How Borno’s teenage orphan turned around hopelessness, makes customized bicycles



Umar Yusuf thought life was never going to smile back at him again. He thought he would never be successful or happy again.

Life was so cruel to him after he lost both his parent in 1997. He was only three then.

He was told of the warm welcome his parents had given him when he was born—and how they had planned to pamper him, see him grow into a successful ‘brand’.

A bumpy start

After their sudden death, his uncle took him in and sponsored his primary education.

As he has grown enough to relatively understand the world beyond the literal by the time he was done with elementary education, he started to grapple with challenges—and learnt that life is not all roses.

He developed the ambition of becoming a civil engineer quite early, but it was not long he knew it was not going to come by easily. His uncle, his only sponsor, was poor to afford it.

A courageous response to a bad situation

Everyone has a way to interpret challenges.

While many drown in their problems, in Yusuf’s case, it challenged his will!

He joined a mechanic workshop and worked as an apprentice under, what, he described as a tough boss.

Discovering his talent

Still not satisfied, he combined it with apprenticeship in a welding workshop—where, as things are today, he discovered his talent.

In it, it was for him as though a reference of Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands; everything that went out through his hands turned out to be outstanding.

From doors, to gates… he went on. Now he makes—at his local workshop at Muna, outskirts of Maiduguri—bicycles using locally obtained materials! It was Yusuf’s breakthrough; yes, a breakthrough for one who had come face-to-face with poverty.

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Standing at the ‘stands’ in the workshop when this reporter visited him, was his latest, customized load carrying bicycle.

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Escaping joblessness

Mr. Yusuf would have been among the 42.5% of Nigeria's population that are unemployed according to the latest data by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, NBS.

Being from Borno, the state worst-hit by Boko Haram terrorists in the 12 year campaign of terror, what motivated Yusuf to learn and continue with skilled work, apart from being an orphan, he said, was competition over scarce employment opportunities, side-by-side with poverty.

This goal is now overtaken, as he now even employs and trains many.

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‘I have four boys working with me. I trained them so that they can also be employers of labor. They are now creating or fabricating different designs and customized bicycles for people,’ Mr. Yusuf stated.

According to him, most of his designs are unique because he runs on refining customer preference.

‘Like this bicycle with a carriage for transporting goods; that was a customer idea,’ Mr. Yusuf explained.

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Looking into the future

From the proceeds of his craft, he made it a point to take his education to the next level. In 2013, he completed obtained a diploma in Agricultural Technology, at Mohammed Lawan College of Agriculture, Maiduguri.

He said, even though it is almost a decade since that, it was a big step in his quest for a degree in Civil Engineering. At the moment, he said he is more interested in the future of his business venture.

He wants to double his income two or three times in six months, which will take him to earn over a hundred thousand Naira a month.

But his other major challenge is that his workshop is sited at a government land, whose title of ownership or lease right he does not have. Mr. Yusuf is preoccupied with how to sort that out too; but now wonders what may become of his business if the government asks him to leave the location before he could get something done.

This report was filed by a beneficiary of YERWA EXPRESS NEWS' training under CMEDIA projected supported by Wole Soyinka Center for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) and MacArthur Foundation

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