Chidiebere Gabriel: From car washing to big time entrepreneur [Nigerian Voices]

by Chidiebere Gabriel

The tyres of madam Jane’s car came to a screeching stop at the end of the car park. “Where is he?” She barked, immediately after alighting angrily from her car. I was in the changing room next to the carpark. When I heard her voice, it sounded like someone blew a cornet right into my ears. Visibly shook, I scurried to the back of the door and hid there like a scared rodent; pulse racing fast.

“Where is he?” She shouted again. This time the security man walked up to her. “Madam Jane who you dey find?” He asked. “Who else!, Uzezi! of course, where is he?” She asked, and looked around studiously as if she would find me hiding behind one of the cars . “wetin e do?” the security man asked, pitifully.

Madam Jane had asked me to wash her the previous day. I had done the washing perfectly but when I locked the door, I wanted to check if it was properly locked. So I pulled the handle (with a little too much force) and it broke. I tried to fix it with glue and it stuck as if it was ok. So I left it. I didn’t fail to sprinkle a lot of glue on her car (mistakenly though) in the process, and the handle fell off later on.

“He didn’t even wash the car properly” she said after she had narrated the whole ordeal (with a lot of exaggerations of course) to the security man. “ No worry madam, I go follow am talk” he assured her as she went inside. I was told by the security man to apologize to her. She accepted my apology, but never paid me for the car-washing. I was a novice in the business of car-washing, so I was making silly mistakes, but how did I get here in the first place?


I was lying on my bed, wide awake, staring at the ceiling when my phone rang. “Uzezi, I have found you a job, I will give you details when I come back”. It was my mum. She came home an hour later and gave me details about the job. I was to apply for the post of a cleaner at champions bank. I had finished secondary school six years ago and after taking three strokes of the cane from JAMB and post UME, I decided to enroll part time at the college of technology. I needed a job to support my parents in paying my school fees. I had been stalling for three years but I was about to face my fears. “Mummy I’m in 300 level now, what am I working for?” I complained.

“Oh! So you enjoy sitting at home doing nothing, eating my food” she said. Then her mood swung and she looked at me with pity, “just apply first, I and your father need all the help we can get” she said. “But mummy, how can I be doing a cleaning job now!?” I complained. “Stop sulking like a baby jare!, things are hard right now, and we need you to do this”. I hated arguing with my mum, she just had the right words to say. I agreed to apply (hoping I wouldn’t get picked of course) for the post.

I started work on the Monday that followed, after a successful interview with the manager. I was asked just one question: “do you know how to clean?” he asked. I answered in the affirmative and then he said, “you can start on Monday”.

The branch cleaning supervisor smiled when she saw me. “Welcome my son, we are a family here” she said. ‘Madam U.S’ as she was fondly called by all was a kind and patient woman, who believed in hard work and always kept me working. She looked to be about 49 or 50, with brown eyes and braided hair decorated with grey hair. She was a taskmaster. I was to work for three hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. She introduced me to the staff and I was happy with the warm reception I received.

“Uzezi!I jerked out of sleep and looked at the towering figure standing above me. It was Mr. Mark. A remarkable man, he was the tallest man in the bank. His tortoise shell glasses magnified his black eyes, and his big, bald head was partially ringed by a fringe of dull gray hair. He was someone you couldn’t sit opposite for five minutes and not remember later. “Don’t you know how to wash cars?” he asked. “I……I do sir” I replied, wiping the sleep out of my eyes. “The other guy used to wash my car three times a week before you came, I pay him well, will you start washing it for me?,” he asked looking straight into my eyes intimidatingly. “ Ye….yes sir I will sir”. Mr. Mark asked me to start the very same day, then told me to see other staff, if I could wash their cars too.

I was really clumsy when I just started the car washing. In the space of one month I had spoilt two car stereos, one side mirror, and it was in that same month that I broke madam Jane’s door handle. That month was an unpleasant one for me. With time though, I started learning the rudiments of car- washing. Rule number one was never touch any of their personal belongings. Within six months I was already a master in the car-washing business. I was making far more than my monthly salary on weekly basis; washing cars for almost every staff in the bank. I was helping out at home and I paid my school fees myself. After a year, I couldn’t combine car washing and my cleaning job anymore, so I quit my job and focused on car-washing full time.

A freelancer as I was, I was my own boss. I still had access to the bank and all my customers. Six months after I quit my cleaning job, I had expanded my channel to all the banks in the vicinity. This was turning out to be a big enterprise, so I started reading books on entrepreneurship . One of the books directed me to the path of ‘staffing’. So I went to my neighborhood and mobilized all the boys I could find, who were either secondary school dropouts or secondary school leavers and made them work for me. I brought the contracts to them, they did the job and then gave me my cut. Before long, the car- washing business turned into a huge enterprise. I wanted to give it a name. I thought for long then I named it after my mother Amy. I remembered how she begged me to take a cleaning job that changed my life forever.

Today, ‘Amy clean’ is a big car-washing enterprise with three branches and up to forty employees. I’m through with school and I have not gotten a job yet but I’m a big entrepreneur and I’m better than all my graduate friends both employed and unemployed. Luck had a very important part to play in my success, and I can’t help but imagine all the what ifs. What if I hadn’t listened to my mother? What if I was studying full -time? Would I still have been a successful entrepreneur?

This entry was submitted as part of the Nigerian Voices competition organized by

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