Godwin Ezeemo started from the scratch to become a business magnate. He is the Chairman of Orient Group, an establishment with over seven subsidiary companies (Orient Daily Newspaper, Global Orient Water, Orient Mega FM, Sokka International, Orient Merchant Limited, Orient Farms Limited, and Union Haulage) under it. Ezeemo, unlike most businessmen, decided to build his business empire in his state, Anambra. He speaks with Anayo Okolie and David-Chyddy Eleke about his childhood and why he decided to build a multibillion-naira business empire in his hometown, Umuchu
The rise of the Chairman of Orient Group, Godwin Ezeemo, was a miracle. He was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth and for that, life was not easy for him and his siblings while growing up. His father died when he was too young to know him. His mother had to work very hard to ensure their survival. Ezeemo’s mother was making pots from clay and she had to go to all the four markets of Igboland in order to put food on the table for them.
Ezeemo said, “The church did almost everything for us, and that was where we gave our lives mostly. We only went to school when we had to, and after that, we were back in the church for choir or any other activities. But we were mostly in the church and that was where we were trained. It was while we were growing up that the Biafra-Nigeria war began.
“After the war, things were no longer the same for us. Remember, I told you our condition had begun to change because our eldest brother was helping our mother. But when the war, things went bad again for us.”
It took Ezeemo another three years to get back to school after the war because there was no money. He returned to school in 1973.
“I was the only one who went to secondary school. At that time, if you made a distinction, you were given a job by the education commission as a teacher, so when I finished secondary school in 1977, I was given a job to teach in 1978, before I left and went to Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro, where I studied Marketing and attained a higher national diploma and had my youth service in 1985/86,” he recalled.
After his NYSC programme, Ezeemo ventured into business. “It was where I did my youth service that I found out that you don’t really need a lot of cash to start the freight-forwarding business. All you need is confidence in yourself, truthfulness and ability to be persistent and persevere in all that you do.
“I lived in Lagos from that 1986 to 1993; and got married around 1991. It was in 1993 that the restiveness in Lagos began because the military boys did not want (Chief MKO) Abiola to be the president, despite having won the presidential election. There was a situation that looked like a war was going to break out, and everybody deserted Lagos, and even the Yoruba left Lagos and Lagos was a ghost city.
Fleeing to London
“That was when my family and I decided to travel to the United Kingdom. Our plan was to spend one month and see if things would calm down, then we could return. But on getting to London and seeing how organised how everything was, we decided to stay. I did not decide to stay because I wanted to make money. My business was thriving in Nigeria. I was a landlord before I left, and NNPC was my tenant. That is to show you the kind of place I had.
“One of their staff came to look for a residential place, and when he saw the facilities I had on the ground, he told me to reserve the entire place for him, which was about seven flats, and the company came and took the place for their staff. When they paid me, it was almost the entire cost of the building. This was made possible because I ensured I did a good job in the place, so when I want to do something, I do it well because you never can tell what purpose it will serve tomorrow.”
Working As a Cleaner in the UK
Despite his wealth after leaving Nigeria, when Ezeemo got to England, he started from the scratch. He took a job as a cleaner, just like many other Nigerians, no matter their educational qualifications. You see some people who get back and tell you stories, but that is what we do. I was a cleaner and later a security man. I did a lot of things before going back to my usual business, which was freight-forwarding. I joined one company owned by one Mr. Okoro, who comes from Umuahia, the company was First Atlantic, and I gave them six months free service, just to know how freight-forwarding was being done in England and after that I started my own company. While I was learning for those six months, I was also driving, and then went into security. But later I stopped the security job and was only driving, and that helped me to know London very well – an added advantage for me.
“You cannot drive then without a map, and then there was nothing like GPRS. So, after giving free service, I started my own company, but I was making money from driving to sustain myself because my wife was not working. I didn’t allow her to work. My idea was to ensure that our children were raised properly. When I started my company, we began with a small place, and we were paying about £40 a week as rent. I made a card, flew back to Nigeria and gave them to some of my customers for whom I had been doing business with before I left Nigeria. That is why it is good to be sincere. Afterwards, I got my customers back.”
Most of them, Ezeemo noted were already doing business with expatriates, but when “I told them that I had returned to the business, they moved their businesses to me and my business started flourishing and before long, we became big again.”
Becoming Big Again
It did not just happen by chance; it took a long time.
“We started looking for businesses to invest in; open new shops to supplement what the main business was bringing. You know, when you are in a business, and you are doing well, the next thing is to look for other businesses you can invest in. So, we went into importation. We built our products in China, brought them back to England and sold them and add up to freight forwarding.
We also included trading with forestry equipment. We got it from the US, brought them to Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Togo and other places. I will travelled straight there, arranged sales in those countries, got right back and so on. At a certain point, I told myself I was not going to spend the whole of my life in England. In the first instance, what made me to stay was because the society there was organised.
When I was doing my business in Nigeria then, it was so bad that you can go to the port, do your business successfully, but coming out of the gate, one young boy would frustrate your entire efforts because you were Igbo, and this would put you in a trouble that you need another two months to resolve.
This made me feel so bad, especially when you look at who you are, and who the person is, and you see that he is nobody compared to you. Yet, he has the powers to frustrate your commercial activities, maybe because he has someone as a godfather. This just kept happening, and that was one of the things that made me to stay in the UK.
His Ultimate Goal
But despite his wealth, Ezeemo is still respectful and humble and today, he is keen on giving back to the society through his business empire, the Orient Group. The company has over seven subsidiaries: Orient Daily Newspaper, Global Orient Water, Orient Mega FM, Sokka International, Orient Merchant Limited, Orient Farms Limited, and Union Haulage. But his ultimate goal of building a multibillion-naira conglomerate is not for material gains.
“My ultimate desire is to impact on my society. You are talking about the hotel, what about my other businesses? I made a vow to leave the UK and to come back home and replicate what I have learnt in the white man’s land, and I told myself I will not live anywhere else upon returning to my country but in my state, and in my community if possible, and that was what I did. So, while others are taking their businesses abroad, I am bringing mine home, and today, I can tell you that all my businesses are now in Anambra State. Concerning my businesses that are overseas, what I did was to bring an arm of them to Anambra and operate from here,” he said.
Next Anambra State Governor?
Ezeemo, who is also the candidate of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) in the upcoming Anambra governorship election, also promised to do more if elected the governor of the state.
“I am convinced that I can help my people to enjoy what I have enjoyed in the white man’s land that is why I am here to ask them to give me the opportunity to give them what they lack. I am fully prepared for this, and I have come up with what we call SHAPE: Security, Health, Agriculture, Power, Education, Empowerment and Environment. It’s a seven-point agenda. Among these, I have priority and that is power. All the agenda will be simultaneously handled, but where I will spend more money is power generation.
“From my experience here, I found out that power supply is very epileptic. To start with, in this company where we are now, we have three generators there as you can see. There is no way any business can run like that. No business can survive powering a company with generator in this country, and that is why I saw power is a priority to us,” Ezeemo disclosed.