Abia State-born Festus Ukariwo, 51 and father of six, is gradually becoming a celebrity in Kuje, Abuja, frying akara alongside his wife, Ifeoma. The couple shared their experiences with AGBO-PAUL AUGUSTINE on how the trade pulled them out of poverty.
While Ifeoma, 37, prepares the children for school in the early hours of every workday, Festus on the other hand is washing the already soaked beans to be milled in the wee hours as customers will start to flood their Funtaj road sales point from 7am.
Workers heading to work and parents taking their wards to schools have made it a duty call to stop by the makeshift tent where Festus Ukariwo, 51, and his wife jointly fry beans cake (popularly known as akara).
The couple hail from Ohafia in Abia State and have 6 children with the youngest just a few months old. While frying Akara in Kuje in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) just like everywhere in Nigeria is a common trade among women, the determination shown by Festus has caught the attention of not a few admirers in Kuje.
Also the fact that Ukariwo is from the Eastern part of Nigeria and Abia State in particular, many people in Kuje naturally expect a different business from Ukariwo. The father of six, has however, decided to pitch his tent where he has the greatest strength.
LEADERSHIP Weekend visited the family of eight at their Kuje point of sales and first to speak was Ifeoma as Festus was away to grind the beans. The children were already dressed up for school with their fees and writing materials as well as general upkeeps are funded by the proceeds from Akara sales.
Sharing her story, Ifeoma said her husband was an Okada commercial rider in Kubwa, FCT and was always involved in accidents before moving to Kuje.
“When our church building was demolished in Kubwa, we decided to move to Kuje in 2013 along with our church. In Kuje my husband decided to leave Okada business and while he was thinking of what to do, one day he now asked me ‘why don’t I join you in the akara business?
“Initially, I declined the idea, I told him I prefer the Okada riding than frying akara but he refused that he was tired of the risk involved in commercial transportation. After series of quarrels, my husband told me that I should close my ears to gossips and concentrate on the family and the business.
“And since he joined me in frying Akara, the business has improved tremendously as my husband is multitalented and has a way of charming people with his customer service skills. More and more people continue to patronise us,” Ifeoma said.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP Weekend, Festus said he grew up in Cameroon and lived a mixed life and by the time he was done he decided to move to Abia State in search of a wife.
“I got married to Ifeoma in 2001 with the hope that things will improve for me but it never happened and it got me worried. At a point I wanted to return her back to her parents but sheer determination in her changed my mind.
“When we moved to Kubwa I decided to go into commercial motorcycling since I couldn’t secure a paid job and my wife was frying akara to support me because things were really difficult for us. We were poor, but I was unwilling to go outside my faith to make money,” Ukariwo said.
Narrating further he said after they suffered demolition in Kubwa, they had to move along with their church to Kuje which has been of great assistance to them.
According to Ukariwo, the decision to form alliance with his wife was borne out of his resolution not to ride Okada again and to help turnaround the business because he saw fortune in it.
“At first when I joined my wife in frying akara, many people mocked me and called me names but amazingly today I now give some of them money, bread and akara for free.
“Whether people talk or not food must be eaten in the house and remember I have six children who must eat and go to school and it all comes down to having money and that is why I went into akara business with my wife,” he said.
When Ukariwo’s wife went on maternity a few months ago, he was fully in charge frying akara in the morning and evening couple with getting the five children ready for school in the morning and picking them after classes. “The fact that I didn’t get conventional education will not be a barrier for my children; I will make sure they get the best I can afford for now.”
The couple further told LEADERSHIP Weekend that they make a turnover of about N5, 000 daily with a profit of about N2, 000 giving them a monthly net income of over N50, 000. “Frying Akara is not a man’s job but it is better than not doing anything at all,” Ukariwo said.”
While he has vowed not to go into crime to make money, Ukariwo’s desire is to get the necessary funds to expand the business to a full eatery while he opens another trade for himself to cater for his children’s education.
The multitalented Abia State indigene is said to be also good in carpentry, tailoring and other artisan works but lacks the necessary funds to harness in his potential in the field.
A few customers who spoke to LEADERSHIP Weekend praised the courage in Ukariwo in helping to turn around the fortune of his wife’s akara business. However, some called for birth control to enable him concentrate on the upbringing of the six children who have to be fed, clothed and educated.