That Nnewi in Anambra State is the home of ingenuity is not in doubt. The town is dominated by men and women of the can-do spirit and innovation. Hence their success in the world of business and entrepreneurship, reports David-Chyddy Eleke
Entering Nnewi, a bubbling industrial town in the southern zone of Anambra State, one would be greeted with what would at first seem a noisy town. Coming from Awka, Onitsha or even Orlu in Imo State, a visitor is faced with the sight of a sea of heads, all scrambling for space, and hurrying to God knows where. That is the restless spirit of the Nnewi man, which has stood him out as an ingenious personality in the field of business.
Besides carving a niche for themselves in the field of business, the Nnewi man has become very known for his innovative spirit, and referred to as the Japan of Africa. Entering the town, a visitor is greeted with the presence of more motorbikes than motorcars, and what is more fascinating is that everyone, children, men, women, rich and poor people alike ride on what is popularly referred to as ladies’ bike.
For the Nnewi people, the ladies’ bike is a must have, and a status symbol that defines who they are. In most towns in Nigeria, motorcycles have been banned as a result of the activities of criminal gangs, which have used them to perpetuate kidnapping and other vices. During the administration of Governor Peter Obi, he was once said to have contemplated banning the use of Okada in Anambra State, but when feelers reached business moguls in Nnewi most of whom are importers of motorcycles or even manufacturers, they quickly mobilised and held a meeting with the governor, and before long, the idea was shelved.
Obi’s successor, Governor Willie Obiano upon taking the mantle of leadership announced what seemed a technical ban on Okada operations, and even private motorcyclists on some major roads in major cities of the state, but in Nnewi, the law has remained almost inexistent as motorbikes remain the major means of transportation to all nooks and crannies of Nnewi, which are affordable to everyone.
Anambra is largely known to have men of means, and is said to have the largest concentration of millionaires in the country, and beyond, but Nnewi population accounts for over a quarter of the millionaires in Anambra State, making it the town with the highest concentration of rich people in Nigeria. What is more heart warming is that 99 per cent of these number of men of means are industrialists. Men who make money from thinking out of the box and putting their idea into action. The people are less known in the world of civil service or even as core government contractors.
During a recent visit to Nnewi, THISDAY sought to know the origin of the industrious nature of the Nnewi man. Even though they are big time manufacturers, such as Innocent Chukwuma who has carved a niche for himself as the first vehicle manufacturer in Nigeria to the likes of Ifeanyi Ubah who is today a big player in the oil and gas industry in the country. Other big names in Nnewi still abound, from Chika Okafor of Chicason Group to Ajulu Uzodike of Cutix, Cletus Ibeto of Ibeto Cement, Cosmas Madugba of Coscharis Motors, to mention etc.
There still abound young Nnewi upcoming industrialists whose works are either still being harnessed to world reckoning, or those who have given up their big dreams of their inventions rocking the world and resolved to make a daily living from their services to the public.
One of such is Mr. Kelechi Udechi, a metal fabricator. Udechi in an interview with THISDAY said he trained as a metal fabricator with the aid of the federal government assisted Industrial Training Fund (ITF). According to him, the training was supposed to include a grant to set up the trainees, which would help them to startup the business, but after waiting for the grant to no avail, he decided to attach himself with someone who already had workshop.
“Our business requires money for you to be able to try on what to invent. I don’t want to do the kind of metal works everyone is doing, where they bring you something and you weld it and you are paid, and that is the end. What I want to do, and what my passion in this job is, is to invent things, and you know that involves trial and error, until you are able to make it eventually. Right Now, I have conceived what I call a mobile shop, which will be fabricated with metal like the usual kiosks you see, but the difference in mine is that it will have tyres that will make it easy for anyone who buys it to move their businesses from one spot to another depending on where one feels there will be a business boom. In fact, it is targeted at those small business people who go from place to place to sell, depending on where there are events, and who do not want to display their wares under the sun like anyone else,” Udechi said.
There abound many more people like Udechi; from young girls who make a living from braiding female hair along the road to the motorcycle mechanic, tricycle mechanics and many others. The story of the Nnewi man, nay Igbos is one of no dull moment, and these have made them self sustaining, and not minding the economic condition of the country, the Nnewi man remains on top of his game.
Addressing Journalists in one of his outing, Dr. Ifeanyi Ubah, Chairman of Capital Oil and Gas and proprietor of FC Ifeanyi Ubah, said the Nnewi man in him makes him restless, and he is always on the lookout for opportunities that can spring money, from his days as a young boy. Having made it big, he said, he is also working to ensure others made it too. “My community, Umuanuka has come to be the best in Nnewi. For over four years now, I have been supplying electricity free of charge to everyone who lives here, and in that way, small businesses have sprung up.
This community has turned out to be the most developed in Nnewi, but because of my effort. Go around and see the kind of roads I built around the community, all interlocking. It is the same type I have in my street in Lagos. Within a year, you will be surprised the number of businesses that have been set up around this community because they are sure of roads and electricity.”
During a recent visit to Nnewi, where he was shown around several companies within the industrial town, former Military President, Gen Absulsalami Abubakar marveled at the ingenuity of Nnewi people. The former Head of State who toured a number of factories in the city, including; Chicason Group, Ibeto Group, Capital Oil and Gas and Tummy Tummy Noddles and a number of others, said he was happy with what they were doing, while calling for support for them from the federal government.
Abubakar said that the industry exhibited by Nnewi businessmen is what is helping to sustain the economy of Nigeria. While in Nnewi for the inauguration of Nnewi Hotels and Events Centre built by Dr. Benjamin Aghazu, Abubakar also said that no nation can live solely on the importation of products consumed by its citizens, hence the relevance of local manufacturers. At Chicasson Group, Abuabakar was showed round the five factories that make up the group, while some of its products; engine oil, toiletries, and several others were also inspected.
Chief Chika Okafor, told the former president that Nnewi has the capacity to do even more if the condition under which they operate are right. Lack of foreign exchange, lack of electricity power are some of the teething problems limiting the full potential of Nnewi industrialists.
“Government should show support to us here in Nnewi. This is the only town that has grown to what it is today with 99 per cent contribution from indigenes, and almost nothing from government. We face several challenges everyday, but the most pressing ones are power and foreign exchange for the procurement of raw materials.
We run 175,000 litres of diesel every week here. We are managing to sustain the factory from what we make from other businesses. We have a mining arm, agriculture, real estate and we are also into oil and gas. Business is hard now, we can take the option of retrenching some of our workers, but if we retrench them, where will they go from here? They are now like family members to us, so we shoulder the burden.”
Most people are of the view that support from the federal government to Nnewi industrialists will help the town actualise its full potential. When THISDAY visited the Commissioner for Science and Technology, Chinedu Emeka, on plans being made to fully enhance the ingenuity in Nnewi, he was not on seat, but a source in the ministry said he has stumbled on a proposal which was to ensure the signing of a Public Private Partnership that will actualise the building of an Independent Power Plant (IPP) to serve the people of the city.