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TRIBUTE TO TWO TRAILBLAZERS

By admin on July, 9 2015

Views: 3193

The Abiriba Kingdom is renowned for enterprise, it is a dynamic and active society where achievement is the watchword and peer rating very severe, therefore every Abiriba person as a matter of survival, seek ways to develop their skills and attitude to ensure excellence in their chosen endeavor. Growing up in the early eighties two young Abiriba entrepreneurs stood out among their peers for their ingenuity and enterprising spirit, from humble backgrounds and with little formal education they had taken the business world by storm and had become millionaires in their twenties. These blazing stars contributed in no small way in the industrialization of Aba in the late seventies and early eighties which earned Aba the acronym Japan of Africa and made the young entrepreneurs household names. The objects of this tribute are no other than Chief Onwuka Kalu aka Onwuka Interbiz or Onwuka HiTeck (1954-2015) and Chief Obewu Ukeagbu Onwukah aka Interland 1943-2015) who both recently transited this world but whose stories remain to inspire generations. The story of these stars epitomize the Igbo spirit of enterprise, hard work, intelligence, honesty and determination encapsulated in the slogan of the sportswear giant Adidas, “Impossible is Nothing”.

I begin with the story of Chief Onwuka Kalu who cut his teeth in the business world under the tutelage of his master, Chief Akanu Agu of the renowned Chika Brothers Group which was immortalized by the legendary Peacocks International band in their song “eddie quansa” which was popularized as the theme song of the popular Masquerade TV series of the seventies and eighties starring Zebrudaya. Chief Onwuka Kalu made swift progress through several positions such as houseboy, clerk and manager within the Chika Brothers Group. While working with Chika Brothers in Cotonou, Benin Republic his ability for business made an early impression on his master, he registered his own business in Lome, Togo and his master Chika gave him support in making contacts with Japanese textile trading companies. As an apprentice, his agency commissions on order from the Togo and Benin Republic operations were safely saved for him by his master until he went independent in 1976 when the bulk money was handed to him. It must be noted that Chief Onwuka Kalu’s experience with his master Chief Akanu Agu was not unique as many Abiriba businessmen and indeed Igbo businessmen launched their career with the support and assistance of their trade masters as mentorship and honesty were key drivers in the Abiriba and Igbo business model then. In the knowledge that Nigeria was the biggest market in West Africa sub region, Chief Onwuka Kalu returned to Nigeria in 1977 with the determination to go into the manufacturing of nails with the foresight that traders were about to encounter problems after the initial flush of the oil boom and the fact that the federal government had committed itself to a local steel industry from where raw material could be obtained. In 1978 Onwuka Kalu established the first indigenous large-scale nail manufacturing enterprise in Aba, NAGSMI. The manufacturing of nails started with two German nail presses, expansion to twenty-eight presses later enlarged the capacity to 20,000 tons of nails and made the company the largest nail manufacturer in Nigeria and a market leader. Galvanizing and electro plating facilities were added and the company diversified into manufacturing of motor parts through Onwuka HiTek plc, the first Nigerian Company to be quoted straight on the first-tier of the Nigeria Stock Exchange. Chief Onwuka Kalu’s enterprise did not end in manufacturing as he forayed into banking where he co-founded and chaired the board of the then Fidelity Union Merchant Bank now known as Fidelity Bank Plc but exited in the heat of boardroom squabbles. He was also passionate to give back to the African continent and organized the Children of Africa Charity Concert, the biggest musical concert ever witnessed in Nigeria, the Concert brought an A list of global musical stars to Nigeria in 1991 to raise funds for the welfare of poor African children, but his effort was undermined by the government of the day who chose the dates already booked for the event after all preparations had already been put in place to conduct the National Census, the military government restricted the movement of persons on the day and this adversely affected the concert. He subsequently had run-ins with the military government which culminated in his going into exile in the United Kingdom where he did not give up but continued to strive. He obtained a law degree from the Middlesex University, London while on exile. I now move to the story of Chief Obewu Ukaegbu Onwukah another industrial titan, who after obtaining his First School Certificate with distinction in 1959,opted to go into trading as was then the tradition of young men from the then Old Bende Division of Eastern Nigeria.

He became an apprentice to his uncle Chief Wilcox Ndem Lekwauwa who was trading in Port Harcourt. His uncle sent him to Gboko (now in Benue State) to hawk second-hand clothing. Being an ambitious young man Chief Obewu Ukegbu felt restricted and sought to transfer his apprenticeship to a young enterprising Abiriba business man Chief Onuma Nkpa Anyaogu, his wish was granted and he served Chief Onuma Nkpa till the middle of 1963 when he started his own import business with the incorporation of Onwukah Brothers Company and placed his first order of 50 bales of assorted used (second-hand) clothing from a company called O & L Trading Corporation based in Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A. In 1964, he diversified into importation of printed cotton fabrics from Mikasa Trading Company of Japan and the “Ramiroon” brand transistor radio also from Japan.

Chief Obewu Onwukah made a lot of money from his trade in textile and electronics. With the advent of the Nigerian Civil War, Chief Obewu Onwukah traveled to Europe with the permission of the Biafran Government to import various goods. His importation business continued to soar as he expanded into the importation of beverages and in 1971 after the civil war had ended, the Chief landed the first container loaded with goods from Rotterdam, Holland at the Apapa Port. It is believed that this made him the first Nigerian to bring in goods into the country in a container, thereby pioneering the use of containers to ship goods into Nigeria. In 1978 Chief Obewu Onwukah moved into manufacturing through his Interland Resources Nigeria Ltd, producing the Deluxe Brand of Tissue Paper and in 1980 further diversified into producing the “Inter Soft” range of soft drinks and subsequently the Fontaine table-water. In Abiriba the death of any achiever who has performed the traditional Uche ceremony (a noble) is accepted with joy, for afterall, death is a necessary end, when a noble dies, myth has it that the Ekpe (leopard) has run away to the bush to mourn the dead. As the Ekpe mourns in the bush, may it not be distraught for the Okpuzu Nde Abiriba and Obu Enyi Eje Ubi Nde Abiriba with their lives inspired many by showing that “nothing stops the man who desires to achieve for every obstacle is simply a course to develop his achievement muscle. It’s a strengthening of his powers of accomplishment” as stated by Eric Buttersworth in the Good Business Magazine. May their lives inspire another generation of Igbo business men and women to think home like they did, as we strive to rebuild Aba and Abiriba in particular and Ala-Igbo and Nigeria as a whole, through hard work, intelligence, honesty and determination.

Chinazo Anya

Credits: The Advance of African Capital: The Growth of Nigerian Private Enterprise By Tom G Forrest How to Make a Habit of Succeding By Mack R Douglas http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/industrialist-onwuka-kalu-dies/202695/ Mr Oti Onwukah