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LogoDaily Independent Online.         * Friday, January 23, 2004.

Onawoba:  Legal practitioner to yam flour seller

BY Dele Alao

Business Reporter, Lagos


Her small stature and smartness tells her determination, strength and courage to succeed in life.

Today, Mrs. Gbonjubola Awojuyigbe Onawoba is the Managing Director of Wandy Foods, a fast growing foodstuffs enterprise located in Maryland, Ikeja, Lagos where she produces Wandy Honey, Wandy Chilli pepper, Wandy ground rice, Wandy plantain flour, Wandy beans  and other items on the label of Wandy Foods. From there,these products find their way into Supermarkets and other sales outlets in the State.  Mrs. Gbonjubola Awojuyigbe Onawoba, an indigene   of Ikere -Ekiti, in her late 30s, did not study Food Science Technology or other related disciplines in food processing. A peep in to her bio-data reveals the hardworking mother of a son as once a student of Federal Government College, Ilorin and a graduate of the University of Ibadan with a degree in Law and a professional certificate from the Nigerian Law School.

After graduating with a law degree, I went to the Nigerian Law School and  did my mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme in a bank.  I was retained. I worked with the bank till 1992 when I started this my own business. I am now seriously in food processing.

Born to parents who were both teachers, Onawoba never for once in her life dreamt of becoming a teacher. She said:”No, not at all. Not that I do not like those who live by the chalk,but my interest in the profession is not just there.”

She continued: “I am from a family of teachers. My mother was a teacher in the Federal Government College and she retired recently as the Principal of  Federal Government College, Akure.  My Father was an army officer. But he was in the Education Corp of the Nigerian Army and one thing is this, I just did not like to become a teacher. I just didn’t like it.     

While she worked in a bank for five years as a receptionist and responsible for  customer services and later as Cashier and in research and marketing services, Onawoba said she  only  practised Law as a profession for only one month.  I read Law but I could only practice in a Chamber for a month. I just knew I wasn’t ready to practice the law profession, she  stated.

Her journey to food processing and sale could be attributed to the divine will of God.

Onawoba, a member of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), disclosed that whilst working with the bank,she had a revelation that she had stopped work to sell yam flour “Elubo”. 

Said she: “ I had this revelation that I was selling “Elubo” Yam flour in the market and I told a friend of mine who is now in USA about the revelation. This friend of mine made me to start doing what I am doing today. She really encouraged me to start the business”

Continuing, she said: “One day in 1993, she just came and picked me from my office and said we should go to PAYLESS, which was still existing at that time and there, she showed me how one can package some foodstuffs and said, why can’t you do this? And I told her that I didn’t have the aptitude to do it. She then said ‘Okay we would do it together. But I later found out that I was the only one running round incorporating the company and doing everything. I now went to her and said “but you told me that we would do it together? She just replied, “look, I just wanted you to start this business, I am not interested. I just really wanted to ginger you up. I know you are a hardworking person. You know, I have already committed myself. I have  got something on my hand.” I now decided to keep on doing the business,  though I was still working at the bank.

It was when a crisis hit her bank that Onawoba decided to fully yield to the divine direction. “ It was later when the bank had a problem that I opted out and started fully the business, “she stated,

On how her parents reacted to her decision when they had really wanted her to continue her job in the bank or at least, switch over to a another job with a better offer, She said:  “My late father initially  did not see any sense in my decision to quit a bank job to sell yam flour, but he was not hard on me as my mother did. My mother thought that something had gone wrong with me, she started asking me if I had seen anybody like that in the family who is learned as I do only  to keep the certificate and  sell “Elubo”. In Short, she was really angry with my decision. I could remember she called me aside one day and asked me if I didn’t have confidence again in myself”

With about N5,000.00, Onawoba started Wandy Food , she had no fewer than seven persons working with her and her annual turn over shot to not less than seven digits in Naira. But this is not without some hiccups.  She explained: “There was the  problem of getting workers to work with. Most of our youths today do not want hard work. They think as money comes in every month, you should increase their salary. They don’t even want to know whether you are making profits or not.

The second problem is that, the Nigerian environment needs to be improved upon to be more conducive for people like us, the small and medium scale enterprises. You won’t believe that though I  have paid N50,000.00 to NITEL,to date, I have not yet got the line. She explained  the trauma she had to go through before  the National Electric Power Authority, (NEPA) could secure her a three- phase meter  to operate her machines even after  payment of about N46,500.00.

Onawoba said it was difficult differentiating between her business and her private life. But a book she read late last year changed that attitude.

She said: “Before, I took my business as my life.  There was a book I read sometime late last year. Through that book, I just found out that, my business should exist on its own while I exist on my own”

And for those who may think that Onawoba has any regret for shunning the wig and the sweet aroma of new notes in the bank, she said: “I have no regret whatsoever.

“I don’t have any regret whatsoever. I am happy I read Law because when I meet people, when I talk to people one-on-one, I tell them what I do and what I read and gain some respect from them. The only thing I used to tell people is that I wish I had discovered the vision God had for me on time. I am happy I worked in a bank. It broadened my scope. I could see that God made me to go through all that I went through to  prepare me for the future.  There is no where I go to today that I don’t attract attention,despite the fact that I am a yam flour seller.   I do not  attract disdain simply because I sell yam powder, particularly when they discover that I read Law. So I don’t have any regret whatsoever” Onawoba, who described herself as an avid reader of books on marketing, leadership and business, says her philosophy of life is that nothing is impossible.

“If you can dream it, if you can see it,you can work hard to achieve it. I don’t believe anything is impossible or that something is too difficult. If you can pray, if you can work hard, then nothing is impossible”.

Onawoba, a member of the National Association of Small Scale Industrialists, NASSI, urged the government to stop paying lip service to the sub-sector and assist the sector with funds. She lamented that many of her colleagues in the association have gone back to paid employment because of lack of financial assistance and unfavourable economic climate.

However she advised Nigerians who are unemployed to take advantage of many untapped business opportunities in the country. “I see opportunities everyday. And you don’t need millions of naira or some thousands of Naira before you take advantage of these business opportunities. I just want to encourage women to sit down and think about what they can do best and start doing it,” she said.   




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