Odogwu: The Iroko Falls at 91

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Chief Sunny Odogwu

Demola Ojo

Monday last week witnessed the passing of the Ide Ahaba of Asaba, Chief Sunny Odogwu, one of the most illustrious sons of Delta State and one of Nigeria’s greatest entrepreneurs.

Chief Odogwu was into different kinds of lucrative businesses with investments in insurance, property development, shipping, publishing, hospitality and many more. Despite wielding so much power and influence, he never ventured into politics.

Born in Calabar, Cross River State, Odogwu who hails from Delta State, had his early education in the South-western part of Nigeria. He attended St. Peters School, Broad Street, Lagos, CMS Grammar School, Bariga, also in Lagos and Ilesha Grammar School, in what is now Osun State.

He later took an insurance course at the London Insurance Institute in 1954 before switching to the City College, London, for further studies in management.

In a career that saw him start off as a trainee pilot, he changed direction when he joined Norwich Union in Lagos as a trainee insurance inspector and manager. That switch in career would later lead him to serve in various capacities in several insurance companies.

In 1953, Odogwu put his specialist managerial skills to work in establishing an insurance broking firm, Robert Dyson & Diet Limited, while also establishing a trading store as a side business in Lagos Island. His expertise came in handy in London, where he was an Insurance Inspector with Pearl Assurance Company Ltd in 1954.

From 1954 to 1958, he was manager at Swiss General Insurance Co., in Zurich, Switzerland before returning to Nigeria as the first indigenous African Director of C.T. Bowring and Company Limited.

He later resigned to form African Underwriters Limited, which later became African Insurance Brokers, the first indigenous Insurance Brokerage Company in Nigeria.

In 1966, he was managing director of The African Prudential Insurance Co. Ltd. A decade after, he became chairman of the firm.

Odogwu grew his insurance business and started diversifying into other sectors in 1972. By 1984, he had branched out into other industries under Sunny Iwedike Odogwu (SIO) group.

He was the publisher of the defunct Post Express Newspapers that was published both in Port Harcourt and Lagos. The newspaper was one of the earliest to embrace web publishing.

Odogwu was director of the Robert Bradford group of companies and chairman of Odogwu Group of Companies and of SID Properties from 1976.
From 1984 to 1985, he was Director of Sanyo (Nigeria) and National Fertiliser Company of Nigeria Ltd. He founded the Agro-Allied Sack Factory, Asaba, in 1988.

He was the Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of Odogwu Group of Companies Limited, consisting of African Insurance Brokers, The United African Insurance Brokers (Brokers at Lloyd’s), SIO Property Ltd, Afric-Oil and Marketing Company, SIO Motors Nigeria Ltd, and Post Publishing Company Ltd. Odogwu also found a new love for hotel investment and on the list of his assets is his Grand Hotel in Asaba, Delta State, and St. Regis Hotel in Ikoyi, Lagos.

The Asaba chief was a member of various professional bodies, including the Association of the Chartered Insurance Institute, London; Association of the Corporation of Insurance Brokers, London; Fellow of the Corporate Insurance Brokers (F.C.I.B); Underwriting member at Lloyd’s London and Fellow of the Corporation of Insurance Practitioners (F.C.I.P).

Odogwu was presented with the Zik Leadership Award in Business in 1997 and was recognised as Africa’s best businessman when in 1998, he was awarded The World Bank Group-IMF African Club Prize in Business Leadership.
He is the founder of the Nigerian-Southern African Economic Development Consortium, a group whose goal is the improvement of economic conditions in Africa. He is also a renowned philanthropist.

Apart from being the Ide Ahaba of Asaba, other chieftaincy titles include, Eze Udo I of Ogwashi-Uku; Ononaeyi of Amandugba; Igbologboobi of Ubulu; Nkume I of Ezi-Ama, Aba; Ekwedike I of Aba zone; Sobaloju of Ogbere, Ijebuland; and Tobalase of Ojoland, Lagos.

In 2004, the Nigerian government under President Olusegun Obasanjo honoured him with the Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR).

Obasanjo is one of many personalities to eulogise Odogwu after his passing by describing him as an “inspiring and frontline indigenous industrialist, an accomplished administrator, a foremost businessman and a tireless philanthropist.”

He continued: “I was sad because we will miss his contribution to the building of a new Nigeria of his dream but I am grateful to God for such a life well spent in the service of our fatherland.

“It is gratifying that he built a sprawling business empire, which is a modern day employer of thousands of people.
“He was, indeed, a patriot who had made sterling contribution towards the socio-economic development of our dear country,” the former president said.

Meanwhile in a statement issued on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari, he paid tribute to “the memory of the versatile businessman, who remarkably contributed to the socio-economic development of his immediate community, state and the nation, drawing from his extensive experience as an accomplished industrialist, entrepreneur, publisher and philanthropist.” The statement continued: “The President affirms that through his vast business networks, range of skills and perspectives, the late Chief Odogwu demonstrated deep understanding and commitment in empowering indigenous businesses, encouraging entrepreneurship and creating thousands of employment opportunities for Nigerians.”

Reacting to his passing, Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, and former governor Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, described it as a monumental loss to the Anioma people, the state and Nigeria.

Okowa in a statement condoling with the family said; “Chief Odogwu will also be long remembered and honoured as a very generous philanthropist whose US based Non-Governmental Organization, Africa NGO, supports more than 260 programmers in 27 African countries.

“In addition about 35 nations on the African continent have benefited from direct assistance solely sponsored by Chief Odogwu.”

Okowa continued: “Chief Odogwu equally demonstrated his large heart in Nigeria by creating and supporting an educational endowment fund for the education of the under privileged students in secondary schools where more than 3500 have benefitted from this scheme.”

According to Uduaghan, “Odogwu, like many other great businessmen who hail from Delta State, brought pride to the people of the state.

”In spite of his global connections, he returned home and was made a prominent traditional chief in Asaba (Ide Ahaba of Asaba).

“Odogwu’s death is a great loss to our dear state, Delta, Nigeria and personally to me, who had the opportunity of tapping from his global experience in business.”