opinionBy Emeka Osondu
Emeka Osondu goes back in time to look at the once moribund spirit of industry among the Igbos after the civil war and concludes with the recent recognition of some Igbo industrialists in Enugu the once comatose spirit is strongly being reinvented
The numerous exploits by Igbo indigenes in nation building since the pre-independence and post independence era in Nigeria are clear testimonies that the people are indeed ingenious and great entrepreneurs. And in fact, there are no tribe in Nigeria where you go without seeing an Igbo indigene engaged in one type of business or another and contributing effectively to the growth of the economy. But the tide suddenly changed for the Igbo entrepreneurs at the end of the Nigerian civil war in 1970. Although the war ended on a "no-victor, no vanquished" note, the Igbo as a tribe was displaced in the Nigerian equation, economically and politically, just as the psyche was reduced to the rubble for losing the war.
Then began the automatic decline in their fortunes, especially as those of them that had huge amount of money in the banks before the outbreak of the war were give only twenty pounds after the war. And with such paltry sum, they gradually went back to begin new businesses to eke out a living, since there was no alternative. Surprisingly today, many years after, succeeding generation of the Igbo were able to scale through the hurdle and have made their marks felt in different fields of endeavour, especially in the areas of commerce and industry.
No wonder, to celebrate this rare feat, a broad-based Umbrella Organisation of Ndigbo in Lagos recently gave a platinum award to Dr. Innocent Chukwuma, the Chief Executive Officer of Innoson Group of Companies in recognition of his outstanding visible investments in Igboland, as well as the job creations among the Nigerian youths. Igwe Alfred Achebe, the Obi of Onitsha at an elaborate ceremony held in Enugu, delivered the investiture.
Igwe Achebe at the ceremony eulogised Chukwuma's tenacity and foresight in establishing industries in Igboland despite the obvious insecurity and inadequate infrastructure. He also praised him for the courage to invest in an environment that lacks basic amenities, like good roads, electricity and water. He however urged him not to be deterred, saying that his love for the betterment of Igboland is well known to all.
Earlier in his remarks, the Chairman of the occasion, Chief Kalu U. Kalu called on Ndigbo to have a rethink over their idea of developing foreign lands when their own is in deplorable condition. He thanked Chukwuma for making Ndigbo proud through his investments at home. He used the opportunity to call for group interest among Ndigbo as panacea for them to move forward, adding that such idea would help the people to achieve their desired economic goals.
Renowned economist and former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof. Charles Chukwuma Soludo, expressed delight over the performance of the award winner saying, that the idea of honouring him was heart-warming. "The award will serve as morale boaster to other emerging entrepreneurs. The awardees are role models in the society today. "They have taken the risk of investing in an area where lot of people are running away.
This is the first of his kind coming from a group that has genuine Igbo interest," Soludo noted. He recalled the exploits of Ndigbo in Nigeria, but quickly lamented over the desolate nature of their land. He pointed out that the people have lost proper economic and developmental focus. "We are not there yet; it's time for us to start intensive mobilisation of ideas, turnaround mechanisms and regeneration of minds.
"The recognition of these eminent investors certainly shows that there is still hope if all the ingredients are in place, therefore, the building process must start immediately," he stressed. Of course, the various successes achieved in recent times by Innoson Group of Companies are indeed clear testimony that hard work does not kill. And Moreso, it shows that more often than not, the seed of success is best sown in the field of despair. In fact, when Chief Innocent Chukwuma, as a budding entrepreneur set out to form the business name INNOSON, little did he know that something incredible was ahead of him. Even in 1982 when Innoson Nigeria Limited was incorporated to merely sell Tyres and Motorcycle spare parts at Nkwo Nnewi, Anambra State, the real message was yet unknown.
However, being the first indigenous company after Leventis and Boulous Enterprises to bring motorcycles into Nigeria was an eye-opener and a strong signal that he was destined to be great. Then two years after, exactly 1994, when the voyage to China began, little did he know that he was embarking on a mission that would give Nigeria economy a boost.
Six years after, 1990 precisely, his desire of being a dominant player in industrial sector unveiled. His mission was to satisfy the yawning gap in the sector, particularly the industrial and household plastic requirements of clients by using the highest standard automation and technology. He then assembled well-motivated and trained indigenous workforce as well as the technical partners from China. Innoson motorcycle in no distant period became a strong force in Nigerian market. The brand became a must demand for private and corporate organisations.
According to Chukwuma, "The joy of contributing towards the economic development of Nigeria by way of technological transfer, employment generation and competitive pricing of motorcycles, plastics and automobiles were upper most in my mind" In 1995, a fully automated motorcycle assembly plant was established at Nnewi, Anambra State, thus became the first fully indigenous motorcycle maker to join A.G Leventis plc and Boulous Enterprises.
Buoyed by the success of Innoson motorcycle, Chukwuma enlarged his industrial coast by going into plastic and allied products. That was in 2002, the year Innoson Technical and Industrial Company was incorporated. And the objective was to manufacture first class plastic products for household use, industrial applications and export. With state of the art facilities the plant eventually became the largest plastic factory in West Africa, with over 150 product lines.
Yet Chukwuma continued venturing, perhaps to fulfill the divine mission of making Innoson a global brand. In February 2009, the first made in Nigeria vehicle emerged! Under another subsidiary, Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company Ltd, the dream became a reality at Nnewi. It was an ultra modern auto plant producing intra and inter-city buses of various capacities, trucks and pick-up vans, tricycles as well as sports utility vehicles (SUV) with at least 70% local content. Already, Auto Star Company, Ekeson Motors, Orizu Motors, God is Good Motors, Eastern Mass are among the transporters using Innoson buses, while Enugu, Anambra and Imo State Governments have differently patronised the auto manufacturing company.
Chukwuma enthused "I am sure we have not left anyone in doubt that we are set to surpass records and re-write the history of automobile industry in Nigeria as we earlier did in the motorcycle and plastic sub-sector. I am also aware that some of our initial critics are being stunned and dazzled." Chukwuma's innovative spirit shifted to tyres and tubes manufacturing under another subsidiary, "General Tyres and Tubes Company Ltd".
Located at Emene, an industrial out skirt of Enugu, the huge factory in collaboration with his Chinese partners decided to fill the vacuum created in tyre manufacturing in Nigeria. The pull out of Dunlop and Michelins from the industry gave "INNOSON" a leverage to prove some critics wrong. Indeed, Chukwuma certainly used this establishment to demonstrate to Nigerians that human principles are like the stars, we cannot reach them but like the mariners of the sea, we can chart our course by them. That once, he is determined to venture into a project, nothing will stop him from achieving the desired goal.
The emergence of the product name "ROAD VISION" into the Nigerian market truly confirmed Chukwuma as a man with Midas touch. Hear him again, "We want to prove to the world that Nigerian rubber is the best on earth, that its quality has no equal if properly harnessed." Today, the products are scattered in all the leading auto markets in Nigeria. In communications industry, there are Innoson handsets of different dimensions in Nigerian market and beyond.
According to a statement made by the Group's Public Relations Officer, Mr. Andrew Rapulu Udeh, Innoson brand has contributed tremendously towards the successful transfer of Chinese technology to Nigeria. The evidence on the ground proves that. On record, the Innoson Group boast of over 7,000 indigenous workers of diverse disciplines scattered in various subsidiaries nationwide. These workers have learnt how to use different machines in Innoson factories. The technical knowledge has further improved their skills and business ideas. Of course, the industrial benefits derivable from the working experience have the potential to make each worker self-dependent.
He stressed that the business partnership no doubt has benefitted all parties involved. Chukwuma for instance has since rose from mere motorcycle spare parts seller at his hometown, Nnewi, to become an industrial icon in Nigeria.
His name in the sector rings a bell. He has received over 20 merit awards from institutions and governments both in Nigeria and abroad. Recently, the common wealth business council (CBC) bestowed on him the 2012 Business of the year award in London. The Chinese in Nigeria too are feeling fulfilled for having an indispensible business partner like Chief Chukwuma. While they offer Nigerians their technical expertise, they are equally enjoying her rich socio-cultural environment. The Nigerian large market has also given them huge returns on their investment.
Venture, they say, triumphs in the midst of adversaries, but the man who makes successful appearance in business world, the man who creates wealth is the man who gets ahead in the midst of storm.
Chief Innocent Chukwuma, despite the success story of his brand had enormous challenges on the way. "Virtually all the subsidiaries encountered different problems while on incubation. For instance, Innoson motorcycles just in the middle of capturing the market met unexpected disturbances from officials of the Nigerian customs service as thirty-five containers of its CKD were seized and auctioned by the service men.
Innoson plastics at Emene Enugu were almost closed down by the envious Indians and Lebanese's foreign investors who came to the factory based on wrong information regarding products copyright.
But then, the lessons to learn from the above ought to strengthen the mind of any potential business developer. That uneasy lies the head that wants to wear the crown Chukwuma further explained "If a Korean can come to Nigeria empty handed only to build a big business empire within an interval of two to three years, remits millions of dollars he has made from Nigeria why can't we Nigerians who own the country and understand the business secrets perform better," he stated.