It was October 2014. Schneider Electric just carried out a restructuring and some workers had to be laid off. Olabode Johnson didn’t know his name was on the list. He was shocked when he was given the termination of employment letter. He cried. But he knew if he continued crying, it was not going to bring back his job. After all, he had always dreamed of having his own company.
“I had always known that when you work at a company, it’s either you are told to go or you go on your own will,” he said. “In my own case, I was asked to go.”
Initially, he thought of finding another job, but having worked at several engineering firms and gained experience, Johnson decided it was time to start his own engineering firm. But it wasn’t going to be easy.
He said, “I had worked at several engineering firms before and anywhere I worked, I always had it at the back of my mind that I could lose the job someday. So when it finally happened, I didn’t take it as a major blow to me, but I looked at it as a step forward in my life.
“First, I thought of my three children. I knew the situation was going to affect them, not their education, though. But some other things had to change. I had to sacrifice so many things and I knew they too would be affected.
“Now, we don’t go to places we used to go to before for vacation; we don’t eat the same type of food we used to eat. Losing something that is precious could be devastating, but if you stay too much crying or disturbed, you would not be able to forge ahead. It shouldn’t be the end of the world.
“When I got home that day, my wife was positive and she encouraged me. She has been a very supportive wife. She told me that as long as there was life, there was hope. We prayed together and I was lifted up in my spirit.”
Now the owner of an engineering firm at Ikeja, Lagos, Johnson said even though the road had been rough, he was not going to look back. He was not going to be an employee anymore.
He said, “Immediately I was shown the way out, I told myself that I wasn’t going back to paid employment. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be good if I could put all my experience to work? Wouldn’t it be good to have my own company and employees?’ These thoughts spurred me on to start my own firm in March 2015. However, I was initially scared. Changing from one phase to a new one was not easy.
“I wanted to look for another job, but I stopped. However, something came up which wanted to ruin my dream — after I had decided I was going to start my own firm, I got an offer from an engineering firm on Victoria Island. I went there, but I spent only three months there and left. So I started my own company.”
From being sacked to being an employer of four employees presently, Johnson told our correspondent that he knew the future was bright despite some challenges on his way.
He said, “I thank God for how things are right now, and I’m believing that He will take me to places. Now I have my own company, which is an electrical and mechanical engineering firm. It’s a registered company. We are a consulting/servicing company.
“But when I started, I didn’t have an office space, so I had to beg my brother to share his office space with him on Victoria Island, where he runs his own firm. Thank God things were good, some jobs came my way, so I got my own office at Ikeja few months later.
“In fact, last year was good for us, but right from the beginning of this year when the economic recession started, things have been quite difficult. But I trust God that things will be okay again. Now, I’ve handled jobs for some of my former employers and even the Lagos State Government.”
Johnson went on to highlight some of the challenges he had been facing since more than a year ago when he started his company.
He said, “Some of the challenges right now are tied to the economic recession. Sometimes we get jobs, sometimes we don’t. But I think it’s all part of life. Being a small entrepreneur, getting customers has also been a challenge.
“We have some clients on Victoria Island, we’ve written proposals, but they have yet to respond, all of them citing economic recession. I have four people working under me now, but I hope that in the nearest future, I’m going to have hundreds or thousands of employees by God’s grace.”
Asked if there was any piece of advice he could offer Nigerians who have also lost their jobs, especially during this period of economic recession, Johnson said, “They shouldn’t think it’s the end of the world for them. They should see it as a step forward in their lives.”
The middle-aged father of three also shared some of the qualities that have helped him so far in the business world that would-be entrepreneurs should imbibe in order to be successful.
He said, “The number one rule of business success is good attitude. Whatever they find themselves doing or wherever they find themselves again, they should do well. If your attitude is not good, you can’t set up a business and even if you do, it won’t last. It’s not going to work. It has paved ways for me.
“For instance, if I had done badly at the companies I once worked at, I wouldn’t be able to go back there again to ask them to be my clients. But I didn’t spoil my reputation there. I can walk into any of the offices of my former employers again and they will open the door for me.
“Another principle is that they should not be afraid to start small. They shouldn’t despise the day of small beginning. If you start big sometimes, you’re not going to have great stories to tell. Look at the big entrepreneurs in the world, most of them started small.
“Then they shouldn’t rely on anybody for help. If the help comes, fine, but if not, they should learn to move on. They should depend on God. They should also be straightforward. Integrity matters a lot in business. You get referrals a lot if you are found faithful.
“And when people refer clients to you, learn to appreciate them. Next time, they will refer many more to you. Meanwhile, learn to treat your clients equally, whether they are big or small. Also, if you don’t have the full knowledge of the business, seek for help. Learn from others. Hire those who can do it. Train yourself on the job. However, if anyone who loses their job still wants to search for another one, they should still try to think of what they can do on their own while the search is on. They should not be idle.”
In December 2009 when the defunct Intercontinental Bank sacked around 1,500 employees, Niyi Babawale, a former branch manager was affected. Immediately, he fell sick and was admitted to a hospital. His blood pressure was high. He could not admit it was a reality.
Until then, he was living a moderately rich lifestyle — vacations in the United States and the United Kingdom with his two daughters and wife, chauffeur-driven in exotic vehicles and a posh home in Victoria Garden City. In the twinkle of an eye, all was gone.
“I was devastated,” he said. “I actually borrowed to look good then. People thought I was rich because that was the way my employer wanted me to look. Banks want you to live a wealthy lifestyle even though you are not rich. So they provide an avenue for you to borrow.
“You must wear good Italian suits, well-polished leather shoes and speak good English. Your presentation matters a lot, but I was just living a fake lifestyle. I knew it, but I didn’t think it was going to come to an end like that.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough savings because whatever money I made, I used to service my loan. I had a car, I bought one for my wife and also one to carry my children to school. We had two drivers. But the banking tsunami came and swept me off.”
Not willing to continue dwelling in pain and regrets, Babawale started an Information Technology company two years after losing his job with the aid of a loan his wife helped him secure. Since then, it has been a smooth, steady recovery to the life he once lived.
He said, “We sold all the things we could sell. I sold my car and my wife sold her jewellery. I was able to raise some money and started an IT firm. I studied Computer Science at the University of Ibadan. I went into banking because I didn’t get a job on time in the IT sector. I spent close to 15 years or so in the industry before the banking sector reform which led to the collapse of Intercontinental Bank.
“But thank God that phase has gone and I’m in a new one. The company is located on Victoria Island and it’s doing well. We have ten employees for now, but over time, they will increase. Now I don’t worry about meeting any target of N2bn or N5bn again. I’m living my life, even though it’s not as buoyant as when I was a bank manager. But I thank God.
“It’s usually painful when you lose your job, when you have your source of income blocked. But that is not the end of the world. It’s the beginning of a new one. So I am happy I passed that phase of lamentation. Anyone who has lost their job should strive to pass that level also, though it’s not easy.”
Another person who lost his banking job but has since become an entrepreneur is Kola Oluyemi. It was in March 2013 when his employer told him to go as he failed to meet up with his target of millions of naira.
“It was painful. I felt like I should travel out of the country when it happened. But I decided that I was going to stay and survive in this country,” Oluyemi, who lives in Ibadan, told our correspondent on the phone.
He added, “After losing the job, I tried finding another one, but all my efforts were futile. Then I tried dabbling into some businesses, but I was swindled along the way and lost my money. I was downhearted. But I was not going to give up.
“Along the line, I met a friend who introduced me into poultry farming. Up till now, this is what I do. The profit therein is not that much for now, but at least I know I’m working for myself. I run my own show now. I don’t have to wake up early in the morning and get stuck in traffic anymore. I have peace of mind. I am surviving and I believe things are getting better.”
However, it was not an easy road to recovery as Oluyemi said the bank was not fair to him by sacking him.
“In the banking industry, oftentimes, the people who know the job are not the ones who get sacked. It’s all about politics. In fact, even a year after being sacked, they were still calling me to ask, ‘How did you do this, how did you handle that?’ I think it was not fair to sack the good people because of politics,” he said. But he has since passed this phase.
Talking about some of the challenges he has been experiencing, Oluyemi said, “There are many challenges. In poultry business, logistics is very bad. There are no accessible roads from the farm to the markets. Running the farm on diesel because of poor electricity supply makes one to incur high cost. There are some unfaithful workers to deal with.
“Water supply is not there, so every farmer needs to dig their own borehole. All these facilities are supposed to be provided by the government. We cannot access loans from banks because of the double-digit interest rate. Some countries help their farmers a lot. They provide their farmers all these amenities and they go to the extent of buying produce from farmers. Here, if you are stuck, you are stuck. Nobody comes to help you. It could be very discouraging sometimes.”
Sonia Adjarho also lost her job at a telecommunications firm in 2014 in Warri, Delta State, after working there for three years. But she was not going to let the situation weigh her down.
She said, “Immediately, I enrolled in a fashion school. I had always loved fashion. It involves creativity and I am a creative person. I am single and agile. I knew I had to do something else. By God’s grace, I am now a fashion entrepreneur and I’ve never looked back.
“I love what I’m doing right now and I find fulfilment in it. In fact, even though I am not earning up to half of what I used to earn while I was an employee, I will not accept their offer if they attempt to give me another one again.
“It’s not that easy being your own boss because you are on your own, but I am encouraged by the fact that this is the picture I’ve always painted for my life. Thinking of creative designs keeps me awake all day long.”
The birth of emergency entrepreneurs
In some cases, entrepreneurs are born as a result of a bad economic condition, such as unemployment or job loss.
In the country, unemployment rate is as high as 13 per cent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, which also said in its August 2016 report that about 1.5 million Nigerians lost their jobs in the past one year.
“Accordingly, out of a total youth labour force of 38.2 million (representing 48.7 per cent of the total labour force of 78.48 million), a total of 15.2 million of them were either unemployed or underemployed in Q1 2016, representing a youth unemployment rate of 42.2 per cent,” the report added.
This situation has further led to the birth of many emergency entrepreneurs in the country, according to findings.
Abisoye Odubona was spending his fifth year as a lawyer at a law firm in Lagos until 2015 when his boss served him a letter of termination of employment. Few months later, he started his own law firm.
“I thank God that it has not been bad ever since. Right now, I dictate my fees to my clients. A boss doesn’t hand down peanuts to me anymore. There are places I never went to as an employee, but in my short time of starting my own law firm, I’ve been there. The sky is not even the limit for me,” he said.
Losing one’s job is devastating for a moment, according to Mrs. Moyo Owolabi, a London-based psychologist.
“In fact, the devastation could last for a long time for some people. It disturbs the mind. But anyone in the situation should always remember that if there is life, there is still hope. Instead of sobbing all day long, they should get up and encourage themselves. That’s how they can move forward,” she said.
Meanwhile, for people starting their own businesses, a Lagos-based business developer, Mr. Michael Adesola, has some advice to offer.
He said, “They should learn the ropes of whatever business they want to go into to avoid getting their hands burnt in the process. Some just dabble into business without having proper orientation.
“They believe since they have the money — perhaps they had saved well while they were still on the job — they could just start any business right away. It is not so.
“Anyone starting a business should read well about that business, study the economic environment before launching out. Seek for advice from reputable sources.”