By Terese Tse
After obtaining a Higher National Diploma (HND) in Fine and Applied Arts at the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu and Masters in Business Administration (MBA) at the Federal University of Agriculture in Makurdi, Benue State, Mrs Ndidiamaka Nweke has taken to an occupation that is often considered male dominated.
The middle aged woman, and mother of six children who is doing well is not ashamed of her business. She is the proprietress of Paula Water, produced and packaged by Pen Paula Ventures Limited, located at Nyiman Layout, behind Assembly Quarters, High Level, Makurdi. She has a vehicle and drives it herself to move all round the town in order to distribute water to food vendors and residents as well as other customers.
Nweke stated in an interview with The Voice that, being a producer and distributor of sachet water is the hardest, yet most productive decision she has made.
“To me, no reason is good enough when an educated person would fold hands and refuse taking to menial, jobs petty trading or any other useful venture that could put food on the table, and instead wait for white collar jobs that are not available.
“There are a lot of choices one can make. No matter how wretched a means of livelihood is, it carries dignity when you do it honourably and people see that you are honest, so I’m proud of what I do.
“Though, I’m greeted with both criticisms and admirations particularly from friends and acquaintances; others hail me for taking on a business venture that is unpopular among women while some castigate me but there is no amount of criticism and scrutiny that could change my focus because I love what I do and I’m determined to do it all my might,” she insisted.
According to her, she has been into the business of producing and distributing water for over seven years.
“I was into the business of selling cement and recharge cards for a very long time but at a point in my life, I took a decision to swap to sale of water when I came to realize that, there was no massive patronage in cement and recharge card as compared to water.
“You could sit for a day long sometimes without anybody coming forward to purchase a bag of cement so it was upon this realization that I sold everything and channelled my resources into the table and sachet water business that I’m doing now. Water is life and no individual can do without it so you can see that you have multiple target customers here. Water is a basic necessity that has daily demand but for cement, is not every day that you get to see people who would need to buy cement or recharge card,” she revealed.
Commenting on how her husband feel about her venturing into the water business, particularly as she goes about herself driving the truckful of water on the streets of Makurdi, supplying it to the doorsteps of her customers, the mother of six said: “my husband is a very understandable man, in fact, he is a man who I have never seen again in the entire years of my living; very supportive and cooperative.”
“I cannot boast of any achievement in my life without him. He is the husband that every reasonable woman would wish to have. At first, he was not very comfortable seeing me going into a lot of trouble of driving a heavy loaded truck of water for sale, considering that it is too stressful for me but when he saw that I derived a lot of joy in what I do and I’m irrecoverably committed to doing it, he resorted to offer me support in totality,” Nweke stated.
On the challenges of the business, Mrs Nweke said, apart from the challenges female in the male dominated industry faces, there are litany of issues that confront producers of table water. She said it is natural as it is with every other business particularly this time that the rise in prices of crude oil caused sharp increase in the cost of processing and packaging materials, thereby leading to our jointly decision recently to slightly increase the cost of the packaged water.
“This is a huge challenge that had truncated the gains of business, making it to be less profitable than it used to be. Even with the stepping up of the prices, when you value it to what you have invested, you will find out that you are just running to sustain your business, which is why I like to use this very medium to solicit for the cooperation from members of the public and appeal to them to accept the current price tags of the product giving the circumstances that producers have found themselves. Like in my company, the price of a bag of sachet that goes for N100 is now sold at N130”, she said.
About what she has been able to do with the proceeds of the business, she said, she has been able to do a lot of things with the aid of the business.
“I’m using a collective pronoun ‘we’ to represent my able husband and myself because like I earlier told you, he is the main man of the business, I cannot do anything without his assistance, I’m only trying to compliment his efforts like the holy Bible instructed virtuous women to do in the book of Proverbs (31). He is my pillar and backbone, nevertheless, I want to announce to you that we have been able to achieve many things through our collective efforts and my contribution on everything comes from here.
“We have six children and they are doing well both in academics and otherwise; two of them are undergraduates, one is seeking for admission into the university as we speak and the last three are still pursuing their secondary school education.
“It might interest you to know that it is with this business and the efforts of my husband that we have been able to take care of their sponsorship in school. Apart from our immediate children, we have done and are still doing a lot of things for our extended family members, both from my side and my husband’s and all this is made possible partly as a result of this business. We also have landed properties and other material possessions that this business has contributed for their successes,” she disclosed.
On her targets for the business, the proprietress said she is aspiring to having a complete space set aside for the business without it being an appendage of any other. Presently, it is sharing the same premises with our residence and this is not too good. I wish to erect a water factory on its own and equip it with all the modern facilities that would enhance the production of portable water.
“I desire to expand the general capacity of the company and begin the production of bottled water, purchase more distribution vehicles and increase the work force. At present, the whole company is manned by just four persons; you have the production manager, the two operators on ground and the conductor that goes about with us. So you can see that this is not enough for factory of such status. In fact, my ultimate desire is to someday become the biggest employer of labour in the state after government,” she posited.
When asked about what stands her out in the business, she replied, “table water business is the business that advertised for itself. Your input determines your output, you witness patronage according to what you produce because consumers of this water are very sensitive and conscious of the water they consume and you will be thrown out of the market in an event you have deviated from the standard, that is why we keep bringing different innovations and technologies to maintain the standard and quality that we are known for, over the years.”
Insisting that her fellow women are not lazy and when determined can do extra ordinary things, she advised them to have confidence in themselves.
“Women should have confidence in themselves, believe in their efforts and see themselves as full individuals capable of doing things to compliment the efforts of their spouses. They should be productive and endeavour to make themselves relevance and be on the standby to embark on any meaningful venture that would legitimately put food on their table. They should take delight in whatever they find themselves doing and be mindful of the fact that success is not determined by how we are being compared to others, but what we are capable of doing,” she stated.