The Rise and Rise of the Waybill
By Emeka Uzoatu
But for the changed times, by now we would have been saving a tear or two for my friend Donatus. Lured into the marketplace by circumstances, he is now carving a niche for himself in the overcrowded thoroughfare.
A first and second degree holder in his field of study, he was, originally, gainfully employed. But as fate would have it, he had to flee from paid employment about two decades back. It was all so rossy till, first slowly, it became clear that the country had veered off it’s old fulcrum.
Then, suddenly the route which he had embarked on with glee appeared headed nowhere else than a cul de sac. And following the advice of classmates who had taken that other detour on the highway of life, he had to ‘learn a trade’. That, briefly, was how he started the buying and selling of spare parts.
Not buoyant enough yet to import from abroad like his ‘masters’, he had opted to join the local distribution train. Resident in Onitsha, Anambra State, he’d mostly buy from importers in the market to retail to end users. Till, through painstaking frugality and strokes of luck, he made up enough money to join the wholesale wagon. So now he can import, buy, stock and sell as demand and supply dictates.
Like he has found out, doing local business in Nigeria has gone through phases over the years. Regardless of how the goods were manufactured or got into the country, they had to be sold. Perpetually, the onus for their sale and distribution has always fallen on some diehards. Often euphemistically referred to as businessmen, they are more appropriately called traders.
Mostly formally unlettered, like the case had been, the purpose for their training is often geared at the multiplication of money. Quite aptly, the profession is defined in Igbo as ‘the use of money to make money’. Arguably, the Igbo trading apprenticeship system has developed the tutlege programme into a paradigm.
It has seen many who otherwise would have ended dropouts from school now making good in the merchandise field. Like my friend Donatus, from retailing, some have moved into the wholesale terrain, becoming brand ambassadors of international benchmarks. In many cases, from being representatives, they have become manufacturers themselves.
Well, my friend Donatus has gone the entire hog. Back then, the model was to display goods where customers would inspect them. Nominally called shops, you now had a roomier warehouse from where larger supplies were executed. This way, it’s allowable to display other people’s goods so that you could sell them with a little personal markup.
But that was then.
Presently, the intervention of digital telephony has changed a couple of things. Primary here is the upheaval it occasioned in the banking sector. Back in the days, the prime tutelage for the wannabe trader reached its apogee in being tutored on the handling of cash. Yes, for that is the time the trainee joined the class that sticked legal tender in hidden places on business travels.
The only saving grace then to avoid traveling with cash was the manager’s cheque, also known as drafts. But then, it remained an exclusive list reserved for the already made. Young Turks had no time for that as they mostly moved short notice. For instance, at least two or more days are needed to transact with a bank to effect the shipment of a consignment from Lagos to Onitsha. And that could be enough time to bring a little of it down by an overnight bus. And from records, that alone has made many millionaires.
However, with the advent of digital money transfer that has become a thing of the past. The transfer of money between transactions has now transformed from the most difficult to the easiest block on the line. What with the ‘feat’ being possible from the cheapest mobile phone on the counter.
So much that now payer and payee do not even need to meet to effect a transaction. What with the goods being movable via transportation. Depending on volume, this could be handled over directly to the driver or to the transport company’s cargo department. And, sure as hell, the goods are delivered intact, sans any mitigating circumstances on transit. And they are often few and far between.
With this development, the likes of Donatus might as well work from home. With all his contacts safely stored away in his phone, the goods in the warehouse can now make their way to his customers directly from there. If anything, the goods in the shop are now displayed for old times sake.
Like has turned out, Donatus and co have virtually become ware-housers, if there ever was such a profession. Therefore, rather than employ boys to master the trade, all they now need are boys to ferry the goods from his new-improved warehouse to the various motorparks in town. A divide hitherto abandoned to latter-day startups.
With a constantly improving clientele, my friend’s concern is now enlarging into a collection centre for all manner of goods. So much that he is now contemplating setting up a haulage company. Apart from his company’s goods, a ready supply chain is bound to originate from others currently being held to ransom by the companies operating from the motorparks.
And now the only hurdle left for him is to choose a resounding name; one that’ll be potent enough to challenge all those competitors of his based on the internet.
Emeka Uzoatu, a seasoned journalist and writer, is the editor of Nairaweb.ng. He writes the occasional column, Penny Wisdom.