In this interview with The Voice Correspondent, ESTHER AKAA, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Aboki Bricks and Investment limited, Mr Charles Aboki, reveals the advantages of building houses with compressed hard bricks. He also explains how COVID-19 affected businesses in Nasarawa State among other issues. Excerpts:
What motivated you to go into the bricks laying business?
When I was in Jos, Plateau State, I discovered that the houses there were built with both cement and bricks. So I decided that I should go into something new since I was seeing the brick houses for the first time. When Nasarawa State was created in 1996, I came back and saw some few houses made of bricks and where I was working then, I discovered they used bricks and I asked them how it came about and I was told that people came from Jos to train them during a youth empowerment programme, so I said to myself that anytime such a programme comes up again I will be part of it. In 2004, the same project came to the Non Governmental Organisation I was working for, in Lafia ,that is , Centre for Women , Youth and Community Action and it was the same bricks, so I was directly involved. I was the programme officer then, so when the youth empowerment programme came in through compressed hard bricks, I was already there and I learnt it. Five years later, I started making plans as we went out for our researches within the local government areas, I used to see the laterite sand in all the local government areas from Awe to Toto and other interior parts of the state. I then said to myself that if I go into this business, I will receive support and people will also tap from me so I went ahead and had my company incorporated and bought the machines and kicked started it .
What are the advantages of using the hard bricks for building?
There are quite a number of advantages that the bricks have over other blocks. It is fire resistant. That is why in the rural areas, anytime you see fire outbreak, you don’t see the huts falling, instead, the roof will be burnt but the hut will stand. It is also bullet proof because it is strong and does not have holes inside. It is also weather friendly, this is because it has the natural tendency to give you warmth. It is also easy and cheaper to produce. You don’t have so much sand to mix you just add little cement or none and you can produce the bricks, you don’t need to add too many materials. If you are constructing a story building, for instance, if you are using the other type of blocks you must use rods but the bricks do not have any hole to hold any iron, that is why we say it is cheaper. You can plaster the inside but you don’t need to plaster the outside. Those houses that were built in those days before our fathers were born are still in existence and you won’t see any crack. Brick houses are insects and rodents resistant. You don’t need to be afraid of lizards, scorpions and other insects penetrating your house because there is no way they will go in since everywhere is blocked. It is affordable, you don’t need to be rich before you get it. God has blessed you with laterite sand, just carry the compressed hard bricks laying Machine and go lay the blocks and build your house. You will save 40 to 50 % of your total building cost when you use the hard bricks to build.
In the first 100 days in office of Governor Abdullahi Sule, there was an empowerment programme for youths on how to be self employed, what role did you play in that programme?
In the first 100 days in office of Governor Abdullahi Sule, I packaged a proposal to his office through the Special Adviser on Youth and Sports development, Hon Kwanta Yakubu , he was by then the Senior Special Assistant on Youth and Sports. So I told him that this is what we have in Nasarawa State. I did a proposal of over 40 compressed hard brick laying machines for the empowerment of youths because I told them that the youths need to be empowered and we need houses in Nasarawa State for both commercial and residential purposes. That there was also the need to address the problem of youth unemployment. I suggested that the governor should fund my organisation so that youths will be selected in all the nook and crannies of the state for training. He complied and based on that, six youths were invited from every development area and local government areas of the state. We have 18 development areas and 13 LGAs. In each of these areas, six youths were selected and a total of 246 youths received the training from me.
The training was carried out at Ibrahim Abacha Youth Centre in Lafia in September 2019. We used the 40 machines that were brought from Jos to train the youths for one week. We also believe that by the time they take these machines back to their local areas, they will come in contact with the raw material which is laterite because the compressed brick uses 100 % laterite. You don’t need to mix it with any sharp sand or any other thing. I can tell you that the youths who participated in the training can now operate the machine. They were given the machines after the training to take to their various localities.
Who bought the machines?
A total of 42 compressed hard brick laying machines were procured by the state government through the office of then Senior Special Assistant while I was the consultant for the training.
What has been the impact of the training on the youths of Nasarawa State?
Few of them told me when I visited them that they took the machines to their local government chairmen who stressed the need to step down the training so that other youths will also benefit with a promise to add new machines if the need arises. In Toto Local Government Area, for instance, the Local government chairman ordered for 20 of such machines from the same manufacturer to be fabricated for his local government area. This is because he has picked interest in what happened and he wants to use that to expand the business.
How capital intensive is the compressed hard brick laying machine?
It is not too expensive. It is something that someone can afford. If you have N200, 000 or N220, 000, there about, you can get one machine and use it in your locality.
What is your advice to youths who are idle?
Like I said earlier, I approached my governor through a proposal, telling him to see the untapped resources we have in the state .They have councillors, local government chairmen and legislators at state and federal levels. They have commissioners and people who are representing them but one thing you have to do is to prove to these people that you are capable of doing something.
How has COVID 19 affected your business?
In February when businesses were down, I had to shut down my business and my capital too went down because I had to use it to feed my family so I didn’t find it funny. I believe that by the time I attract government’s attention, it will go a long way to boost my business.
Apart from COVID- 19, what are your other challenges?
Like I told you, it is capital. Apart from capital, then it’s the awareness in terms of people getting to know the business. Any new business coming on board must undergo this kind of challenge but with time I believe people will know about it. If you are an engineer or an architect, you can come and partner with me. For now, I need people to come and partner with me so that we can build houses in both Urban and rural areas.
Is there any umbrella body that looks after business people in Nasarawa State?
Most of these umbrella bodies you see operate on the basis of their businesses. For instance, I belong to building and construction association.
What is your advice to the people of Nasarawa State?
There are three basic needs of a man: food, shelter and clothing. Every living being needs shelter. People need houses; if it is not to sleep, it is to carry out their businesses and that is when brick comes in. What I am saying is that, it is not just about producing the bricks, it is about building houses and we have been trained to do that too. Secondly, Nasarawa State, like I said earlier, we are not just blessed with the sand for cement blocks; we are also blessed with laterite sand which is good for building of houses. I want both the government and people of the state to give room for hard bricks too because this is an alternative and more so that the bricks are cheaper to use and the machine we use doesn’t use power or electricity. It is very easy to compress, that is, to produce and lay is very easy. Within two days, you will know how to do it. Builders should embrace it. I want the youths in the villages to be busy so that crime would be reduced. We are growing in size and population so we need houses.