Chukwudi Okafor, who repairs and sells laptop computers and accessories at the Computer Village in Ikeja, Lagos, talks about the business, its challenges and opportunities, in this interview with INNOCENT ENETA
For how long have you been in this business?
Over eight years now; since I finished learning the trade.
Kindly relate your experience in the business so far.
It has been a good business, as God may have it, and it has been rewarding to me, in many ways I may not want to talk about here. But just know that our government is not helping matters in the area of electricity supply and empowerment. However, we thank God who has been keeping us and providing for us.
What is your vision for this business?
I am planning to move higher from where I am right now, and to find a way to get supplies from overseas. I would like to travel out and come back with goods to sell.
Why are you not looking at making the laptops here in Nigeria?
We can do it here in Nigeria, but we don’t have what it takes. The government is not ready for technology. They are claiming to have performed; yet there is nothing to show for it. We must think like the Chinese. In Nigeria, you can have business hubs, if the government will make things work.
What do you think about the Nigerian government and the citizens?
We must look inwards and research into different areas that will change our country. Investment banking in this country is for some people that are highly-placed in government and politicians who are not ready for anything else but politics.
What have you done towards getting connected to foreign businessmen?
I have been working on it and it has not worked out. I have put in a lot, and I am still trying. I will not give up on that because it is a very good part of my business, which cannot be overlooked. If I keep depending on other people, my business will be in trouble. So I am making every effort to import the laptops myself.
As a young entrepreneur and knowing the challenges in the industry, which has to do with technology, what percentage of your time do you put into your business?
I am putting a lot of my time into it. But one has to be hard working first, which is key to this business. You must be focused and diligent. This is a very good business, but government has done nothing to help us. Since you have been coming to this Computer Village, when last did see electricity here? We always spend money buying fuel to power generators, and it costs a lot.
As someone in the information and communications technology (ICT) industry, how deep is your knowledge of this business?
I gather a lot of knowledge through self-development in many ways, including reading about what I do.
How long were you trained before you started this trade?
Two years, because all you need is the basic knowledge. You learn more as you grow in the business.
Have you gone for any governmental or organisational training before?
No. That’s why I said that government is not doing enough in terms of empowerment. I don’t even know what to do about it. Many young entrepreneurs like me are not informed.
Can you say that your books are in order?
Can you present it before a financial services provider or government agency for support?
Like I said, the government knows what is good for the masses, but they would not do it. Promises have been made, but they were not kept. If the government can come up with good quality empowerment programmes for entrepreneurs in the ICT industry, that will be good. A lot of young entrepreneurs will grow.
Are you married?
Yes, I am married for five years now with two children.
What is your wife’s stand regarding your business?
My wife has been very supportive in many ways. She loves what I am doing and encourages me. She takes care of the children at home and sees to the running of the family. Right now, she is on national service.
How do you manage bad debts?
That’s one of the things we see in business, and you must know that there is nothing like bad or good customers. They are are all customers. Don’t forget, some are able to pay up while some are unable to do so. I know that one day they will come back to buy something and pay their debts. A lot of customers are having serious challenges, we must know.
We don’t manage bad debts because they are affecting us. Debts have made most of us to stop selling on credit. If you owe me and can’t feed your children or pay their school fees, you will find a way to take care of that first. I don’t see them as the problem, but the economy, which has put a lot of people out of work. The government is doing nothing about it and promises are not being kept in anyway.
What happens if a customer returns a laptop bought from you because it is faulty?
We have what is called customer relationship. I will fix it or change it. Otherwise, I will refund the customer. But it must be within the time of warranty for the customer to enjoy that. But if the warranty has elapsed, the customer will pay for the repairs.
How have you been able to manage competitors?
ICT is a very competitive market and there is nothing I can do about it. I look for little things others are not doing well and do them. Even as is a very competitive market, my rivals don’t interfere in my business and I don’t interfere in theirs. Everybody has their customers.
How do you cope with female clients?
I keep it professional. Business is business.
How have you been coping with Lagos State government officials?
It’s not easy. The Lagos State government is very hard on us. They collect all kinds of taxes and levies.
What if someone comes to you for mentorship?
My mentorship duration is between six months and two years.
What is the cost of renting a shop in Computer Village?
Very high, and the cost is affecting our business. This is in addition to what various government agencies take from us.
What is your advice to younger ones?
Computer business is very good. It is a very competitive market. Young entrepreneurs must work very hard. This business can take you anywhere in the world, you can do it from any part of the earth and I am advising the younger ones to key into it.