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Hajiya Hawwa Abiola Kadiri: The story of a humble beginning

Hajiya Hawwa Abiola Kadiri is the wife of Nigeria’s Ambassador to Switzerland, Ambassador Audu Kadiri. Despite her husband’s job as a diplomat which takes them around, the mother of four has been able to establish her own business, Komak Fabrics,Abuja and cater for the less-privileged through the support of the Association of African Ambassadors Spouses (AAAS). She is also the exclusive representative of Filtex in Geneva and its environs, as a result manages the Geneva Boutique.

Tell us about your educational and family background?

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I hail from Ilorin, Kwara State but was born and brought up in Otukpo, Benue State. That is why I speak several Nigerian languages such as Hausa, Idoma, Igala and Yoruba. It’s an added advantage for my business because of our multi-ethnic society. I also speak two international languages English and French.

I grew up in a polygamous family. My mother was a renowned businesswoman who introduced me to trading at a very early age. She owned series of shops in Otukpo market then. Then, she will send me to Onitsha and Kano to buy goods that she will sell. And then, we will go to Taraku and Alliedi market in Benue State were we will display these goods and people will buy. So, buying and selling has been part of my life. She taught me to be independent.

While in the university education, I got married. My husband was a Foreign Service officer. With the nature of his job, we go places on diplomatic tours abroad. His first posting was to Kinshasa but I could not go. I was shuttling because I was in the university and I just had my first son. But he was the there for two years. And then his next posting was to Geneva. That was February 1998. Then my son was six years, the second one was three and half and the third, who was a girl was just 18months.

Anywhere I go, I try to explore. I tried to do things that will be of economic value to myself when I am home. Because they have good laces in Geneva, I established relationship with the companies through emails and I started getting goods from them to sell. I kept them in my house and when people come around, both foreigners and Nigerians, I sold to them. And before, I left Nigeria, I sold Aso-oke. Because I was from Ilorin, I knew the good ones. When I was going to Geneva, I took some of those Aso-oke with me. I told them this is what we use in our country, you can cover yourself with it like shawl. Some ladies came to my house who were Phillipinos, I sold it to them and others.

In Geneva, the house we live in has a big basement, so my husband got a big wardrobe which I used as show glass.

I had a good rapport with drivers in the mission at that time. So when guest come and they ask them, were they can get laces, they will tell them that there is a woman who sells in the house. They will bring them to my house and people will shop. Geneva is where you have these international organizations and specialized agencies. E.g. The World Health Organization meet once a year, International Labour Organisation meets once a year for about 10 days so you have a lot of people. So, sometime I have up to 10 to 20 people shopping in my house. So before they come for this programs, I will stock my house with laces so clients can also get the same things we sold there.

From stocking my wares in a boot of our family car decades ago, to currently occupying three-opulent shops in Tswanya Center, Garki Abuja we established Komak Fabrics. The Fabrics business works, every year, there must be something in vogue.

So, what is in vogue this year?

Onion colour is in vogue. It’s close to purple. It’s like the colour of onions. We follow all the trends.

How do you juggle, the home front and your business?

Though it could be challenging but for me, I find it interesting. Just like my mum brought me up, I try to teach my children to be independent. You know there, I don’t have house maid, so I tell each of them what to do. I thought them how to clean their rooms and do other chores. Like I have three toilets, so I tell them, you handle this and you the other one. If I don’t teach them, the work will be too much for me. At a point, I take them to Arabic school. Their religion is not taught in conventional schools, so it is the responsibility of the parents to teach the children. So, at weekends, I take them to Arabic school.

Tell us the interesting thing about being a wife to a diplomat? It’s very interesting as you meet a lot of people. You meet people from different countries and culture.

We have this Association, United Nations Womens Guild. It’s a non-profit organisation were they raise funds to help fund education in developing countries. Part of the fund raising events, we showcase the things we have in our countries. And each money realized from the event is used to fund that project. We from the Nigerian mission were able to showcase our food and handcraft. I was able to showcase my aso-oke too.

Tell us about the Association of African Ambassadors Spouses (AAAS)

At the Association of African Ambassadors Spouses (AAAS) in Geneva, we are involved in helping new members to settle in Geneva. We also organise outings among ourselves. We hold our meetings monthly in each of the member’s residence. We share different ideas we enjoy each other’s meal from the delicacy of our great African continent above all we organise Gala dinner to raise fund as well to develop projects in Africa. I for one submitted a project last year to help skill acquisition centre in Muyideen college Arabic school Ilorin.

The main objective of our Association is to help our newly arrived sisters in Switzerland, to make their mark and to develop fraternal and supportive relationships within us.

It is also to conduct promotional activities, outreach, fund-raising to support the vulnerable on the African continent.

To date, about thirty projects have been carried out in the fields of education, health, agriculture, sports and leisure, etc.

How do you manage your business while away?

I am always lucky, I have had a staff that has worked with me for more than 18 years. He is Michael. He has been here since 2006. And then Mary and then my siblings have been very helpful. Since my husband got the appointment, I stay at Geneva most of the time. I only come here on vacation. With or without me here, the business moves on because I have built structures on ground.

In addition, I take full advantage of information and communications technology (ICT) mostly social media platform to run my business back home.

We deal in reputable and high quality Swiss, Austrian and Hollandaise materials, such as voile, satin, Jacquard, organza laces, fancy fabrics-wax and high-class embroideries. We obtain all our wares directly from the source in Europe. We even give our design specifications to the manufacturers to meet our

When I saw that the fabric business was doing well, I noticed that people will now ask of shoes and bag that will go with it, so we diversified into selling that as well.

How is the business in Nigeria?

In Nigeria, you know we like fabrics. Every weekend there is one event taking place or the other. But you have to be current with things in vogue, because they want to see new things.

Fabrics business in Nigeria is huge. Nigerians love to dress very well, particularly during occasions. Fabrics is all about fashion and fashion changes frequently. As the design that was in vogue last year may necessarily not be so this year, one has to invest wisely and be in touch with the trend in the society in terms of fashion or else, one will end up with stocks of materials no longer in demand

I am also into cosmetics business, particularly Mary Kay products. In fact, due to my achievement with Mary Kay Inc. I attained the envious status of an Independent Sales Director in May 1996. I also earned a Mary Kay award and certificate. I also trade in Aso-oke and high quality veils.

I am the exclusive REPRESENTATIVE of Filtex in Geneva and its environs. As a result I manage the Geneva Boutique.

How supportive has you husband been?

He is fantastic. Sincerely, he is very supportive. I am happily married to Ambassador Audu Kadiri. He is Ambassador & Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva. Although being behind the scene, he is the brain behind my success. He encourages and supports me in all I do. He continues to play a major role by always giving me supports and encouragement. He is so proud of my accomplishments, from the little beginnings in Kubwa, Abuja and later in Geneva, Switzerland, about two decades ago, when we were posted there on diplomatic tour of duty. Above all he is a loving and caring husband to me and a wonderful and caring father to our children. Indeed, his own personal accomplishments is a major source of inspiration for all members of our wonderful family.

How did you meet him?

We met in Otukpo, he was born and bred in Otukpo. When he finished secondary school, he went to command school Jos and then he went to University of Ibadan. After his youth service, he got a job with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When he was in Lagos, one of his friends, told him that there are Yoruba girls in Otukpo.

What is the secret of a successful marriage?

What works for me is that we understand one another. I understand my husband very well and he does understand me too. And then, being patient. When we have any issue, we say it out. Life has been wonderful for me. For me, I am fulfilled.

Tell us about your educational background?
I started my primary school Education at Wesley Central School Otukpo, and then moved to Government High School Ilorin. My tertiary Education started at Kwara State Polytechnic Ilorin where I did my ‘A’ Level. Then I went to the University Of Ilorin where I obtained a B.Sc degree in Chemistry. I also earned a Diploma in French from the Open University of Geneva.

How do you relax and unwind

I relax by watching Nollywood movies, surf the Internet, listen to news and current affairs and social occasions with my husband and children. My favorite artists are Omotola, Genevive, Sanni Dange and Osofia, among others. I don’t also miss out on Bisi Olatilo, which I find interesting. I do hope that one day that they will visit my shop to enjoy its ambiance, and choose from the variety of products we have on display.

What is your favourite food?

I love Nigerian food, and can’t do without it in Europe where we live.

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