Bello Njidda graduated from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria in 1997. He is the Chief Executive Officer of Belman Auto Services in Abuja having started as a vulcaniser in the 70s. The Adamawa indigene studied Metal/Education and had ventured into bicycle repairing and worked for the government and private company before setting up his private workshop that was incorporated in 2010. He speaks on how being an automotive mechanic has changed his lifestyle, especially his family response to the first graduate being an automobile mechanic and how people in the line of work are important to the country.
How did you end up in a mechanic workshop?
My main aim was to join the army but my elder brother did not want me to join. So, I attended a technical college and because of that, people addressed me as an engineer. Then, my elder brother came with his friend who had a Toyota Crown 1973 model and was looking for someone to service the car. When they saw me, because people always called me an engineer, I was called to help but I could not and people started laughing at me. I was later taught how to service the car but I was not convinced.
The next day, I went to a mechanic workshop and started as an apprentice. The man looked at me in disbelief, knowing quite well that I was already in the university. In eight months, I was able to learn how to overhaul an engine and do several other things but there were people in the workshop that had been there for several years but could not overhaul an engine. That was how I found myself in the profession. It was not planned; the challenge pushed me into it.
During your days at technical college, were you not taught how to repair cars?
They would only show you the crankshaft and other parts of the vehicle. In movement, they will just teach compression, induction and others. It is not practical. My theoretical knowledge helped when I was in the workshop because I already know almost everything.
Did you sponsor your education from the proceeds of the automobile repairs?
Somehow, I sponsored myself. I also worked with AFCOTT Nigeria Plc as a chief assistant mechanic. I later worked in the post-primary education management board from 1991 to 1997. I gained admission in 1994, but before then I had my NCE Tech. I kept sponsoring myself till I graduated though at that time the school fee was not too much. The last school fees I paid was N1,460. I got everything from the auto repair business. I lost my dad in 1986. The only help I got was from my mum and my brother. I am the first graduate in my family. The family is not big – just my parents and two other siblings.
Since you acquired a degree, did you try applying for a job?
I never applied for a job but there was a time my elder brother pressurized me into applying to Nigerian Airways in 1999. I applied and was shortlisted but unfortunately, I had no phone and there was no way for them to contact me. Others were invited for an interview and the successful applicants were taken abroad to study aeronautic engineering. After that, I never applied anywhere and I do not plan to apply because I do not need it.
What I need is an improvement in this job I am doing. There are a lot of problems with this job. The automobile invention is the biggest invention the world has ever witnessed in terms of job employment.
Several people earn a living, directly or indirectly from the industry. If you look at the hierarchy of the automotive industry after the manufacturers are the mechanics, but the government is not interested in us. Out of the 36 states and 774 local government areas, there are no local governments that government did not build motor parks for the union but where have been built for mechanics?
Apart from the government policies or lack of it, do you think people in the industry are doing enough to help themselves?
That is another problem. Because of the lack of interest from the side of the government that is why you have other people coming without training. We are now talking of quackery because people that did not undergo training now own workshops. You cannot do that because one quack mechanic is more dangerous than 100 quack medical doctors. One mechanic can kill more than 50 people at a time but a medical doctor can only kill one at a time. We are trying to see how the government will come in to take care of all these lapses.
Nobody can think and proffer solutions for your own problems. You have to think and find solutions. The government can establish Automobile Technician Registration Council. It can be established in the FCT, as a pilot test. The registration council will have a mandate for professional excellence to determine who are technicians, the minimum qualifications required, the guidelines for accreditation and registration.
If you mention mechanics, the next thing that comes to some people’s minds is criminals. There is no country that can prosper without a proper transportation system and who are taking care of the vehicles? If this council is established, quackery will reduce and once quackery is reduced, the government will have data and statistics. This will enhance the formulation of government’s policies. Government can also make money out of it because all these automobile manufacturing companies must train at least 1,000 technicians and also kit them.
We do not have training; we struggle by ourselves to achieve excellence, especially with new cars. If the government comes in and establish the council, we can get to somewhere.
You have been in this business for some time, how lucrative is it?
It would have been lucrative but for quacks all around. Most people do not want to spend more money on repairs so they take their cars to roadside mechanics. Some people only bring their car to professional mechanics after the roadside mechanics have tampered with it.
Do you see yourself doing better if you had practised what you studied in school?
I see myself doing better. I did not plan to become an auto mechanic, I wanted to go into production but it is capital intensive. I cannot afford it and that is why I am stagnating. I could still go into production if I have the money. I cannot say certainly what I want but the machines are the main acquisition and they do not come cheap.
What gives you satisfaction with what do?
I am getting what I can use to take care of myself. My family and relatives, I am okay and contented.
Do you have any regret doing this business?
I cannot say I do not have regrets but I am not regretting. If the government can come and assist the automobile technicians, the government will make money because we must pay tax.
The havoc and carnage these automotive vehicles cause are too much and the government is not doing enough. We have been able to establish the causes of accidents – environmental, technical (mechanical) and human. Road safety officials are concentrating on human factors. They are not looking at mechanical factors which are very important.
What do you have to say to people still looking for a white-collar job?
The way things are, it is not what you do that matters but what are you able to produce. It is not by working in a bank, ministries etc. as long as people are thinking like that, we are not going anywhere in this country. If you read mechanical engineering, go into something practical. If it is building technology, go to the field. That is why advanced countries are ahead of us, nobody is thinking of the government.
When I started working with the government in 1990, my salary was N250 and I earn the same amount if not more than that daily at the workshop. Microeconomy is what keeps and moves this country.