One of the bigwigs in the Nigerian maritime industry, Hajiya Bola Muse is a model for innovative thinking. As CEO, Bomarah Group of Companies, the illustrious Oyo-born sits atop Bomarah Investment Limited, a maritime, agricultural and general merchandise firm; Bomarah Integrated Travels & Tours Limited; Bomarah Petroleum and then Bomarah Foundation.
She has to her credit several awards from reputable organizations, schools and religious bodies in Nigeria and abroad. Bola who is Governor, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents-ANLCA, Women’s Chapter, reveals how she found her place in the highly competitive masculine world of freight forwarding.
By Josephine Agbonkhese
WHY freight forwarding of all businesses?
I knew right from childhood that I wanted to become a businesswoman. My dream was to be like my mother in business. Freight forwarding however came by accident. Right from my childhood, I have always loved challenging jobs. My father believed that a woman should get married and stay in the kitchen rather than get education. We lived in Kano and I grew up there. After secondary school, I worked in several offices in Kano just to garner working experience. As I said earlier, I got into the clearing job by accident.
How do you mean ‘by accident’?
I learned from my friend who was into freight forwarding. After school, I would go to his office and being a sociable person always coming around to stay with his colleagues, I was able to learn the nitty-gritty of the job. It wasn’t easy then compared to today that everything is computerized. I was really impressed about the job and that was how I started learning about clearing. I started my business in 1995 and since then the sky has been my starting point. I do import, export and freight forwarding for customers.
Let us put aside the glam that comes with being an industry leader. What was the early days of business like for you?
It wasn’t easy at all, I must confess. When I remember those years of hustling, I give glory to God for His mercies. I go to the ports, meet with the customs to run my entries and all that. Today, I have people working in the company that I have entrusted with those jobs. I told you I started the business in Kano.
From Kano, I would take first flight to Tin Can Port here in Lagos and I go back to Kano with the last flight.
Your office is basically male dominated. Why?
I don’t have any particular reason for not hiring a female. It might just be the nature of the work. There are few women in freight forwarding because the job is very tasking. I don’t even go to the Ports any longer; my workers do that.
What informs your sense of style?
The kind of job I do demands that I look good always. Your image portrays who you are, not only in your work place but to the world. You cannot look haggard and expect someone to give you a good job. Naturally, I love the good things of life; I dress to suit myself. I’m not a label freak. I travel far and wide and when I see things that I like, I buy. I’m not a designer freak at all.
How do you cope with men as a freight forwarder?
I always tell people that you don’t have the same business with your colleagues. When we are in the field, you don’t know who is who. Right from my childhood, I have not seen anyone as a threat because I’m a fearless person. I fear God, I fear my parents and my husband. I tell my workers not to look at me as a woman. I’m just a woman in the natural form. Inwardly, I act as a man and that is what has kept me going. My workers have been working with me since the inception of the business 20 years ago and some of them got married here and started having kids too.
I have over a hundred of them today. So, it’s one big family.
Your advice for aspiring female freight forwarders?
Discover yourself first. That is very important. When you have this in mind, then the rest is history. You must also be truthful because this job is based on trust. If a customer does not trust you, he will not give you his container at all. You have to be content as a woman too. If you are not content, you will be forced to do a lot of things that might jeopardize your chances.
Your educational background?
I worked in several companies in Kano after secondary school. After a stint with Honda Motor Company in Kano State as a young clerical officer in the 80s, I enrolled at Baron School of Business Administration in 1988; where I had my Ordinary National Diploma, OND, in Business Administration. I proceeded to Kano State Polytechnic in 1991 for my Higher National Diploma in Secretarial Administration. Also, I obtained a postgraduate Diploma and Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Calabar. I also have a professional diploma in Freight Forwarding.