26 year-old Ibrahim Adekunle never went to Secondary School. Attending a University is not one of his plans. After dropping out of Primary school due to financial constraints, he trained as a Blacksmith and Welder. But his knack for reconstructing and remodelling transport vehicles has ensured that despite his little formal education, his name is known across the world for good.
Some weeks ago, his “Limousine Tricycle” was one of the five selected inventions on the BBC’s coverage of the Maker Faire Africa, an exhibition for inventors which took place in Lagos. The picture of a regular tricycle popularly called Keke Marwa, but stretched to contain more seats than usual earned the admiration of many but also raised a lot of questions.
He calls it a “Limousine Tricycle” and said he built it after cutting a normal tricycle into two and adding more seats and parts in between. At his little space under the Oregun-Opebi link bridge in Ikeja, Lagos where he operates from, Ibrahim sat with BellaNaija’s Adeola Adeyemo inside his Limousine Tricycle and with sense of well deserved pride, he shared his inspiring story.
What is your educational background?
I did not even go to school at all.
You mean you’ve never been in a classroom?
I went to school small, but I left school when I was in Primary Four. My parents told me there was no money again to take me to school, so my father took me somewhere to learn Blacksmith and Welder work. I did that for six years before I got my own place at Opebi Under Bridge here.
What kind of services do you offer to your customers here?
I’m doing my handiwork – radiator, shaft and welding work.
The picture of your “Limousine Tricycle” has been circulated online and it has gotten a lot of people curious. Where did you come up with the idea?
There was a day I was just thinking about what I can do to make people happy. So I bought a motorbike and I started changing it this way and that way. I changed it to my own taste and put more seats so that it looked like a car. After that, I was still thinking of what I can do to make people happy that is why I went to buy a Marwa (tricycle). I first thought of doing it like a Double Decker and putting more seats on top but since Marwa has only three tyres, I thought it wasn’t strong and it would fall down so I decided to use it to do Limousine that is why I call it “Limousine Tricycle”.
I’d like to see the motorbike. Where is it now?
I had to dismantle the bike and use some of the parts to build this one because I didn’t have enough money to buy all the parts I needed.
How much did it cost you to build the Limousine Tricycle?
I bought the Marwa fairly used from someone at N180,000. When I bought it, I cut it into two and bought a lot of parts from the market to construct this. All the parts I bought cost about N150,000.
From the time you bought the Tricycle, how long did it take you to convert it into this?
Because I didn’t have enough money, I did it small small. If I see N2,000 today, I’d work on it. If I see another money tomorrow, I’d go and buy more parts. It took me almost six months. But right now, if I have all the money I need and I want to do it for someone, I can finish it within two days.
Adding up all you’ve spent on the Tricycle, it’s over N300,000. Have you made up to the amount you invested on it?
I’ve used it to make money but I don’t think I’ve made up to N300,000 yet. I just finished it about three months ago and I’ve had just four jobs with it. I’ve taken it to some Church Rallies and they rent it for about N20,000 to N30,000. Somebody has used it to do a wedding before and I can still use it for carnival. In a rally, the pastor will sit inside, preach and share flyers.
If you were to make this for someone, how much would it cost?
I’d collect about N700,000. In that case, I’d go and buy a new Marwa which is about N350,000.
Have you considered using it for public transportation?
I have but if I want to do that, I have to put a middle tyre and I don’t have money for that now. But really, I don’t want to use it for public transport. If I do that, all these police men on the streets will be harassing me so it’s better for me to be renting it out.
The Limousine Tricycle is quite long. How many passengers can it carry and do you find it easy turning it around on our narrow roads?
This limousine carries about 10 to 13 people. It is very easy to turn. I live at Sango and I drive it from Ikeja to Sango about two times in a month and I have no problem with it. Even when we use it for Church Rallies, it doesn’t give any problem on the road.
You were part of the exhibitors at the recently concluded ‘Maker Fair Africa’. Tell me about your experience at the exhibition and what you gained from it?
I met a lot of people there. They promised me that they will call me. A lot of people who saw the picture of the Limousine on the internet called me and asked me what the Lagos State Government did for me and I said nothing.
What do you expect the Lagos State Government to do for you? What kind of support do you need?
I need a bigger place to build more things like this because I still have a lot of ideas. This place is not really convenient for me. I need my own space and financial support for my ideas.
Do you train others in the work that you do?
Yes. I have two boys that I’m training here but they have gone to school. When they come back, they will join me here.
While putting this together, did you have any discouragement from people around you who tried to stop you?
When I bought the Marwa, I took it to Ojota to go and cut it and they said I should not cut it. Infact, we almost fought there. Some people came and said why do I want to cut the Marwa but I told them I am the one that used my money to buy it and I know what I’m cutting it for. They said if I cut it I will spoil it but I just told them to leave me alone. When I started building the Limousine, all the people that said I should not cut it were now admiring it. If I had listened to them, I won’t have even done this thing at all. Even my father told me not to do it but I told him not to worry.
Aside from the Limousine Tricycle and the motorbike which you had to dismantle, do you have any other similar inventions?
There is one tricycle that Fashola brought out that has a steering wheel like a car. I remodelled that one and I call it Entertainment Jeep. But I haven’t finished working on it.
You are doing all this with your money. And you haven’t gotten any external support. What is motivating you?
In Nigeria, people like things that are not common. I decided to build something that someone has never built before and I started from Okada (motorbike). The Okada that I transformed before can carry up to six passengers. I still have a plans to build that Double Decker so when I have money, I will go and buy a bus to build it. If I build something like that, people would be happy. I will like to use it for something like Lagos Carnival or Children’s Day celebration.
It seems you have a greater focus on entertaining people with your inventions?
Yes. I want to use them as side attractions, for entertainment and rallies, to make people happy.
Have you ever nursed the idea of travelling abroad with the skills that you have or are you very comfortable with the opportunities you have in Nigeria?
People are advising me to find money and go out of this country but I tell them my time has not reached. When God says yes, nobody can say no. But the thing is, if I travel to London or anywhere, I may not have this opportunity I have here. But I will just like to go abroad to learn how they build their engine so that when I come back to Nigeria, I will build my own full car. If I build anything now, I will have to go to market to buy the engine and put inside and that is very expensive. But if I can build the engine myself, there is nothing I cannot do. To build a car should be a very easy for us in Nigeria but we don’t know how to do it.
Do you have any training or experience with the mechanical aspects of a vehicle?
No, but if my Marwa or Okada has any fault, I repair it myself. I don’t have any money to pay a Mechanic so if anything is wrong with it, I will loose it and fix it by myself.
You have a very inspiring story, Ibrahim, and I wish you the very best. But before I leave, what do you want to tell people out there? What is your message to the world?
My message is that they should help me out. I still have a lot of ideas that will make people surprised and everybody will open their mouth and say this is very fantastic. Everywhere I go, I usually have a problem which is that people will be calling me and saying “guy, how do you do this, how do you do that?” Anywhere I go, people get attracted to my work. That is why I they call me “Mr. make people happy”. If I am going on my own with any of my inventions, once you see me, you will forget any sad thing you are thinking about and you will just be smiling.