Living happy, carefree and with few of life’s luxuries available to her was all Ernestina Okwuchukwu ever wanted for herself.
At 30 years, Ernestina Okwuchukwu, popularly known as Madam Burgess, was married, and had two kids – one barely a year old and the other only two weeks.
Her life took a 360 turn for the worse when her husband died one day, while on his way to Lagos, from the village.
‘I was home when they called to tell me my husband had been involved in an accident. I did not take anything with me except the clothes I had on my back and run out of the house to try to get to the village. My husband was dead by the time I got there. I was completely shocked and devastated. I did not know what to do. It took nearly six months for me to put myself together and return to Lagos.’
Ernestina was yet to be dealt her next blow. Her husband’s family took possession of his house, businesses, cars and all the money stacked in his bank accounts leaving her with nothing. Also, while she was away in the village mourning her husband, Ernestina’s home had been broken into and robbers had made away with everything she owned. The widow was now a pauper.
Ernestina was officially a poor woman with absolutely nothing to her name. ‘I had nothing, and my rent was due, so I had to move out of the house to stay with my uncle. Members of my church were there to offer me food and support. My uncle was also taking care of my kids and paying for their fees. One day I realised I could not keep sitting at home and expecting people to feed me. I had to go out there and make money for myself and my children.’
With these words of encouragement, Ernestina went out into the market and resorted to helping people carry their load at a small fee. she started working as a messenger at Oyingbo spare part market using a wheelbarrow to deliver goods from the spare part market to the delivery vehicles for 200 naira a day. There was nothing she would not carry, so long as she was going to get paid at the end of the day.
She did this for three months, until one day representatives from Maxis – a tyre distribution company visited the market in search of wholesale traders. ‘I interacted with them and gave them my ideas and business ways I believed I could help sell the tyres. They were very impressed with me and they asked me to visit their office on Monday to discuss further. I went there and we signed papers and I became their distributor in the market.’
This was how the CEO of Obidublin Burgess started her empire. ‘My business is booming because I know how to interact very well with my customers. I try to meet all their demands and do anything possible to make sure they buy from me.’
Ernestina deals in the sale of all brands of tyres with three big wholesales shops in Ebute-Metta market and her business is worth millions of Naira currently. ‘I started helping in the market just to be able to feed my boys. It did not make sense to sit at home and fold my hands and watch people attempt to take care of my boys and me. I had to hustle to get a future for the boys and myself, working day and night to find ways of advancing the business.’
Today, Madam Burgess (who is named after her husband – Mr Burgess) is celebrated by many women empowerment movements in Nigeria and beyond for being an inspiration to young women and for gracefully moving her family from grass to grace simply through hard work.