had finished supervising the offloading of the lubricants and he was back to ensure payment was made.
“I will do a transfer,” Abiri told the Emirati, whose hands were interlocked as if he was talking to a boss he reveres. After the transfer was done, the Emirati remained standing, head bowed towards Taiwo Abiri as if he was trying to tell him a secret. “We also sell Volkswagen parts, Mercedez Benz…,” I could barely make out his words. But he seemed to have told Taiwo what he loved to hear as he gave him an approving glance.
While at the Lebanese-owned workshop, Taiwo’s educational background distinguished him as he understood things before others and was able to use some computerized tools others found hard to use. He started buying tools with his savings and donations from his brother who lives in the United States and now has a stake in Motomi, Taiwo’s auto-repair company.
Although he started his own car repair business with friends and families as clients, Motomi, Taiwo boasts of several corporate clients today. Motomi repairs cars for Century Energy, Four Points By Sheraton, Falcon Gas, AA Rescue, Structon Construction Company, Computer Warehouse Group, among others.
Taiwo showed the kind of enthusiasm I have never seen a mechanic shown as he discussed part of his future plans. “I can’t tell you all,” he said smiling. “But we will soon start our express service. Clients can invite us and expect us to get to them in record time to fix their vehicles; whether their cars broke up on the highway or the fault happened while they were at home.”
The Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria Economics graduate had a Business Development Officer on his team last year but she left at the end of the year. He said he was looking to hire a replacement as he expands his reach and hope to get more corporate clients on board. He also plans to start Motomi Express 24/7 to ensure clients are served round the clock.
At the moment, he works on 8 to 10 cars daily but hopes to increase this as his business grows.
Funding has been a major challenge for Abiri in his bid to scale up his business. “I even went to the Bank of Industry to see if I could get a loan but they told me that they only give loans to manufacturing companies and not to service companies,” he told me.
Taiwo hopes he gets investors that will help fund his big plans, one of which includes setting up a model technical school where graduates who would like to toe his path can perfectly fit into.