Thirty-year-old tigernut trader, who lacks formal education but dresses in suit to ply his trade, speaks to Adelani Adepegba
A dark suit, a white shirt, teamed with a blue tie, cut the image of a banker. This is how Isa Ahmadu, 30, dresses from Monday through Thursday.
But he is no banker. His office is the Garki market, Abuja, where he resumes everyday pushing his wheelbarrow brimming with tigernuts.
Even if you don’t want to eat the highly nutritious plant food which are small, round tubers called aya in Hausa, the smartly dressed young man pushing the wheelbarrow would attract you.
Ahmadu looks educated but he can’t speak the English language. According to him, he was born and bred in Kebbi State, northern Nigeria. With the help of an interpreter, he spoke to our correspondent.
Ahmadu is a father of five children and he has been sellingaya for about 13 years. The petty trade kicked off in Kebbi, his home state.
“I was introduced to the business by a friend who buys the fruit from Niger Republic and supplies to sellers in Lagos, Kaduna and Abuja. Then, I used to buy tigernuts on credit from him then I would pay after selling,” Ahmadu said.
Despite building a house from the proceeds of the business, he didn’t relent on his oars as he went in search of the Golden Fleece in Abuja 13 years ago. On arrival at the Federal Capital city, the father of five realised there was a handful of traders selling the nuts which are rich in minerals such as phosphorous, potassium and vitamins E and C.
Therefore, he devised his sales strategy. He said, “Instead of looking shabby, I knew I would attract customers and earn their respect by the way I dress. My friend, Ayuba, helped with formal clothes and I started dressing like an ‘office’ worker. My mode of dressing is to attract customers and whenever people see how well dressed I am, they respect me and they don’t look down on me because I sell tigernut. Some even patronise me even when they have no plan to do so.”
Ahmadu’s friend, George Ayuba, also known as Shalar, knew the ‘corporate’ tigernut trader when he (Ahmadu) came to Abuja. Describing him as, “a friendly and hard-working man, who does not joke with his business or appearance,’ Ayuba said, “I knew Ahmadu about eight years ago. Then, he was selling tigernuts in a small tray and he seemed to be very neat. I encouraged him to appear neater in order to make people patronise him.
“He used to come to a canteen called Wonderland at Area 8, Abuja and I gave him clothes for him to look ‘corporate,’ and attract more customers. We call him ‘corporate’ tigernut seller.”
Ayuba, who works at the Ministry of Agriculture, Abuja, would always remember an incident where the tigernut trader was mistaken for a car owner simply by the way he was dressed.
He said, “There was a time someone parked a car by the canteen where we normally eat. At a point, someone thought it was Ahmadu who owned the car because he saw him in a suit and came to ask him to re-park his car! I told the person that Ahmadu was not the owner of the car, that he was just a tigernut seller. The man was impressed with the way he was dressed that he bought tiger nuts worth N1,000 from him.”
Ahmadu added that someone once gave him N5,000 in appreciation of his good dress sense.
“I remember someone gave me N5,000 when he saw how I was dressed. A number of times, some people also pay me compliments. I would have loved to work in an office but since this is my office, I will continue to dress like this,” he says.
He also has a dress code for the week: “I wear suit on a shirt with a tie or just simply wear a shirt and tie from Monday through Thursday but I am dressed in native attire on Friday. The native attire can be with a cap or without depending on what I wear.”
The Kebbi-born trader told our correspondent that he believes God has destined him to be who he is today. With no regrets in his tone, he said the only dream he nurses currently is ensuring that his five children are empowered with good formal education.
“God has destined me to be what I am today. I have no regrets but I pray and dream that my children get good education. Already, two of them are in the primary school, while I am struggling to raise money to educate others. I want my children to have university education and become professionals in various fields,” he says.
Soliciting support from philanthropists, he says, “I need the assistance of the public to give university education to my children so that they can become successful professionals in future.”
Ayuba said he has to assist his friend. He said he intends to give him some money to help with his children’s education.
According to him, he also plans to take things further by rebranding Ahmadu’s wheelbarrow business to make it unique.
Ayuba said, “I plan to assist him with some money so he can send all his children to school. We are thinking of installing a signboard on his wheelbarrow with a catchy inscription that will attract people to patronise him more.
“We are also thinking of branding some polythene bags with his name which he can use to serve the tigernuts to customers.”
The public servant explained the rationale behind his moral and financial support for Ahmadu, saying he loves helping others.
“I’m thinking of giving him some suits and ties next week to help him further. I have passion to encourage people. I believe in encouraging people for them to believe in themselves and in what they do,” he stated.
Will Ahmadu dump his suit and ties for any other business?
“No, I love looking like this and no business can stop me from looking like this,” he said smiling.