I want to start my story by saying that some people are just bad for business; they are the reason a lot of people who are in business go into all forms of fetish things.
I am not in support of fetish things, I have never got myself into them and never will Insh Allah but when I hear that some traders or some people are into fetish things because of their business, I kind of understand to an extent but overall, God is the One in charge of all things.
I began trading at Apongnon many years ago. I was selling bags of rice and sugar and I sold only to bulk buyers, you know, wholesale. I had recently retired from my job as a government worker and so I poured in all my gratuity into this business. I also had three children; all were in the university at that time; so you get the sense I am trying to convey here?
Ok, now, people often think that because you sell in bulk, your money necessarily is plenty, not exactly. See, on each bag of rice or sugar, my profit could only be just N300; by the time I deduct money from the alabaru, I mean the people who will help me offload from the trailer and stack the bags on my pallet for sale or help me unload into the shop at the end of every trading day, I would also pay for security of the goods, that one is every month, so my profit is diminished and this is same for all of us selling sugar and rice at Apongbon.
No kidding, a whole bag could go as high as N18k and still your gain is less than N500. However, we also operate a system of credit facility with our suppliers and this helps us make more profit.
This is how it works; if I pay for half a trailer load of, say, sugar for instance, from the supplier, I would get a full trailer load of goods because the supplier would give me the other half on credit. When I sell, I would pay it back to my supplier and take the profit.
With this credit scheme, I could make as much as N800 to N1000 per bag! Now that’s business and this is only when the trade is attractive because the profit margin is huge when multiplied by hundreds of bags…yes, you are looking good.
If, however, I do not pay back the credit by the next installment, the supplier would not sell to me on credit again, instead, they would only give me what I paid for.
So you understand that I must, of necessity, always pay back what I owe otherwise, I would just be making peanuts and eventually go bankrupt because soon, I should eat into my capital and the money would all be gone and that is exactly what happened to me and I will tell you how.
Now, I have regular customers like all traders; I had customers who came for sugar as far as from Benin, they buy bulk, like 10 bags, 15 etc… I also had customers from Abeokuta, Sagamu, Ibadan who also buy in bulk, 20 bags, 10 bags…weekly or they could sometimes come twice a month. Of course you get the occasional one bag buyer or five bags buyer per week or per day, depends.
Now amongst several of us selling, I was aware traders do all kinds of things to attract customers. I have never been one to go into such; I believe in God and as a Muslim, I believe that what is mine will be mine, Allah has the final say. I never went anywhere to ‘check’ my buyer or ‘check’ how the market would be.
One of my regular customers was this woman who came from Sagamu; she buys between 10 to 15 bags of sugar every month ; she could come twice a month or thrice. And we traders also give credit to some of our regular customers as well; if a customer buys 10 bags, we could give 5 or less on credit pending when next the customer comes to buy again. So, it was with this woman and I for months; then one day, she bought 20 bags; 15 bags of sugar and 5 bags of rice; I think she sells ogogoro, you know sugar is used for ogogoro, oh you don’t? Ok, now you know.
She paid just for 5bags, it was unusual but she had become a regular customer. At her next visit; she paid for just five again and took 20 bags with promises of paying back everything when she returned for the next business. I agreed because at that time too, business had become dull; we traders generally agreed at the market that that period was a bad time for the economy. I too had fallen short with my suppliers so I wasn’t even getting the whole trailer load like I used to but you know what we say in business? Better small than nothing.
Then the weeks grew to several months and I didn’t see this woman…
I called her several times, at first worried that she might have fallen sick or something bad had happened to her; she would pick my calls and tell me she would visit the market soon.
Two months, three months and I had some thirty bags unpaid for, this was a big dent to my business. There were also a few others who hadn’t paid, at least these others showed up, they pleaded they would pay and began to pay little by little but this my Sagamu customer didn’t even show up and didn’t pay anything for months.
Of course I began to lament, began to tell my fellow traders what the woman had done to me; that was when they told me she was in the habit of duping people, that I shouldn’t expect her to pay me and should cut my losses!
Nobody warned me when they saw her parading around my shop all these while but this was a market where we were all vying for the same customers, what I thought was a blessing was coming to tear at me.
After waiting a few more days, I decided I was going to Sagamu to confront her. The day I took that decision, I had a nasty dream. The woman came to me in my dream wearing bante, you know these skirts worn by babalawos in Nollywood films; the skirt was laced with cowries all over. The woman came bare breasted and carrying a horn with smoke coming off it. The scene was like at the market place, you know the way dreams mess with you but I had a sense I was in front of my shop when I saw her from afar, approaching me. She stopped in front of my shop and tapped her horns three times on my goods stacked up on the pallet and looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘My customer, I like you, that is why I will spare you, do not come looking for that money because it is gone; I have chosen not to do you anything bad because I truly like you, so in your own interest, stop calling for that money!’
That money was more than half a million; this was over 10years ago, it was a lot of money then.
I woke up!
That day, I couldn’t go to my shop; I was feverish; I went two days after; my fellow traders told me the woman came to the market that day and told them to tell me to get well soon even though none had mentioned that I was ill. They assumed she had called me and I told her I was ill.
After a few weeks, my business just went down; I had to sell off the rest of what I had in that shop and I relocated to another market entirely, far from my former place.
I thank God for sparing my life; I may not have that thriving business I worked so hard for, but I still have my life. As for the customer from Sagamu, I have no idea what happened to her and really do not care, God is the judge!
(Series written and edited by Peju Akande and based on true stories)