Eketh Okon came to Abuja, North-central Nigeria after his mandatory National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) in 2015 with high hopes. He is from Orlu Local Government Area (LGA) of Imo State, Southeast Nigeria and he graduated from University of Jos in 2014 where he studied Political Science.
Okon believed he could secure a well paying job considering the proliferation of ministries and agencies at Nigeria’s capital.
But things did not go according to plan. The Jobs he sought are not that easy to get in Abuja, he soon learned.
After carrying a file from one government building to the next and submitting his curriculum vitae everywhere he could, Okon decided he had had enough. “I saw people getting jobs based on recommendation,” Okon told HumAngle.
An entrepreneur is born
As reality set in for Okon after a few months, so did the adrenaline he needed when he made up his mind to start a business. Okon found a strategic spot and decided to operate a popcorn spot.
This location is at the entrance to a car wash area in Lugbe, a settlement along Airport Road. Today, Okon is popularly known as ‘Popcorn man’ by secondary school students where he runs his business.
He spends between nine and 11 hours daily at his business spot. He resumes work around 9:00 a.m. and does not close until about 10:00 p.m., except for Saturdays and Sundays.
“You can’t just fold your hands and carry files around the city of Abuja looking for a job forever,” he said. “You have to get yourself something to do to keep the body and soul together. That was how I ventured into doing this business.”
Okon continued: “I had always known that with or without the white collar job, I would make a life for myself. So during holidays or my free time, I went to a friend’s popcorn shop to assist her. That was the training that laid the foundation for my popcorn business.”
Although Okon has not given up on securing a white collar job, he pointed out that he is not desperate like some Nigerians are.
“I can’t leave my popcorn business for a salary job except, of course, if it is a ‘mouth watering’ offer from the government. This is my own private salaried job and I love it so much,” he said, adding that he has free time to take care of his son and spend time with him, especially during the weekends.
“I will take care of him till his mum comes back home around 2:00 a.m. when I come to the stand for business,” Okon said.
Okon’s business was thriving when COVID-19 hit the country in 2020. He was making between N12,000 to N18,000 per day. But with the pandemic, this dropped to about N8,000 or less daily.
“One major setback for me has been the consistent hike in the cost of production, which forced me to reduce the quantity of my popcorn without having to compromise the quality,” he said.
Before the pandemic, Okon had planned to expand his business by opening a shop at Galadimawa roundabout but everything had to be suspended. Then there was the demolition in the area.
Another setback he suffered was letting go of a boy he trained when the intern took the excuse to write the JAMB examination in 2019. The intern never returned and the stand he took care of packed up. “That took a toll on my business,” Okon said.
Okon had not just saved himself the stress of roaming the streets of Abuja in search of a white collar job by empowering himself, he has also done the same for others.
Mr Olawale Adedayo, in his forties, lost his job at the height of the pandemic but ventured into the popcorn business and is currently able to feed his family through the help of Okon.
“He was my customer. I noticed he wasn’t as joyous as he used to be and I asked what was wrong. Realising he’d lost his job, I offered to teach him my business for a small amount,” Okon explained.
There are others Okon has supported, like a woman he trained at Zone 7 area in Lugbe and a student at Federal Polytechnic Bida, Niger State. “Today he is doing well and has been able to consistently meet his educational needs.”
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