Joseph Anike Ani is a machine fabricator, a skilled and certified welder. The 35 years old who resides in Edu Community, Igbesa, Ogun State, was educated at Government Technical College, Enugu, from where he graduated after spending three years in the school.
While revealing some of the challenges in the fabrication and welding profession, among other issues, Ani stated that welding could bring innovation in the metal fabrication industry even as he proposed the development of an indigenous technology hub. According to him, “people basically see the job as a dirty profession and don’t even want to tread the path.”
Journey into welding and machine fabrication
I just fell in love with it. At age six, I saw a nuclear power plant when I accompanied my father to his friend’s office. The man worked at a construction company. Somewhere around I saw a guy welding and another doing some fabrication work. All I remember was how bright it was. I was mesmerised, it caught my fancy.
My attention was drawn to what he was welding and I became interested. Since then, all I’ve wanted was to create something and whenever there is a broken piece of any object, I mended it. I was hooked and nursed the ambition to become an expert. While I was in secondary school in Form 3, I asked my father if I could go to a technical school. And my dad was like, okay, but I have to make some enquiries before letting you go. Later, my request was granted. My passion grew and I decided to developed it as a child, and later I took classes. I went to Government Technical College, Enugu, after appealing to my father, who made some enquiries and had some discussions with the school after which he allowed me to get the training.
Setting up own workshop
I had the business idea in mind while I was in school because of the teaching I got from my instructors then. I was exposed to the business and technical aspect of the profession. So, while I was learning the trade, I equally developed my entrepreneurial skill. I decided to launch my own business, A.J Anike Limited, where I fabricate all types of industrial machines and moulds.
Before I started my own workshop, I worked with several companies located in Enugu, Lagos, Agbara and Opic Industrial Estate. While working with these companies, I got more experience about the job. I am here today developing the craft through the opportunities I have gained. The years I spent working for others gave me the opportunity to expand my knowledge in the industry. I can use electronic welding machines to weld different materials if I have it but right now I make use of manual process to do my fabrication and welding job. I can create anything that I imagine, as long as I can see the dimensions of my work before I start assembling it.
As a student, I learnt industrial metal fabrication, although I had several choices. We were thought so many things but I focussed on machine, welding and fabrication. It was both industry related experiences. as I hope to expand my business and grow to become a conglomerate in the nearest future. Though I have started from this little fabrication yard, AJ Anike Limited, which is not popular at the moment, but I will get there some day. I weld all types of industrial machines and make moulds.
The job is lucrative around the world but the epileptic power supply experienced in the country has made it difficult to get much proceeds from it. There is not much profit in the job in Nigeria due to the electricity problem.
Passion for local content
Nigeria is the world’s most populous black nation and for us to become a manufacturing powerhouse and achieve economic dominance, we have to develop our own indigenous technology. Nigeria needs metal fabricator foundation programme that will promote indigenous technology.
There should be indigenous experts sponsored by the government or wealthy individuals for people who are interested in acquiring such skill or those who already possess it, to enhance their skills. When you, as a welder, are among your classmates, you find some level of comfort and lot of support to do more. I know that certified skilled trades are in high demand at the moment but people have to upgrade.
Challenges of welding/metal fabrication
Meeting the demand and using the right equipment. The barriers we have should be removed and more awareness created to increase the number of indigenous people in skilled trade. I would have designed and built a ferryboat or canoe made with some special materials that are locally and internationally sourced, that is safer than what we have presently. The water transportation means at the moment is not safe. That is one of the reasons for the many boat mishaps the nation has experienced. There is need to project indigenous technology. If anyone can sponsor my project, I can build a ferryboat that will be more convenient and safe for people to travel in.
While the design of the boat or canoe would be in traditional form, the paddles’ material would be steel. It would have been one of my contributions to the nation; a steel canoe with accompanying paddle. I had wanted to build it for my country.
Already, in my metal fabrication workshop, I have kept the concept because I cannot run with it now, but I have hope that one day I would be able to explore the various means towards achieving that goal in the nearest future. Welding skill is built and people can never be too old to change their career, if they have interest in it. It all depends on personal interest and passion.
Another challenge here is that many welders and other highly skilled workers likely have only thought about going into business for themselves, but lack the business knowledge required to launch a successful venture.
Surviving in welding business
After I observed that many welders who own workshops equally work for other people, I decided to seek practical information in building a successful welding and fabrication business. That is how I started from the ground up. A welding or fabrication entrepreneur does not need to be scared of rejection because people will definitely reject your job. You will experience it but you need to have an uncontrollable desire to succeed and enjoy dealing with people.
People normally patronise those they like and that is a fact of life. To succeed in this business or any other business, you need to go out to introduce yourself to potential customers, spending countless hours bidding for contracts. Although that your effort may not pay off initially, as time goes on you become acceptable in the business world. What you need is creativity. You have to come up with innovative business ideas that nobody else is working on.
Any business in general is a gamble and you need to keep a laser-like focus on the ultimate goal, which is getting contracts at all costs. However, I must say that welders, fabricators and machinists are not looking at setting up their own business; they prefer working for somebody because they are afraid to start.
Furthermore, I would say people do not know they can be professional welders. They believe welding is for semi-illiterate people only and equally a very dirty and dangerous job for commoners. It is majorly occupied by the uneducated but I believe that impression about the profession would change if government can come up with development plan for those in the welding profession. They should set up a large technology hub, like a park space, for Nigerians who are involved in the welding and fabrication business where they can pay a token and do their job because epileptic power supply has affected the business.
As a business person, I have to satisfy my customer. I run generator and the cost normally increases because I have to inflate the price so it can cover my expenses and then make profit. If government should create such a hub, it would provide power, then the business would thrive.
Some of the challenges the business of fabrication faces on daily basis because customers want you to bring the price down and the cost of materials is expensive. If there is power supply and loans that can encourage those of in the fab profession, then the business would thrive.
I had an encounter with a customer. After giving him the quotation for a job, he said it was expensive. He said he got a lesser price in Benin Republic, a small country. But I told him that it is because they have constant power supply. We have to run generator so we don’t delay the customer and it is fuel that would be used in doing the job. This must reflect in the price. Materials are equally expensive.
To expand in this business, a lot of money is required. You have to invest in machines. I am keen on setting up and operating heavy-duty metal working machines such as brake presses, shears, cutting torches, grinders and drills, to bend, cut, form, punch, drill, among other things, but I don’t have such fund to expand. Despite my insight and ability to take a project from concept to completion, I want to go into visual design and focus on the specifications, tolerance, demand and the complete package.
Often, our customers bring us the visual ideas and concepts long before the final details are developed. Well, my aim is to add value and equally tackle the challenges others face. I have over 15 years experience. I have been doing a lot of creative jobs and believe that ideas can be transformed to reality with basic creative solution.
The business is not lucrative because Nigerians do not patronise local fabricators who assemble component. Personally, I have been doing jobs for Nestle, Reckit Benkiser, Comestar Wire and Cable, among others; it depends on what they want at a given time.
Government’s role in growth of industry
Government should invest on local content and promote indigenous technology if we are to mitigate unemployment and be a developed nation. We can’t keep importing everything and continue being the dumping ground of foreign countries. A consuming passion for my country drives me. My love for Nigeria is often expressed through frustration. I rant periodically about Nigeria’s poor roads, power infrastructure and its employment problems.
The importation of keke that we have been spending billions on, I can fabricate and assemble it. I can even develop amphibious tricycle vehicle (keke) that can run on water and land, which would enhance transportation in riverine villages. There are people living in riverine areas faced with transportation challenges. It can become easier using this type of vehicle running on waters.
There is need to project indigenous technology. If anyone can sponsor my project, I would build a ferryboat, amphibious tricycle (keke) that would be more convenient and safe for people to travel through water. I carried out a research after visiting a friend who lived in Shibiri area in Ajangbadi around Alaba-Ojo Local Government in Lagos and I discovered a riverine area from the upland. I made some enquiries and began my research on a good means of water transportation that can open up the interior area for development. And I got the design concept from that moment for the amphibious vehicle in tricycle form.
Our government needs to collaborate with private individuals to promote the career. It needs structured training of welders through quality certification not just through practitioners in the informal sector who weld by the roadside.
Balancing advancing technology and local content
A person’s job today maybe different tomorrow, next month or next year due to technological advancement. In fact, the future may not look at their work today as a job but instead as simply time spent finding opportunities to create value. But the hunt for value will never stop, and for a younger person entering the fabrication field, that hunt could be the recipe for a fulfilling career.
The industry in the next few years
Actually, I would say Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) cannot survive without the use of metals and steel, which is what welding and fabrication entails. The future of Nigerian economy is in welding, manufacturing, fabrication and production. If you put all these together, you would be amazed. The stability in steel manufacturing industry is the base of development. The nation should focus on steel manufacturing and the welding/fabrication business because it would boost our economy and solve the economic plight of the masses. Once this area is properly developed, we have set the base to move into the industrialised world .
Furthermore, I would say that there are structural mistakes that steel fab shop owners make. They don’t have proper structural steel education before they hit the shop floor. Trade and welding schools give one the basics about fabricating, but you have to learn a lot more on the job. Someone who fabricates plate products in the world of structural steel, for instance, has to have an open mind; it is very important.