Emeka Ojukwu

…Peter Obi’s nomination follows old tradition

By OBINNA EZUGWU

Onitsha, the commercial hub of the Igbo country welcomes you, from the west, not necessarily to Igbo land – which starts long before along the stretch of Delta’s Northern senatorial zone – but to South East Nigeria, an exclusively Igbo zone; a zone that only five decades ago, felt the devastating impact of the Nigeria civil war, but had in many people’s reckoning, rebuilt spectacularly.

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Emeka Ojukwu

But more specifically, Onitsha welcomes you into Anambra, a state that has either by divine Providence or by dint of hard work, produced most billionaires and intellectuals of any state in the South East, and perhaps, Nigeria; and has led the way, politically, in the South East’s post war renaissance just as it did before the hostilities.

With Mr. Peter Obi nomination as vice presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for the 2019 general election, the state might yet add another feather to an already well adorned cap.

Noted for commerce and industry, Onitsha is easily the ‘Japan’ of Africa– although this title is more often ascribed to Aba, if the Abia commercial city ever was, it has long been dethroned by Onitsha – and it’s Main Market was once reputed as the largest in West Africa.

Accessed from the West through the River Niger, Onitsha provides an astounding aerial view from the slightly more elevated Niger Bridge. It was told of how Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo on his visit to the East during his stint as military head of state in the 70s, got to the Head Bridge, stopped his convoy and in awe wondered aloud: “I thought they said we have finished these people!”

The above story has not been confirmed, but it lends credence to how quickly Onitsha was able to rebuild after the war. And if Onitsha is the ‘Japan’ of Africa, Nnewi, located less than 30 minutes drive away, is the continent’s ‘Taiwan.’

Nnewi, a community of about 500,000 people is famous as a hub for automobile spare part dealers, most of whom have gradually become owners of motorcycle assembly plants and producers of key components such as tyres, tubes, engine oils and sundry others, including assorted household goods

Inevitably, the town plays host to Nigeria’s first indigenous car assembly plant, courtesy of Chief Innocent Chukwuma, owner of Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing (IVM).

Nnewi has more naira billionaire entrepreneurs; self made billionaires who built themselves up from scratch, than any community in Nigeria, and quite possibly in the whole of the African continent. Interestingly, the town itself was built into a thriving industrial hub by its people. Motivated by discriminations they suffered in the hands of Onitsha people after the war, Nnewi business men took it upon themselves to establish their own town. It has since continued to thrive.

But Nnewi and Onitsha are just two towns – albeit the most prominent, alongside Awka, the administrative capital – in a state perhaps more than any in the country, has produced most notable personalities in all spheres of life.

Anambra prides itself as the Light of the Nation, a name it adopted after initially branding itself as Home for All and suffering years of political instability and armed robbery menace, perhaps, as a result. In truth, the Light of the Nation is what it has become, and truly, what it has always been.

Anambra leads the way in South East politics

The decision by former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Presidential candidate of the PDP to pick Mr. Obi, former governor of Anambra as his running mate in the upcoming 2019 presidential election generated grumbles by few individuals in the South East. Not necessarily because the former governor was not qualified. But because, according to them, Anambra has dominated political space of the South East and it was high time other states gave it a shot.

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Peter Obi

The announcement of the Obi choice prompted an emergency meeting of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) stakeholders in the zone who expressed anger at not being consulted before the choice was made. Apparently, the party wanted Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu who has been a major contributor, financially and morally to the sustainability of the party in the zone. Obi, on the other hand, is said to have contributed little.

But in proffering explanation as to why the party raised some objections, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State who serves as chairman of the South East Governors Forum, inadvertently attributed part of the reasons to the fear of ‘Anambra domination’ when he noted that: “We must take decisions against the marginalisation of Ebonyi people because if we have to vote, we must be treated with equity.

“Two names of the nominees came from Anambra, two from Abia and one from Enugu but none came from Ebonyi and Imo. What is wrong with somebody from Ebonyi and Imo and you must know that one of the reasons an Ebonyi man is against regions in the country, is the fear of further marginalization.”

Either by design or coincidence, Anambra has tended to dominate the political space of the South East. Starting from the days of the Late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s first president who hailed from Onitsha, the state has held the highest office of any South East State at the federal level.

Nwafor Orizu, from Nnewi, was the country’s first independence senate president and indeed acting president, having taken over from London bound Azikiwe in 1966, and was in charge as president when the Kaduna Nzeogwu coup took place that year. It was Orizu who handed over to the late General Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi, the Ibeku, Umuahia born military general who became the country’s first military head of state.

With the coup and he emergence of Ironsi as head of state, Col. Chukwuemeka Ojukwu from Nnewi, Anambra state, was appointed the governor of the eastern region. He it also was who led the failed Igbo republic, Biafra.

The subsequent killing of Ironsi and the follow up war that ended with the defeat of Biafra led to years of military leadership that for obvious reasons relegated the Igbo to the background. Indeed, the war, it could be said, altered the destiny of the Igbo in the Nigerian federation for good.

But even in those most trying post war times, Dr. Ukpabi Asika, who, like Azikiwe, hailed from Onitsha, held sway as Administrator of the East Central State. Derided mostly as a saboteur for supporting the Yakubu Gowon led federal government during the war, Asika undertook the unenviable job of rebuilding the war torn East Central State as head of a government said to have been starved of funds.

When the military thought it necessary to return power to the civilians, and the mantle fell on Shehu Shagari who became the country’s first executive president, the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme, from Oko, Orumba South LGA of Anambra, became the first vice president. He remains the highest ranking Igbo public office holder in post civil war Nigeria till date; and indeed, the third highest of any Igbo after Azikiwe and Orizu, all from the same state. And Obi, as vice president, will only add to that record.

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Nnamdi Azikiwe

But it’s not only in the political sphere that Anambra has made its mark. In business, as noted earlier, the state has quite easily the highest number of billionaire entrepreneurs of any state in the South East, and almost certainly, the entire country. And it has had a long history of it.

“When they say they are the number one state in the South East,” noted APGA chieftain Okey Okoroji, “We get angry and say it’s not true. But the evidence is clear.”

The first recorded black billionaire in modern history is Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, father of the late Emeka Ojukwu who led the Biafra side during the thirty-month old civil as governor of the Eastern Region and subsequent head of the short-lived Biafra state.

Profiled by Time Magazine in 1965, Ojukwu senior achieved huge success in business in the 1950’s, importing dried fish for resale, and diversifying into textiles, cement and transport. The use of his fleet of lorries by the British government during the Second World war established the international status of his business.

He was the founding Nigerian president of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, and was knighted by the English monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. The royal honor came after he assisted the British war efforts during World War II with his fleet of trucks.

By the Queen’s first visit to Nigeria in 1956, he had become so wealthy that it was his Rolls-Royce that was used to drive the Queen around upon the request of the colonial government.

Ojukwu was to be a pathfinder for numerous other sons of the town who followed in his footsteps, including, of course, Innocent Chukwuma, dubbed Nigeria’s first indigenous car maker.

Chukwuma, a school dropout, has walked up the business ladder by dint of hard work and dedication. Today, he is the country’s poster boy for indigenous manufacturing with factories in Nnewi and Enugu.

Other billionaire entrepreneurs of note from the state include Ukpo, Dunukofia born Arthur Eze. Reputed to be one of the richest men on the continent, Eze is the founder and Chairman of Atlas Oranto Petroleum, which has assets in Nigeria, Liberia, Guinea, Gambia and the UK.

Sir Emeka Offor, an oil magnate from Oraifite, is chairman of the board of directors of Enugu Electricity Distribution Company and chairman of both the ERHC and the Chrome Group, which he set up in 1994. Chrome Group operates in various sectors of the Nigerian economy, with interests in oil and gas, international holdings and domestic holdings in telecommunications, power sector, and insurance industry.

Cletus Ibeto, Nnewi, the founder and CEO of Ibeto Group, perhaps the largest industrial enterprise in the entire South East. Although the most recognisable product of the group is the Ibeto Cement, the Ibeto conglomerate also deals in hospitality, motor products, real estate, petrochemicals and agriculture.

Chika Okafor, Nnewi, the founder of Chicason Industries, his business conglomerate has made significant impact in the mining, manufacturing, and real estate in Nigeria and Sierra Leone. His signature product in Nigeria is A-Z Petroleum products.

Chief Godwin Okeke, the Agulu born founder of GUO & Sons Transport limited has made his mark in the transport business in the recent years. There was also late Chief Augustine Ilodibe before him.

Dr. Chidi Anyaegbu, the Nnewi born billionaire is the founder of Chisco Group Energy and Chisco Group Transport, about the most prominent transport company in Nigeria today.

Cosmas Maduka, Nnewi, is the founder of Coscharis Group, one of the country’s largest car dealerships. The group deals in Ford, BMW, Jaguar, Range Rover and Rolls-Royce. Recently, it diversified into agriculture, specifically into large scale rice production.

Louis Onwugbenu, Nnewi, founder of Louis Carter Industries whose motorcycles remain first choice across South Eastern Nigeria. Onwugbenu, who dropped out of school at the outbreak of the war in 1967, got his nickname from weekly trips to Lagos to sell motor spare parts under the Carter Bridge. With money he made from his trips, he diversified into manufacturing motorcycles, car batteries and pipe fittings, agriculture, food processing, real estate.

Vincent Amaechi Obianodo, founder and CEO of The Young Shall Grow Motors Limited is another Nigerian billionaire of Anambra origin, Nnewi precisely, who has made indelible impact in the transport industry.

Augustine Ejikeme Ilodibe, Nnewi. In his day, throughout the 1960s and as recent as the 1990s, Ilodibe owned the largest commercial bus fleet in the country, Ekenedilichukwu Transport. A company he started with a small Morris Minor car; a gift from an Irish priest he served. He has since divested into brewery and agriculture.

Patrick Ifeanyi Ubah, the young, dynamic CEO of Capital Oil who heavily funded the Goodluck Jonathan campaign in 2015 through his Transformation Agenda, is also the owner of FC Ifeanyi Uba, a Nnewi based football club plying its trade at the Nigerian Professional Football League. Formally Gabros International, Uba acquired the club from its former owner, Gabriel Chukwuma, the elder brother of Innocent Chukwuma who is himself a billionaire patent medicine dealer.

Obiajulu Uzodike, Nnewi, the Harvard Business School alumni, owner of Curtix Nigeria, producers of Curtix Cables made his mark as a staff at a US-based aircraft and military wires and accessories company. He set up Curtix in 1982 and it would eventually become the first indigenous firm in the South East to be listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

Dr. Ernest Nnaemeka Azudialu-Obiejesi, an entrant into the mix from Okija, is the founder and Group Managing Director of Nestoil PLC. He is noted for turning his village in Okija into a modern city with multi-billion naira worth of infrastructure.

Other prominent entrepreneurs from the state comprise of Chris Uba and his brother, Senator Andy Uba; Chief Anthony Enukeme OON, founder of Tonimas Group; Chief Clement A.O. Chiadikobi; Chairman of Cabipa Group; Engr. Paul N. Enidom; MD/CEO of Paul-B Nigeria Plc and many others. No other state can boast of this number of billionaires in the country.

Anambra has also produced more literary giants than any state in the South East, and certainly Nigeria. The Ogidi born, late Professor Chinua Achebe, author of “Things Fall Apart” is the most celebrated writer on the African continent. His other works include, but not limited to, Anthills Of The Savannah, Arrow of God, No Longer At Ease, There Was a Country and The Trouble With Nigeria.

“Anambra won first position in the immunisation campaign all over Nigeria. Again, our girls went to the US and won gold in the world Technovation Challenge,” said Don Adinuba, Commissioner for Information, Anambra State. “We are always number one, if you are not the number one, don’t come here.”

Achebe’s contemporary, the late Cyprian Duaka Ekwensi, from Oyi, is also an author of many novels and short stories, some of which include People of the City, Drummer Boy, Jagua Nana and many others. Ekwensi received the Dag Hammarskjöld International Prize in Literature in 1968. In 2001, he was made an MFR and in 2006, he became a fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Letters.

Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike, the celebrated author of Expo ’77, Bottled Leopard, Toads For Supper, The Naked gods, Chicken Chasers, among others, is another literary giant from Anambra. Ike was a former registrar of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC).

Onuora Nzekwu, the co-author of Eze Goes to School and Eze Goes to College with historian Michael Crowder is another Nigerian of Anambra origin who made a mark in the literature field.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Enugu born author and activist with roots from Abba Njikoka, Anambra where her parents hail from, is easily the most celebrated Nigerian writer in modern times. Adichie’s most popular works include Purple Hibiscus, Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun. A feminist, Adichie is increasingly becoming a controversial figure with some of her pronouncements as regards to the treatment and the place of women in the society.

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