“I am not special,” Musa says. “I am just trying to be who I am.”
Musa might not appreciate how special he is – but anyone who understands his story will. At just 21-years-old, he’s become the sole provider for his family, set up a thriving business and is working toward going to university.
“It is what you have been through that gives you wisdom, not your age,” Musa says. “It doesn’t matter if you are young, you have to take responsibility for yourself and for your family.”
Musa‘s father, a policeman, left for work one day in 2009 like normal – but never returned. At the time, there were high levels of violence in Nigeria, with armed group Boko Haram taking over towns and villages in the northeast of the country.
“After he was killed, everything fell apart,” Musa says.
“My mother was afraid that her children would be targeted, so she decided we should leave our town. Yola is now home for me.”
Yola, the capital city of Adamawa State in northeast Nigeria, has also become home to Musa’s small business.
Life was harsh for Musa and his family after his father died. Like many children who have lost a parent to violence, he worked odd jobs – on construction sites, carrying bricks and mixing cement – to ensure his family had enough to eat. By the time he was in his late teens, his eight siblings and mother looked to him as the head of the family.
Musa had to think big. Watching motorcycles and keke napeps (tuk tuks) go to his local garage for service and repairs, he spotted a business opportunity that others had overlooked: “If you need to fix your engine, you also need engine oil.”
Musa set up a shop selling engine oil and spare parts right next to the garage. Critical to his success was building a good relationship with the garage owner: “I made a point of speaking to him – the location is convenient for people, since they can get everything they need for their vehicle at the same time.”
Musa’s smart thinking and initiative has turned into a successful business that’s enabled him to support his family. “When I see the vehicles pulling into my shop, I think, ‘Hope is coming!’” he exclaims. “Thank God that it’s going well – I can’t express how happy it makes me.”
But the success of his business isn’t down to luck. “Almost everything I do is related to my business. Any free time I have gives me an opportunity to think where and when to do things for my business.”
As Musa sits in his shop at the side of the road, surrounded by bottles of oil and spare parts for vehicles, he reflects on how the business has given him new-found purpose: “My business makes me feel like I am in control,” he says. “Even though I am starting small, I am the one in charge.”
“Because I have started this business, my family is depending on me more and more. I know my mother is very proud.”
The shop has given Musa’s family more than just an income. “Two of my brothers help with the business now. It is good that they can learn from me and they’re benefiting from what I’m doing, too.”
Musa takes his big brother role seriously. When he’s at home, his siblings crowd around him and bid for his attention. Every so often, he’ll swoop one of them up into a cuddle.
To help Musa build his business, the International Rescue Committee provided him with business training and a grant as part of our Rescuing Futures programme, supported by the Citi Foundation’s Pathways to Progress initiative. “The course taught me how to manage a business and also the importance of good customer service. If you can do these two things right – you’ll find success.”
Musa has big dreams for the future, and a plan for how his business can help achieve them. “My dream is to have a university diploma – I know the business can help pay for me to go back to school. I just have to be patient and expand it first.”
In the meantime, Musa’s success shows no sign of slowing.
“I am part of my business and the business is part of me. I feel like a real businessman.”
Our Rescuing Futures programme, in partnership with Citi through the Citi Foundation, offers young entrepreneurs living in Greece, Nigeria and Jordan the chance to kick-start their businesses and reach their full potential.