#BounceExclusive: From Travel Agent To Rice Merchant, Meet 'Brother Babs'
The year 2016 was the year of recession in Nigeria – the year when many Nigerians lost their jobs and businesses folded up before they started.
But for some Nigerians, it was also the year of opportunities, more like the year they made it BIG!.
Babatunde Odunlami did not wait to lose his job in the travel industry before he realized that he could earn more if he had a business that was essential to human survival.
His Mass Communication degree and Travel agent job have been shelved. He is now the CEO of Babs Odunlami Nigeria Limited, the makers of Brother Babs Rice.
It all started with the entry of the Buhari administration, the promises to create opportunities for young Nigerians, the sweeping changes in policies and the hardship that followed.
While many citizens complained about the clamp-down on rice importation, Babatunde saw an opportunity to make a fortune.
The problem was that he had no idea how to go about it. Then he got an inspiration from a crime movie he had seen several times – American Gangster.
He had marveled at the wisdom of an ordinary drug merchant who became a drug lord by traveling across borders to get unadulterated and cheaper cocaine which he sold at premium price in America.
Quite an unusual mentor, isn’t it? This began Babatunde’s frequent journey to northern Nigeria.
First Time In The North
Before this, Babs had never crossed Abuja to see the other half of Nigeria.
“With the help of my mom I was able to get the contact of someone in Kebbi and I went there because that is where they plant a lot of rice.
“I was in a town called Kanba, just 100 naira bike to Niger Republic but I didn’t get what I wanted because it isn’t really a commercial city and there was not much processing going on there.
“I came back home disappointed,” he said.
After thinking long and hard about his venture for another month, unperturbed by the disappointment, he decided to try again, but this time he headed for Kano armed by the lessons from Kebbi.
“I read the papers and did more research on it. Then I packed my bags again and headed for Kano and spent 12 days.
“I met a group that the CBN has been supporting – Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria and went to their Kano office.
“They took me to the villages, the rice farms and met the farmers. That was how I started the business.”
Kano provides Babatunde with the rice straight from the farms, millers who help separate the grains and package into his branded sacks as well as rail transportation to Lagos.
“The rail line is the reason why Kano has been perfect for me. I am one of the beneficiaries of the reforms in Nigeria’s rail transportation.
It is safer and also cheaper,” he said with a smile.
Well packaged to compete favourably with the imported rice brands, a 10kg bag of Brother Babs Rice (which is about seven kongos) goes for N4,000 and the response has been great.
He has been using social media to reach out to potential customers while approaching big and small supermarkets to also stock his product.
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Although, there are challenges as expected for an SME with minimal funding, Babatunde has been greatly encouraged by the reaction of customers to the packaging, taste and nutritional advantage of his product.
He lightens up at every opportunity to discuss his comparative advantage.
“You need to wash the local rice more because it is not as polished as the imported rice but when you consider the nutritional quality, ours is far better because it is direct from the farm – 100% organic.
“A lot of the imported rice have been in silos and warehouses for years with preservatives that must have watered down the nutritional value.
“You will also notice that local rice swells more and tastes far better than the foreign rice,” he said, advising Nigerians to reconsider their scale of preference.
Moving forward, Mr Odunlami hopes the Nigerian government and the private sector can do more to provide funding for budding entrepreneurs.
He believes the interest rate on government loan which is fixed at 9% is good but can be further reduced to promote items "Made-In-Nigeria".
“The only barrier between you and your dream is you,” he says, determined not to give up until he gets to his promise land.