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Entrepreneurship in IGBO LAND PAST PRESENT AND FUTURE

by Dr Nicky Okoye

Dec 10, 2018

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A lot has been written about the ability and the capacity of the Ibo man to create and sustain enterprise but not much have been written about the secrets,, the systems and the drivers behind this entrepreneurship enterprise that has defined the Ibo man for centuries on end.  

 Nigerian Entrepreneurship

The term entrepreneurship has become somewhat of a buzz word in recent day Nigeria, and even out to the far corners of Africa. National Governments are beginning to see value in the ability to expand the opportunities available to the entrepreneurs, in an effort to get the resultant benefits to the Nation. It has become obvious to many Nations across the World that entrepreneurs are wealth creators, and entrepreneurs are also job creators, so Governments that want peace, stability and a growing economy need to embrace the entrepreneurs and their drivers as fundamentals of national development policy. Nigeria does not seem to fully get it yet, but it seems that we are heading in that direction as officials and opinions moulders are beginning to see the value in expanding the scope and playing field for Nigerian entrepreneurs. The Local Content policy and subsequent legislation in the oil and gas industry is a clear evidence that the Federal Government is beginning to get the message. The law came after over fifty years of an oil and gas industry that has been the goose that laid the golden egg. Since 2010 after the bill has passed and signed into law by the President of Nigeria, billions of dollars in new wealth and new value has been created by Nigerian Entrepreneurs who before that law did not have any clear entry strategy into the lucrative production and exploration aspects of the oil and gas industry.

The States and Local Government still stifle entrepreneurs with multiple taxation, and other schemes designed to frustrate the entrepreneur largely because Government officials at the State and Local level still have no clue as to the symbiotic relationship they have with entrepreneurs in Nation building.

Global Entrepreneurship

The great news is that whereas Nations such as the United States and Great Britain owe their development to the efforts and initiatives of their entrepreneurs, Many African countries have continued to rely on their National Governments for the development of national infrastructure, and for even providing basic needs such as food, electricity, water and telecommunications. In my attempt to understand better how the United States became such as great Nation, it become very clear to me that the major competitive advantage the United States of America has had over most Nations of the World is the sheer resilience, tenacity and the drive of its entrepreneurs. And there exists a unique and strategic relationship between the United States Government, The academic community and the entrepreneurs. In which ideas are developed, researched and deployed to market forces, with the resultant benefits accruing to the Nation of the United States. This was clearly demonstrated in the development and spread of the internet itself.

No one is in doubt as to the value of the internet over the last twenty years. It is the internet that all online, social media and wireless platforms run on. So in some estimates that internet as a platform itself is worth over $100 Trillion that is trillion not billion US DOLLARS. How did I come up with this figure you may ask? Well you will have to count all the value created by the endless blogs, the value of all the social media platforms such as facebook, Instagram, linkedin and twitter, the value of component suppliers such as Cisco and Sun Microsystems as well as the value of the software companies that support the internet structures such as Microsoft and IBM. Then you will have to estimate the value of the devices and platforms that are sold for the sole purpose of providing access to the internet such as companies like Apple and its Iphone, Ipad and Itunes. You will need to calculate the value of online bookings for hotels, airline tickets, concert tickets, pay per view internet sites, online broadcast, the list is endless. In fact the $100 trillion value is looking more like a poor estimate in real terms; however the import of the exercise was to demonstrate the value of the relationship between Government, academia and entrepreneurship. 

The birth of the Internet

(An strategic relationship between Government and the Private Sector)

In 1972 a man named Mr. Vinton Cerf was working for the Department for Defence SCIENCE Labs called DARFA Labs. He was developing a system in which data could be recovered by US military forces if one of their bases that housed the data was blown up by enemy forces in a War or a natural disaster. The system was designed to move data around a network of computers linked together within the military circles and special applications were designed to make that data available to military forces even if the original computer in which the data was kept was no longer operational.  The system was fully developed however it was a military system and Vinton Cerf who worked on it was a research scientist so the invention belonged exclusively to the Us Military.

 

Along came a man named Senator Al GORE, he was later to become the United States Vice President serving alongside President Bill Clinton. In 1986 then Senator Al Gore learned about the project being hosted in the military systems for years but for which could have major non-military uses and would have major implications for wealth creation if it was allowed to be used in civilian life. Senator Al Gore discussed the idea with Vinton Cert and he learned that the military would not allow its system to be used by civilian life unless they were compiled to do so by an act of Congress.

 

So Senator Al Gore who was so sure of the benefits of this technology drafted what is now known as the “HIGH PERFROMANCE COMPUTING AND COMMUNICATIONS ACT” otherwise known as the “GORE BILL”, after many years of fighting to get this Bill passed, finally in 1991, the bill was passed and signed into law and effectively allowed the military system of connecting computers together over wide distances and even between Nations to be used by the private sector which in effect created the internet and the World Wide Web, and in sequence it also created and added trillions and trillions of dollars to United States and World GDP. It equally gave rise to a new kind of entrepreneur many of whom we now know including but not limited to Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Andy Grove, Steve Ballmer, Larry Ellison, Mark Zuckerberg etc. 

 


Early Igbo Entrepreneurs

The ibo people of eastern Nigeria have always believed in entrepreneurship, and if the truth be told they have never really depended on a Government system of business patronage as has been the case in most African business success stories.

The rise of Aba in Abia State and the rise of Nnewi in Anambra State were strong pointers to this fact. Individual pioneers set out to provide goods to the population, and then they taught their trade and their systems to their brothers and then before you know what is happening an entire city is created on the back of Entrepreneurship.

One of the most outstanding Entrepreneurs of Ibo heritages is Sir Louis Odimegu Ojukwu. He too was a beneficiary of the Nnewi spirit which had become common place by the time he grew to become a professional working for John Holt in Lagos. As a clerk with the large British company he noticed the severe strain a lack of adequate transportation had on eastern textile traders from Onitsha. He knew something had to be done about it and after speaking with his superiors it was obvious that John Holt was not going to do anything about it. He decided to do something about it himself.

He left John Holt to create a transport company to improve the trading environment for Nigerian traders between Onitsha and Lagos. He founded the Ojukwu Transport Company with only one second hand truck and he dedicated his life to making sure that his truck delivered the goods on time and in one piece. His young company grew to become the largest transport company in Nigeria, and in effect making him the wealthiest Nigerian alive by the Nation’s independence in 1960. He used his fame to build new structures and platforms for wealth creation and for Nation building. Chief Ojukwu was the first and founding President of The Nigerian Stock Exchange, in which he set the foundation for an organized capital raising framework to fuel capital to other entrepreneurs in Nigeria. In addition he was President of The African Continental Bank, which was one of the first joint ownership banks designed again to finance the early entrepreneurship ventures of Nigerians, the Ibru Organization being a major beneficiary of the financing provided by African Continental Bank (ACB). He served as a member of the board of directors of some of Nigeria's largest companies at that time including Shell Petroleum Nigeria Limited. He had also served the people of Ibo Land and Nnewi as parliamentarian during the nation's first republic.

In more recent times Chief Ilodibe who founded the Ekene Dili Chukwu transport company, built his empire in much the same way as Chief Ojukwu, first identifying a niche and exploiting the niche by providing superior service. Demonstrating the strong connection to the root framework and network, that Nnewi has come to be known for, as Chief Illodibe is also originally from Nnewi. Many other transport companies have been built up over the years giving the Ibo entrepreneur an almost exclusive control of the ground transportation of people and goods in Nigeria. These have included Chisco  Transport Company, Ifesinachi Motors, ABC Transport, The Young Shall Grow, Peace transport that recently diversified into the aviation industry, Tarzan Motors, Osundu, Chidiebere and many many more. 

 

The Present Igbo Entrepreneurs

Whereas Nnewi continues to demonstrate and define the pace and drive of the Ibo entrepreneur, many more Ibo sons and daughters have become exceptional in various fields of business. In today’s society we have intimidating accomplishments from Ibo entrepreneurs in the automobile industry such as Chief Cosmos Maduka and Chief Dr Innocent Chukwuma of Innoson Motors, in the Oil and gas industry such as Dr Ernest Azudialu Obijesi of Nest Oil and Dr ABC Orjiako of Seplet Petroleum, in information techonoloy such as Chief Leo Stan Ekeh of Zinox Technologies, in manufacturing such as Chief Chika Okafor of the Chicason Group. Out women have not been left out, such as Uju Ifejika of Britannia U in the oil and gas and shipping industry 

In most of the success stories of our great entrepreneurs the story of persistence, drive and determination has been consistent across the board. Their original homestead is no longer relevant as the concentration of Ibo entrepreneurs is no longer reserved for Nnewi and Aba.

In my many interactions with these people, I have come to the inescapable conclusion that the true definition of entrepreneurship can be crafted from the experiences of the Igbo entrepreneur.

Definition of an Entrepreneur

So in my definition I believe an entrepreneur must meet and satisfy the needs and demands of a population in other words he or she must seek out problems he or she can solve for a fair price. However in order to solve these problems he or she must be able to mobilize investment for infrastructure, development and essential requirements. This means that the skills of being able to get people to invest with you or in you must be paramount. In some cases an entrepreneur can anchor his or her sole entrepreneurship edge on the fact that they have the ability to attract or to mobilize investment from strategic sources. In this case this gives the entrepreneur an unlimited ability to expand in different directions and to set up different businesses. I have seen that this is quite common for the established Ibo entrepreneurs such as Dr Ernest Azudialu Obijesi, Chief Cosmos Maduka, Chief Leo Stan Ekeh or Chief Chika Okafor.

 In addition entrepreneurs must provide the opportunities for job creation as a direct result of their entrepreneurship activity as well as make contributions to social order, health care and world class education. And finally entrepreneurs must put to good use inventions, innovations and strategies that work. In many cases it is not the entrepreneur themselves that is responsible for a new innovation or invention however the entrepreneur must put that innovation to work in order to create value.

 

The Future of Entrepreneurship for the Ibo Nation

The drive for entrepreneurship as I have outlined in the above pieces has major implications for National Development. The jobs expected to be created for the teeming youth population must come from entrepreneurship ventures, and this creates itself a value chain of progress, development and creativity which pushes the Nation forward and stimulates even more entrepreneurs to go out, dare and create more wealth and more opportunities.

Business opportunities, products and services are built on the needs of a given population as I have defined and so the entrepreneurs of the future must take this into account before venturing out on their mission to be the next billionaire. We all have great passions but our passions are not necessarily great business ideas. And business ideas themselves are not really ideas into on themselves, as if you study them well, you will find that they are really just a gap in the market, the need of a population or the demand of a community, in most cases it is the customers that are crying out to be served with a new product or a new service and if the entrepreneur is listening he can build a business and make a fortune. Once a need has been met and satisfied by the entrepreneur, it can open up new opportunities for other entrepreneurs as value chains get created. This is most times an unintended consequence of a successful entrepreneurship venture. However is very important for Nation building. As many more jobs get to be created. 

The Value Chain Strategy of Entrepreneurship 

If a community does not have water supply and you suddenly dig a bore hole in that community and start selling water in jerry cans, you will be in big business, as most people will buy from you for a fair price. If you have supplied water for say a year and then someone sets up a jerry can manufacturing and repair plant nest to you. He too will be in big business. As by now the initial jerry cans of the community will have worn out, and many of the people who buy your water will need to buy more jerry cans so they could store more water. A value chain is now emerging around this little water supply business. As an ice making plant can set up and offer people ice blocks to cool their homes, or cool their drinks. Someone may even offer the people of the community a tank and an option of building them a pipeline to pipe the water directly to their home to avoid having to go through the trouble of fetching the water on a daily basis.   

This system I described above is how value chains are created and sustained and at the center of it all is the entrepreneur who has now created a mega business which is feeding the flow of many small and medium size companies doing business within the value chain directly and indirectly. As we seek to positon our young people to become the next wave of entrepreneurs that will take on the World we must look critically at the industries that hold the most promise for value chain creation and not just individual entrepreneurship ventures.

 


National Development Strategy and Entrepreneurship  

In building an effective National Development Strategy most Nations have come to understand that Job creation is one if not the most important pillar of National Development. As progress, peace and stability will elude your state and your nation if efforts to create Jobs are not put in place. And the Job creators as I have clearly defined in this paper are the Entrepreneurs. However our Ibo Entrepreneurs need help, they need stakeholders to play their role so that the atmosphere for creativity can be advanced, jobs can get created and the economic activity can flourish. 

The Role of Government

In order to really get the benefit from promoting entrepreneurship the Federal Government as well as the State Governments need to develop a systemic entrepreneurship strategy that will serve to do three things

1.  Prepare our young people for entrepreneurship; which means training and exposure to the systemic applications of entrepreneurship. The entrepreneurial mind-set, the technical skills and the skills for business success are essential in this regard.

 

2.    Define the industries that are best suited for entrepreneurship ventures. This is clearly the role of Government and they must provide this information on a consistent and continuous basis. The study of the growing industries or the industries that have the potential to create value chains are essential for this to work.

 

3.    Create an atmosphere in which capital can flow freely to the entrepreneurs of the Nation or the State in which this strategy is being implemented.

 

Role of the Entrepreneur

As entrepreneurs our role is clearly defined. We must innovate and identify new markets, new ways of doing things, new ways of meeting demands and new ways of creating or building value chains from a systemic matrix of a single entrepreneurial venture.

 

 

We can do this in three ways

1.    Seek out challenges and problems in industries and solve them. There are major challenges in the entertainment industry. Pirates have continued to undermine the ability of the industry to attract huge investment due to the fact that music or DVDs are replicated millions of times even before the original material hits the street. So the investors do not get their full benefit from the work that they have produced. If our entrepreneurs can solve this problem they would be winners, solving this problem is the stuff billionaires are made of.

 

2.    Identify Universities, Colleges and even Government research Institutions that have released technological breakthrough on certain products or systems. These systems can be easily licensed by an entrepreneur and packaged as a business. There are many such innovations in biological research, medical technology, pharmaceutical technology, information technology and so on that private enterprise is yet to catch on to.

 

 

3.    Seek out new sources for the mobilization of capital. Capital is the life blood of every business venture and as I have defined earlier the ability to raise capital is a major attribute of a modern entrepreneur. And in some cases it can be the only attribute the entrepreneur has. We must find new sources of capital locally and internationally that will fuel the creativity of our entrepreneurs and expand our ability to create new jobs in the long run.

 

In the final analysis every society will grow at its own pace, however the Ibo people of eastern Nigeria are in a hurry, they need Leadership and they need to be pointed in the right direction, they already have the drive and energy to get the job done. They must now pool together to provide a systemic solution for the entire Zone by promoting entrepreneurship.

-Dr Nicky Okoye 

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