Hajiya Aisha Muhammad Ja’e is a Kano-based business woman. She owns and operates a transportation company, Ja’e Transport Services, with a fleet of buses and tricycles. She also has a driving school and a football academy with 257 staff on monthly salary. She bagged an honourary doctorate from a university in Benin Republic for her services and philanthropy. Daily Trust on Sunday had a one-on-one with her.
Can you tell us about yourself?
I was born in Kaduna and had my Islamic education from my parents. I was married off at the age of 12. My husband was studying at the College of Arts and Science (CAS), Kano, then. I stayed in their house in Kaduna. It was a large family. I gave birth to my first child at the age of 14.
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When my husband graduated from the university and became a solicitor, he relocated us to Kano. I had four children, then. When I attained 25 years, he enrolled me into an adult education school at the Kano State Library where I learned how to read and write in the western education system.
When and how did you delve into business?
I did petty trading since I was 12 and married. A bride’s apartment in those days could not be inseparable with small boys and girls, so I decided to produce goodies and milk candies; selling to these children. I ventured into clothes-washing job; it was not attracting wages. At that time, a washwoman received only the remnant soap as incentive. Then I started grinding. It’s because of the nature of the residence we were living in that everyone was engaged in one type of occupation or the other. My motives of engaging in all these jobs were because my husband was a student and was in need of assistance from his parents, so I made up my mind to be doing menial enterprises to help my family.
When my husband was gainfully employed, he decided to relocate us to Kano. There, my business thrived as I started business with a single wrapper (atamfa) and leased headscarves to women who paid me at the end of the month. Since then, I have not looked back.
With what type of vehicle did you start transportation business?
I started with a motorcycle (achaba or okada) 19 years ago. At that time commercial cycling was not banned in Kano. Before the state’s authorities banned achaba, it got to a point where I acquired at least 500 motorcycles. I leased them out and when the riders completed paying back, they took over possession of the bikes.
After proscribing achaba in Kano, I bought one tricycle, popularly known as Keke NAPEP. As time went by, I owned more than 3,980 tricycles. I registered my company with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) when I had only 14 tricycles as Ja’e Transport Services.
Thereafter, it came to my mind that we could broaden the business to bigger vehicles. We bought small trucks known as kurkura; that transport goods. So far, we have 86 of these trucks. And again, we ventured into buying minibuses; and we now have 25 18-seater Homer buses that ferry passengers from Kano to the South. We have operational offices in Lagos, Kaduna and here in Kano.
What are your main challenges in this business?
I faced a number of challenges; breach of trust by my clients and losses in millions of naira, although, it is part of life. But as of now, the main challenge we are faced with is the Kano State Government’s promise to partner with us in helping the youths under our company. The government lured us, where we sold more than 3,000 forms to these youths, that we could give them tricycles on loan. Unfortunately, we haven’t heard anything from the government. These youths come to us, all the time, asking how far we have gone – thinking that we’re the ones who made the promise.
Are you into any partnership?
Of course, we have so far broadened the scope of the business. We welcome investors based on Sharia principles. Alas people have failed to understand our business even though we have been appealing to them to invest in our business for profit and creation of employment to our teeming youths.
Can you estimate the number employments you have created for the youths?
At Ja’e Transport Services, we have at least provided more than 5,000 jobs; apart from those that earn monthly salary from our company, who are 257 in number. We also give out free lunch to our staff to provide an enabling working environment for them.
What else have you contributed to society?
We have indeed given our own quota; and yet we remain resolute to keep the tempo as long we are alive. First of all, we give employment to our youths, and householders too. And we have orphanages that we give assistance to and take responsibility of the education of the orphans and pay medical bills for some.
We also pay fines for prisoners; we have freed at least 36 inmates and built a borehole at Kurmawa Prison here in Kano and supplied them with eating bowls and dishes.
Again, we have a football club called Ja’e Academy. It was out of our passion to encourage the youths to develop in athletics and sports; football being a business now. With this effort alone, I was awarded an honourary doctorate by a university in Benin Republic.
We also have Ja’e Driving School, where our drivers, as well as the general public acquire driving skills.
What is your call to fellow women who remain idle; doing nothing to earn a living?
Being redundant is one of the major causes of family/marriage break ups. I received a number of such cases; some I have successfully resolved; while some ended up in marriages breaking down. Husbands of nowadays are overwhelmed with family burden that they can’t afford taking care of every family need. There’re issues of school fees, health, clothing and many other unforeseen burdens.
It would be recalled that in the olden days, there was free education in public schools. Everybody now pays school fees for both western and Islamic education, and husbands take care of all these. So if you’re in business, you stand to assist the family and even the community.
What do you aspire to achieve in the nearest future?
My main objective is to acquire my own airline company that can be flying passengers both domestic and international. It’s been my major aspiration and I hope to achieve it. I even issued a will to my children; that in the event I pass on, they should please make sure that my dream is a reality. This is my last line of action in business, and I believe it would be achieved some day.
Do you have any appeal to government?
I call on government to provide some interest-free or soft loans to people like me for the purpose of driving the economy. With such things we can reduce the menace of unemployment that is eating deep into the fabric of this country. If Ja’e Transport Services alone can provide 5,000 jobs, what do you think will happen if small entrepreneurs are given financial assistance? For people like me, the government should spur our effort; and if we can get 20 times of my like here in Kano and the other states, I think the story would not be the same. The federal and state governments must strive to establish industries/companies to check the monster of unemployment in Nigeria.
What is your call to those interested in venturing into transportation business?
Once you have the interest, it’s as easy as pie. One can just start up with one vehicle or partner with a colleague under the modern principle of doing business as we’re currently doing; whereby we open our doors for any interested person to invest in our company. It’s a very profitable business that can take care of our unemployed youths.