By CHRISTY ANYANWU
Ugochukwu George Igbokwe just hates the craze for titles. Despite being the boss of Make Me, an upscale salon in Surulere, Lagos, Igbokwe prefers to tell people that he works with Make Me. And for his profile, he simply states this way: “I am a husband and father of two most beautiful chics in the world.”
Make Me is an ultramodern beauty complex set up Ugochukwu and his Yoruba wife Bukky. There’s has been a seamless blend of beautiful marital relationship that is also minting money in their joint business, which was established after they both lost their jobs in another salon where they first met as mere friends with no romantic attachment. In the heat of the Valentine’s Day celebration, Ugochukwu broke off briefly from work to tell his Bukky’s story.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Unlike most people who are craze about titles, I hate titles and designations like Chief, CEO and all that. All I know is that I work for Make Me. I’m a husband and father of two most beautiful chics in the world.
A few days ago, the talk everywhere was about Valentine’s Day. Can you recall any memorable Valentine’s Day you spent with your wife?
(Paused, thought for a moment) My wife and I are both workaholics. And you know that the Val Day that just passed fell on a Thursday. I will be frank with you, everything that revolves around my wife and I is work, work, work because we have targets and things we want to achieve. We are pretty much close and working hard to push through and reach our target. However, there was one particular Valentine’s Day that fell on a weekend. My wife and I moved into Federal Palace hotel after work. It was real fun.
So what did you do about the kids?
I had my mum and my sister in the house. My wife’s sister was also around that year.
As working parents, how do cope with your children?
When my wife gets home, the first thing we do is to get the children ready for bed. Then she starts preparing food because she knows that I won’t stay long before coming home and want to eat as soon as I step in. But I can ‘grab’ anything and eat and that is fine. Besides we try to save as much time as possible to have rest rather than spending so much time cooking food. Usually, she tries to get out of the kitchen by 9 o’clock. When I get home I try to relax and also get some sleep because first thing in the morning we are out.
How did you meet your wife?
We met in our first workplace. I was already working as a barber in a salon where she was employed as the professional stylist. Her second day on the job was a pretty less busy day. Myself and some other workers were all sitting downstairs, chatting and ‘yabbing’ each other. At a point I think she got bored sitting upstairs alone and decided to come downstairs. As soon as she walked past everyone, my colleagues started ‘yabbing’ her too, saying that she was snobbish and didn’t talk to anyone. You know that kind of talk. I quickly hushed them and said, ‘Hey shut up, mind how you talk to her, she is my wife.’ She heard it, turned and looked at me. That was just all.
How come you made that statement?
I don’t know. I just don’t know. I just said it. Maybe I saw a pretty chic that was very quiet. I though, perhaps, it was because she was new in the place and didn’t know anybody. Anyway I just said it as a joke.
Okay how did you get her eventually?
At first, we became friends for a long time and remained so until we both lost our job at that place. Then we decided to set a business together, though we were married as at that time.
Did you know all along that she was going to be your wife?
Not all, marriage just happened along the way. Just before we lost our jobs, one of my aunts had called me and said, ‘we heard you are having something with Bukky.’ And I said, nothing oo! My aunt was not convinced that there was nothing between Bukky and I. She said there had better be something.
I was calm. But it was not just my aunts alone; two other people I have so much respect for also called me to ask about my relationship with Bukky. In addition, one of her aunts also raised the issue. Even our customers made the same observation about us. That was when I laid back and thought about it. I asked myself: what are these people seeing that I am not seeing in Bukky?
Did you have a girlfriend at the time?
Yes. Bukky and I were just friends.
How did she feel about your girlfriend?
It didn’t bother her. She didn’t pry into my personal affairs. Most of the time we only talked about our work, the business and how to make it better.
Then how did you propose to her?
That is the amazing thing. When we started working together, we began planning things together and making projections, setting targets together. We knew what we were going to do in four, six or 12 months. There was no special moment when I said to her, “will you marry me?” The reason was that we were doing everything together. As part of our projection we put in when the wedding would be and also discussed when would start having kids after marriage. We agreed not have kids until two years after marriage. We just worked together.
Then what happened to your girlfriend?
At a point I began to reflect because I never saw her as more than a mere friend and business partner. I suddenly realized that I liked her so much that I didn’t want anything that could jeopardize our friendship. But marriage I wasn’t sure about. I thought if I got pretty much closer in my advances, I might hurt her; so I decided to stay away and just leave it at the level of friendship. But at a point I started thinking, what I am doing? I have never seen anybody that has good character in terms of her mind, her being and personality. It was then that I started considering her as a prospective life partner.
She’s Yoruba and you are Ibo. Do you speak Yoruba?
So how do you cope at first?
If anybody had told me I would marry a Yoruba lady, I would probably take it very personal. I probably would fall out with you, that you were trying to curse me. As somebody from the East, I didn’t know so much about Yoruba people. What I knew was what I saw on television.
I’m from Umuahia in Abia State and I grew up in Aba. It’s almost impossible for me to imagine marrying a Yoruba woman. You get to meet people and then you understand that what you see on television or things you hear about places and people are not what they seem to be. You really need to see and experience things yourself to know better. I began to see that personality has nothing to do with tribe – it’s just the two individuals; how you understand and how you feel for each other, and whether you are willing to tolerate each other and sustain the relationship.
How did your family react to your decision to marry a Yoruba lady?
At first I thought it was going to be an issue and I was pretty much prepared. From the moment I decided I was going to marry her, I didn’t care whether anybody would escort me or not. Yet I still had to inform my people. As a matter of fact, I made up mind to go ahead without even telling anybody. I just felt that nobody had said no to the relationship all this while.
It was just my mum that said what? A Yoruba lady? I couldn’t hold back replying my mum, what do you mean Yoruba? Because of my mind set, I was ready for anybody. I asked her, do you know anyone? Have you lived with any Yoruba person before? Or have you lived in Yoruba land before? What do you know about the Yoruba? She fired back: don’t you watch TV? Watch what, I replied her? Then I said: You don’t sit here and scream, Yoruba. You don’t even know the person we are talking about; you have not seen her before.
I had expected you to say to me, okay, go and bring her. Then I will leave her with you, so that when you are done, I will come back and pick her. I told her, for all I know she is better than you. My mum was shocked and looked at me, asking, what did you say? I said yes, she is better than you in everything. If you bet me, I will bring her and leave her with you. You don’t have right to judge her just because she is Yoruba. My mother didn’t take it lightly and I walked away. That was the last time any other person said anything contrary to what I was planning towards my marriage. Today, my mother is happy that I married her.
What did you find most attractive about her?
She has a good heart and a beautiful personality. I was convinced 100% that I had found a helpmate in her. I had a strong belief that whatever I wanted to achieve, it would be much easier to achieve with her involvement.
When does your typical day start?
We leave home at 7 am because we have drop off our children at school. Then we head to the office.
What has it been like working with your wife?
It has been a great experience, and it has helped me a lot. First, it has helped me keep my head straight and manage every aspect of the business better. Working with her is constant reminder that someone is here and watching over shoulder – so I don’t have to do as I please. Basically, her involvement has kept me on my toes and focused.
How do you feel when female customers give you a peck, especially when she’s around?
As far as I am concerned, a peck is just like a handshake. Somehow you feel a bit awkward shaking a woman’s hand because it’s really not what I am used to in this environment. People want to give a hug or a peck. That is fine as far as I am concerned. I don’t see it differently. I have been in this profession for over 12 years. So getting a peck from a female customer is pretty much normal.
How do you handle customers who particularly want your attention or insist that only you should make their hair?
Hair-do has to do with preferences. Both male and female customers have their preferences when it comes to someone touching their hair. Some say it is spiritual, some say they are not at peace when another person touches their hair. Individuals have their preferences when it comes to making hair. The only time I see people walking into a salon without preference is when they come for the very first time. Over 80 percent of people that go into a salon already know who they want to make their hair.
I think at that point it’s the creativity that speaks. It’s not any other thing and as far as I am concerned, I want every woman that comes into this place to say it must be Ugo that will make her hair. That way, you know you are on top of your game; you know what you are doing, you know that the client still needs your services and that you are relevant. The moment people start saying, oh he is not around, ok, and I will come tomorrow. Then I know am no more in the game. I have a lot of clients that come here and say it must be me.
They call on the phone to know if am around before they will come down. Even if I ask my assistant to do anything on their hair, I must still touch their hair for them to get satisfaction. I look at it as them wanting to get satisfaction, in terms of their hair looking good and being assured that they are looking beautiful and that a good job was done on their hair. I am not saying that other stylists are not good, but that is what obtains; it’s fine and welcome.
How do you cope with advances from women?
I don’t know how people see this. I have a lot of clients that are full of ego. I would not say that nobody has never has harboured such thoughts or feelings in her mind, but they have not done so physically or directly expressed it. I have a whole lot of people that are very friendly with me. I appreciate it so much because they are showing their friendship and at the same time patronizing my business.
I see it that I must keep up whatever am doing, so that they keep coming. If there is any other thing in their mind, I have not noticed it and I don’t look forward to seeing that. No matter what I don’t want anything that would ruin their feeling or make them stop coming. My customers are very classy people and I respect them a lot.
Would you want your daughters to get into this same business?
That would be fine but I will not force them. I would like to see them show interest in it, have willingness and the self-motivation to do even more than I have done. But if they discover their talent in other areas, I will give my support. What else can I wish for my children other than that they excel in whatever profession they choose. I won’t compel them to become stylists.