Relative to size, Nnewi, Anambra’s second largest city has produced more millionaires to date, than anywhere else in Africa.
The Igbo, who sometimes refer to themselves as the ‘Jews of Africa’, have entrepreneurship in their blood. They have built themselves from the ground up, with little help from the government, after a controversial policy left them all with 20 pounds each, regardless of their bank balance, at the end of the Nigerian civil war in 1970.
But Nnewi was already on the map before this and we will go back to right where it all started namely with one man, Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu.
Shortly before Nigeria’s independence in 1960, Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu the city’s most famous indigene, reportedly Nigeria’s first black billionaire, and founding president of the Nigerian Stock Exchange was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. The royal honour came after he helped the British during World War II with his fleet of trucks. He was so wealthy that during the Queen’s visit in 1956, she was chauffeured around in his Rolls-Royce – apparently the only one in the country at the time – on the request of the colonial administration.
Ojukwu made his money by importing dried fish for resale and diversifying into textiles, cement and transport. When he died a year later, his wealth was an estimated $4 billion in today’s economic value.
His son, Chukwuemeka, who also ended up a billionaire, returned from Oxford University at 22 with a master’s degree in history and led his fellow Igbos into the Nigerian civil war as head of the secessionist state of Biafra in 1967.
Their hometown Nnewi has been nicknamed the Japan of Africa, because Nnewi is famous as a hub for automobile spare part dealers, and most recently, Innoson (below), Nigeria’s first indigenous car producing plant.
The town is also known for its factories that manufacture household goods and is home to the biggest road transport companies in the country.
Nnewi, with a little over two million residents, is a 30-minute drive from the Onitsha market – the biggest outdoor market in West Africa – on the banks of the Niger River.
In transportation alone, they stand head above shoulders above any one single location in all of West Africa. All roads at one time may have led to Rome but if you are into moving people or goods from point A to B you eventually one day will know Nnewi.
Here are a few of their dominant players:
• Chi Di Ebere Transport Ltd
• Ekene Dili Chukwu Nig. Ltd.
• Ijeoma Motors Nig. Ltd.
• Ekeson Motors Ltd
• Izuchukwu Nig. Ltd.
• Nsoedo Transport Ltd
• Orizu Transport Limited
• Blue base Transport Solutions
• Izu Okaka Anaedo Ltd
• UBI Logistic and Transport Ltd
• Nwa CHINEKE Ltd Door to Door Charter Service.
In addition to this total domination in the mass transit sphere, the town has produced a slew of other top-notch players in all aspects of industry in Nigeria. We have picked ten just randomly and in no particular order, to buttress our point. Needless to say each have more money than some banks do. They are all millionaires regardless of what currency you want to count in.
• Cletus Ibeto: The Ibeto Group has been described as the largest industrial enterprise in southeast Nigeria. It is a conglomerate dealing in hospitality, motor products, real estate, petrochemicals, agriculture and cement.
• Cosmas Maduka: One of the country’s foremost car dealerships, Coscharis Group, is the brainchild of a man who lost his father at four and had to drop out of school to sell akara bean cakes.
• Innocent Chukwuma: Is the founder of Innoson Nigeria Limited which produces sport utility vehicles, commercial buses and passenger cars at the first indigenous assembly plant in Nigeria.
• Gabriel Chukwuma: The elder brother of Innocent, Gabriel is invested in sports, real estate and hospitality.
• Alexander Chika Okafor: Chicason Industries, and one of its products – A-Z Petroleum, are household names in Nigeria. The conglomerate has made significant inroads in the mining, manufacturing, and real estate in Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
• Augustine Ilodibe: An orphan and mass server in the Catholic church, young Ilodibe was gifted £35 by one of the priests and he initially invested in motor spare parts trading. By the sixties, he pioneered the interstate luxury bus transport service; for years, he was the sole importer of these buses. After helping organize vehicles for the Biafran side during the civil war, he established the hugely popular Ekene Dili Chukwu Transport, his main cash cow and later diversified into brewery and agriculture.
• Ifeanyi Ubah: The flamboyant businessman funded parts of the Goodluck Jonathan campaign ahead of the 2015 presidential polls and unsuccessfully ran for the governorship of his home state, Anambra, in 2014. His wealth comes from investments in oil and gas, as well as exportation of motor spare parts and, recently, from sales of football players. In June 2015, He also bought Gabros FC for N500 million and renamed it Ifeanyi Ubah FC. He is currently a senator.
• Louis Onwugbenu: The head honcho of Louis Carter Industries is into manufacturing car batteries and pipe fittings, agriculture, food processing, real estate and, by the age of 30, he was already a naira multimillionaire. The headquarters of his conglomerate sits in the Carter Industrial Estate, spanning many acres in Nnewi.
• Obiajulu Uzodike: Nigeria is one of the foremost cable producers in the world due to many indigenous manufacturers across the southeast. One of the top cable companies is Cutix Nigeria, whose founder, Obiajulu Uzodike, cut his teeth in the business as a staff at a US-based aircraft and military wires and accessories company.
At this juncture, I believe we should have made our point as to how amazing this town is. We have also narrowed their blue-ribbon accomplishments to a few important but often overlooked factors.
First, was to remain standing on the shoulders of greatness. From the very moment they realised that they were a major player in the motor parts and transportation industry, they have not rested on their laurels. Rather each subsequent generation has taken over the baton of success and has run with it. A classic example is how rather than being content to just service trucks and cars, they expanded to motorcycles as well and now also dominate that field from Dakar to Douala.
Secondly is Pushing Development. Long before market development committees were formed in other regions of the South East, Nnewi had already not just done this but actually set things in motion. For instance, Agbo Edo, a forest which belonged to the Edo Nnewi deity, was cleared to make way for a new market called Nkwo Nnewi market. They understood where culture and belief had to meet the need for prosperity halfway or even take the back seat. The development of this market propelled the fast development of the local economy. So decades ago Nnewi had already accomplished what others are still haggling about.
Furthermore, despite their success in all these for mentioned areas of West Africa’s economy, the citizenry has not relented on their traditional occupations.
These would be the farming and selling of produce, therefore they depend mainly on agriculture and commerce for their other livelihood.
Most Nnewians have mbubo (home gardens) and ubi (out-station gardens) where they usually cultivate their farm products. These crops when they are harvested are usually taken to the market for sale. Most of the prime cash crops include oil palm, raffia palm, groundnut, melon, cotton, cocoa, rubber, maize, et cetera. Food crops such as yam, cassava, cocoyam, breadfruit, and three-leaf yam are also produced in large quantities. The location of Nnewi within the tropical rainforest gives it the ecological basis for the production of a wide range of tropical agriculture crops with widespread potential for the industrial convention.
This infusion of cheap food and extra cash has only helped bolster an already strong economy and make it very bullish.
Finally, we have also identified that despite their entrepreneurship in commerce and the thousands of youths that partake in the Igbo apprenticeship culture the community still takes a formal education very seriously and boasts of a literacy level way above the national standard.
They have instilled the importance of bettering yourself in the youth right from the kindergarten level and have provided an extensive infrastructure when it comes to schools.
In addition to the myriad of private schools, they also have Government institutions like Okongwu Memorial Grammar School, Maria Regina Secondary School, Nnewi High School, Ichi Technical School (Ichi Community), Ichi Girls, Akoboezemu Community Secondary School, Anglican Girls Secondary School, and Nnewi-Ichi Community Secondary School. But the cherry on top is that the illustrious sons and daughters of the soli also donate regularly and generously to a slew of scholarship programs to ensure that the needy are not left out of from progressing.
Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital (that produces medical doctors) is also at Nnewi.
Based on all of these observations and the continued hard work and effervescent spirit of the Nnewi indigenes, we predict that while others will do their best to equal this amazing feat of success, Nnewi will be continued to be mentioned as the small city that produces big people for a long long time to come.
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