Grass to grace tales of Yekods Catering School boss

By Kayode Adeoti

The entire world of Amirat Bolanle Mustapha came crashing after she lost her husband and the bread winner of the family to the cold hands of death, nine years ago.

Before the sad incident, Mrs Mustapha regularly travelled to the Northern part of the country to buy fabrics which she in turn sells to political office holders in Kwara State.

She leverage on the closeness of her husband to high profile politicians to enjoy massive patronage. However a few months after losing her husband, she was left to fend for herself and three children who were of school age.

But despite all odds, Mustapha was able to come out stronger and she is now being seen as role model by youths especially the female folks.

To attain her present status, the former fabric merchant engaged in all manners of menial jobs to raise her children as a single parent. This however brings to bear, the quote of an American author and motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar who says, “Sometimes adversities is all what you need to be successful in life.”

But how was she able to come out of the storm without any capital, support or help mate?

One will be flabbergasted to know that this mother of three started her catering business without any formal training and with size 15-rim coal pot and five litres cooler. To convince people to patronise her, she went to the extent of begging them to eat her food for a token or sometimes for free.

According to her, all that she wanted at the beginning was acceptance from the populace.

Recounting her life experience, Mustapha, who is now the Chief Executive Officer of Yekods, an exquisite Culinary and Catering School located on Unity Road, Ilorin, was close to tears.

“I went through so much in life and that is why I’ve decided to get across to the youth, to make them realise that life is full of variables; the good, the bad and the ugly.

“It was not easy, though my beginning was fun. I was mummy’s pet and that accorded me lots of opportunities but suddenly in my prime, the cold hands of death snatched her (my mum) away leaving me helpless. Life was so cruel to me and that was the beginning of my travail. I tasted life in its true form; I lost focus without any knowledge of what to do.

“While in search of greener pasture, I came to Ilorin about 15 years ago; it was a virgin land for me because I was never here. Then, my husband gave me N100,000 to start business of my choice. I delved into fabrics. Each time I am to travel to Kano, I will go in ‘Tanlese’ (lorry) to buy some fabrics like guinea brocade and the likes. Life was rosy again and I was comfortable but the death of my husband was another rude shock.

“I was destabilised and dejected. My husband was a Muslim and my family never wanted me to marry him because I came from a Christian background, so I was faced with the challenge of whether I’ll be accepted if I return to my people,” she lamented.

Giving insight into how she had to cope with her children’s school fees, clothing and feeding, Mustapha said at a time she was practically feeding from hand to mouth.

“You see, most times we eat once in a day and on most occasions I will be satisfied as long as I can find any food from the neighbourhood to feed my children even if there is none for me.

“I beg our neighbours for food and mostly eat concoction rice and malnourished foods,” she added.

According to her, she decided to remain strong with the hope that things will get better some day.

“We continued to live in penury until one day when I borrowed money to meet a family member in Abuja who gave me the sum of N20,000. While returning to Ilorin, I cried bitterly because the money I had with me could not offset the debt I had incurred.”

Mustapha recalled that fortune started smiling back on her when a friend introduced her to the President of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Alhaji Najeemdeen Yassin, who engaged her to prepare delicacies for the convention of the transport union, held in the state capital about five years ago.

“I had to consult a professional in the catering business for that event and she ended up short-changing me sort of because I was just coming into the industry.

“It was based on the huge success of that event and the fact that the guests enjoyed the delicacies that made me to get more jobs from Alhaji Najeemdeen Yassin and others.”

She added that aside catering business she has also decorated several event centres for society weddings in Kwara and beyond the state.

When asked why she is enjoying so much patronage given the fact that she is a new entrant, the businesswoman said “I am widely accepted and known by personalities because I have always given more than my clients request for.”

According to her, she was motivated to go into catering and decoration business due to ‘loopholes’ noticed in the hospitality industry in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital.

“I started catering business with virtually nothing but a coal-pot and five litres cooler and I used to give people more food than the amount they pay because I was not looking for money but acceptance. I wanted people to have a taste of my food and trust me. Money was never my prime objective when I started but today, I have excelled in the job and I now have cooling vans, trucks and buses but I never forget that it all started with a coal-pot.”

In addition, Mustapha who started the catering business as a lone ranger having to engage the services of her children on some occasions now has no fewer than 12 adults on her payroll.

“The spirit was that I never gave up even at the time I took to odd jobs and even house maid simply because I didn’t want to engage in social vices. The country does not give virile job opportunities and youths must rise to the challenge,” she added.

Mustapha said self employment is imperative in the contemporary society and youths must learn not to waste their time on other frivolous things but must learn a trade or vocation early.

According to her, Yekods in its short time of existence has employed foreign chefs to train students in both local and international dishes while also stating the readiness to collaborate with the Kwara State Ministry of Education and Human Capital Development in order to train many school children in catering business.

“We are looking at meeting the Commissioner of Education in the state and my mission is to ensure that the school gets to tertiary institution standard where we can get affiliated with a Federal University in the country.

“We don’t want anyone getting our certificate without being able to defend it and our students will be thoroughly groomed on culinary, catering work and the rest,” she explained.

Speaking on the scope of training, Mustapha said the training will last for six months after which the students will in turn train others in order to ensure they get prerequisite knowledge.

“We train on etiquette, physical and mental fitness. We have a gym centre for that and we train our students on how to make local recipe too like maggi and fruit juice and many more. I want to be a tool that will be orientating the youth. They need to leave their comfort zone; there is no place in the holy book that one is advised to be idle.

Speaking further, she said the first set of students will pay subsidised tuition fee, adding that 10 youths mostly graduates have registered at the school.

In his remarks, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Political Matters, Alhaji Usman Bibire Ajape commended the efforts of the Mustapha in alleviating unemployment in the state even as he said government will be ready at all times to provide support to the school when needed.

He said, “I’m very surprised seeing this and I will advise you to partner with the government as there are no white collar job for our youths anymore.

“Government will be ready to assist an initiative like this with soft loans just to ensure businesses like this move forward.”

In the same vein, former Chief Press Secretary to the immediate past governor of the state, Alhaji Mas’ ud Adebimpe urged the youth to take a cue from Yekods and rise up to the economic challenge the country is faced with.

He said, “Entrepreneurship has come to stay in our society and this is the time we should try to explore every opportunity.”

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