Favour Otuomasirichi Ndukwe is a 22-year-old, Port Harcourt-based third-year student of Food Science and Technology of the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State. She is active on social media where she writes about herself and other things that inspire her followers. She dropped out of the university a year ago because of financial challenges and decided go into food business, the type popularly called ‘mama put’, to cater for herself and her family. In this interview by KINGSLEY ALUMONA, she speaks about her life, education and how a Facebook post changed her narrative.
YOU dropped out of the university to start a food — ‘mama put’ — business in Port Harcourt. How did your family and friends feel about this? And, how did they assist you in the business?
First of all, I was in third-year when I dropped out. In fact, my classmates will be graduating this December.
As regards how my family and friends felt about me going into the food business, a lot of them were not happy. It did not go down well with most of them. Some talked down on me. Some said I was too beautiful, too smart and too intelligent for this kind of business. Not everybody was okay with it.
However, the mixed feelings showed that I was doing something worthy of their notice. On the other hand, some encouraged me by patronising my business.
Which course were you studying and why did you chose to study the course?
I am a third-year student of Food Science and Technology (FST). I decided to study the course because I enjoy cooking. I have a passion for the culinary business and love watching what people eat.
I opted for FST thinking it was all about food and health — because of my passion for the food industry. It was when I got into the university that I learnt that there is a course called Nutrition and Dietetics. I was young and not properly advised while choosing FST.
How long have you been doing the business, and what challenges do you face doing it?
It was actually a family business, so I started it when I was a child. I now own the business.
The few challenges I face have to do with inflation and the high cost of food items in the market. As a small-scale business owner, I do not have enough money to purchase rice, beans, and other items in bags, and groundnut oil in litres. I purchase everything I need every day in small quantities. Today, one cup of rice is sold at N130; tomorrow, it might be N180. So, inflation is the major challenge.
Dr Charles Awuzie, an influential South African-based Nigerian entrepreneur and opinion leader, recently made a Facebook post about you and your business, encouraging over 170,000 of his followers to support your business. How did the post make you feel?
I was so happy. I felt excited and fulfilled. I was so surprised because I did not see it coming. I did not see myself getting this kind of attention and visibility so soon.
How many people reached out to you as a result of the post? And how did they help — financially and otherwise — to change your life and business?
A lot of people reached out to me. Someone gave me a fan. I got a bag of rice. I received good financial support, and many other things. It actually helped me a lot.
With the popularity and support you have gained from the post, are you planning on going back to school or do you want to stick to your food business, or both?
As regards returning to school, I got offers from people wanting to support my education. So, yes, I want to return to school and still want to continue with the food business. You know, the promises of people can fail. Sickness, death or anything could happen — irrespective of our prayers for long life and good health. Something could happen in-between. You just have to take it one day at a time.
So, I will like to do the business alongside schooling — just in case my sponsors did not make good of their promises. This way, I will have something substantial to fall back on.
What do you have to say to Dr Awuzie and the numerous other people that reached out to support you?
I say thank you all, may God bless you. I am so grateful, especially to Dr Charles — thank you for bringing me into your platform and for giving me wings to fly.
To everyone who made contributions, I promise to not disappoint you. I am indebted to you all.
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I specially thank gospel artist and minister, Judikay, who brought me into limelight, which enabled Dr Charles to see me. Judikay saw my social media post where I was selling food in a hand truck and shared it on her social media platform. She gave me money to rent a shop for my business. Altogether, she gave me N270,000. If she did not lay this foundation, I might not have gained this visibility.
Would you like to continue with the food business after graduation? If yes, what plans do you have to incorporate it, to make it big and viable?
Yes, I would like to continue with the business after graduation. My plan is to give it African-kitchen standards, where many African dishes could be found — ranging from breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Nigerian dishes, especially the Igbo varieties, like okpa and pap, nsala and afang soups; and the rest will make the list.
I will like to promote African food, especially the Nigerian varieties. I will like to make it big by having one or two branches in each state of the country. I hope to expand the business to other continents of the world, where Nigerians and other Africans can find our food with the best standards.
What are your plans between now and graduation? And where do you see yourself in 10 years?
My dream is to graduate with a 2:1 and to be a successful entrepreneur.
Between now and the next 10 years, I see myself speaking to millions of youths across nations, giving them hope and making them believe in themselves. I see myself helping people heal from past experiences, backgrounds, negligence, and other negative things. I see myself helping them get to their feet, to discover purpose, and to learn to strive through life. I see myself making them to realise that the toughest seas make the toughest sailors.
What advice do you have for people, especially young ladies like you, who are going through similar challenging situations?
Keep striving. Keep being strong. Tough times do not last, but tough people do. It might be header, but every road has an end. Your life is like a story book, make sure it is inspiring. Your life is another person’s survival guide, make sure it is inspiring. Let it not come to any chapter of your story and it is said that you gave up.