NNEWI THE LAND OF GOLD (ANAEDO) at Glanc
In the past several days, Nnewi, an industrial town in the south of Anambra State, has been the subject on the lips of most Nigerians. This is not surprising. The recently arrested kidnapper, Chukwudumeje ‘Evans’ Onwuamadike, claims Nnewi as his hometown.
But many Nigerians have asserted that there is far more to Nnewi than being the homeland of an infamous felon. Residents of the town, including one of its royal fathers, insist that the notoriety of an individual cannot be the perimeter with which the character of an entire town is measured. And indeed, not a few would agree that Evans and his criminal activities would be too small to blight Nnewi’s positive accomplishments on the national and continental stages.
During a three-day visit to this thriving capital of Nnewi North Local Government Area of Anambra State last week, the reporter discovered that such Nigerians are not far from the truth.
Nnewi at a glance
Nnewi is the second largest town in Anambra State. The metropolitan city covers two local government areas – Nnewi North and Nnewi South. Nnewi North, which is generally known as Nnewi Central, is made up of four autonomous quarters. These are Otolo, Uruagu, Umudim and Nnewichi. Each of the quarters has an Obi or traditional ruler with his own palace. The overall paramount traditional ruler of Nnewi town is the monarch – Obi of Otolo and Igwe of Nnewi, Igwe Kenneth Onyeneke Orizu 111.
Scores of eminent men and women that have made indelible marks across the country and beyond have their roots in the town.
It is also known as the city of billionaires. And those that garlanded the town with such superlative epithet can hardly be accused of engaging in vain exaggerations.
Nnewi is the hometown of many members of the class of Nigeria’s rich and affluent – business moguls and industrialists that have made good money for themselves and whose companies across the country and beyond employ thousands of Nigerians. It is generally believed that the town is the birthplace of most of Nigeria’s private jet owners.
Good, not-too-good roads
What you first notice in Nnewi, as you drive into the town are the good roads. Though the main town itself isn’t a very expansive place, it’s unlikely that vehicle owners at Nnewi would be paying regular visits to the mechanic’s workshop to fix suspensions and shock absorbers – well, unless they live far away from Nnewi Central.
Unlike the collapsed federal Enugu-Onitsha Expressway, many of the roads in Nnewi are in a good state. Some of such roads are the Old Nnewi-Onitsha Road, Owerri Road, Nwafor Orizu Road, 100 Foot Road, Edoezemewi Road and Nnobi Road, among others. Although there are some with few potholes, the roads are quite passable.
There are some bad ones, though, mostly in the outskirts of Nnewi Central. Chief among such is Akamili Road at Umudim, a winding, slippery motorway that meanders its way uphill before morphing into three or more equally dilapidated pathways.
Bikes, bikes, everywhere
Everywhere you go at Nnewi, the most conspicuous items on every road are motorcycles. And they come in different forms and sizes. In the town, it’s like everyone – old and young, male and female – owns a bike.
Besides the commercial motorbikes, which ply all the roads and streets in their numbers, the people of Nnewi have developed other uses for their ubiquitous, much-cherished bikes. There are the small ones known as Lady’s Bikes. Those ones have just a single seat for the rider. There is a basket attached to the front and a space at the back that could accommodate heavier loads. These are usually operated by women.
The bigger bikes are for the men. A lot of motorcycle owners in Nnewi are private operators: Their bikes are not for commercial purposes. Some others operate power bikes, their engines whipping up loud wails, as they cruise on top speed along Nnewi roads.
In truth, the story of the motorbikes of Nnewi would have to be told in a separate, more elaborate report.
Land of men of means
Even if you have never been to Nnewi, you possibly wouldn’t claim ignorance of the town’s sterling pedigree. If there’s one thing the town boasts of in generous numbers, it is the enviable assemblage of influential personalities, men and women of means and might that the community has produced over the years.
“Nnewi is not a very big town, but it has produced very big individuals,” Joseph Chukwuemaka told the reporter. “If you look at the history of Nigeria, you will discover that people from Nnewi have contributed a lot to the development. In the areas of politics, diplomacy and industries, Nnewi is not a town that you can joke with.”
He’s very correct. Nnewi indeed boasts of an impressive array of eminent personalities. Some prominent names from Nnewi include Igwe Orizu I (Eze Ugbonyamba). He was the 18th Igwe Nnewi and the first Igbo person to own and drive a car; Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, OBE; First Nigerian multimillionaire and father of the late Ikemba Nnewi and Eze Igbo Gburugburu, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.
The Ikemba himself was the first university graduate in the Nigerian Army, former military governor of defunct Eastern Nigeria and President of defunct Republic of Biafra. Also on the list are Dr. Chu Okongwu, Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance; Prof. A. B. C. Nwosu, former Minister of Health; Prof. Kingsley Moghalu, former Deputy Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria; Ambassador Francis Chuka Nwokedi, first indigenous Nigerian Federal Permanent Secretary; Prince Nwafor Orizu, Acting President of Nigeria (1965-1966); M. C. K. Ajuluchukwu, foremost Nigerian journalist, anti-colonialist, Igbo leader and first republic lawmaker; Dr. Dozie Ikedife, former President-General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo; Cletus Ibeto, a prominent industrialist; Gabriel Chukwuma, Founder of Beverly Hills Resort & Hotel, Nnewi and Gabros International F.C. Nnewi; Late Chief Augustine Ejikeme Ilodibe, founder of Ekenedilichukwu Motors Nigeria Limited; Chief D. C. Ubajaka, founder of Izuchukwu Transport Nig. Ltd; Mr. Innocent Chukwuma, founder of Innoson Group, manufacturers of Nigeria’s first indigenous automobiles; L. Amazu, founder of Chi di Ebele Transport Limited and Amazu Oil; Mr. Cosmas Maduka, founder, Coscharis Group; Dame Virginia Etiaba, Nigeria’s first female governor; Mr. Louis Onwugbenu (Louis Carter), an industrialist and philanthropist; Obiajulu Uzodike, industrialist and founder, Cutix Nigeria Plc; Chika Okafor, Industrialist and founder of Chikason Group; Ifeanyi Uba, founder, Capital Oil and Gas Limited; Chief Ebele Okeke; Head of the Federal Civil Service in Nigeria from July 2007 to 2008; Humphrey Obimma, founder, El-nac International Ltd; the late Chief Mike Ilodibe Ononenyi Nnewi, founder of Ilodibe Motors Ltd; Dr. Emma Okeson, CEO, Citylights West Africa, a prominent lighting company across West Africa, and Joachin N. Okwonko, Co-founder, UBI Group of Companies (Nigeria & Ghana) and Founder/CEO, Nahid’s Properties.
Japan of Africa
Nnewi is popularly addressed as the Japan of Africa – a community where wholly or partly manufactured products come rolling out of the mills in copious quantities every day of the week. Many founders of manufacturing concerns in Nigeria are from Nnewi, and naturally, a number of such prosperous indigenes have established factories and branches of their companies in their hometown. As such, a number of products and their parts- motor vehicles, motorcycles, tyres, tiles, batteries and many others – are being manufactured or assembled at Nnewi.
Innoson Group, which manufactures vehicles, has a facility in the town. So do Ibeto Group of Companies, Cutix and ADswitch, Uru Industries Ltd., Omata Holdings Ltd., Cento Group of Companies, Coscharis of Companies Group, Ebunso Nig. Ltd., John White Industries, Ejiamatu Group of Companies, Chicason Group, and Louis Carter Group, among others.
In June 2013, the first wholly made-in-Nigeria motorcycle was unveiled at Nnewi by the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI). The motorbike was christened NASENI M1. The reporter learnt that the 80C-engine motorcycle was conceived, designed and manufactured, using local materials, by Nigerian engineers at the National Engineering Design Development Institute (NEDDI), one of the nine research and development (R&D) institutes supervised by NASENI.
Executive Vice Chairman of NASENI, Dr. Muhammed Sani Haruna, did the test-drive of the motorbike within the NEDDI factory complex in Nnewi and proclaimed that the vehicle was working perfectly.
Expansive spare parts market
For decades, Nnewi has been an expansive spare parts market. The reporter learnt that traders come from Nigeria and parts of West Africa to purchase spare parts from the town. Many of the spare parts dealers also come from Cameroun.
It was gathered that after many years of importing spare parts from Japan and other parts of the world, the businessmen at Nnewi thought it would be better if the products could be assembled right there in their community. Gradually, the traders turned to industrialists.
A ready example is Cletus Ibeto of the Ibeto Group. Ibeto started out as an importer of spare parts, after spending some years as an apprentice. He was an importer dealing in lead acid automotive batteries and plastic motor accessories, and was based in his hometown of Nnewi. Then he started building a factory in the town.
In 1988, Ibeto stopped direct importation of spare parts and began manufacturing them in his Nnewi factory. And seven years later, in 1995, his Ibeto Group had become one of the largest auto spare parts manufacturing outfits in the country.
With a long history of trading relations with exporters from various parts of Asia, Nnewi quickly metamorphosed into a major industrial zone, a thriving manufacturing hub, to the delight of its indigenes.
Within the past decade, Nnewi has been experiencing rapid industrial development. About two dozen large and medium industries in different sectors have been established in the town. In the past five decades or thereabouts, indigenes of Nnewi have been in charge of about 90 per cent of the auto parts business in the country. And in the many manufacturing and assembling firms in the town, thousands of Nnewi natives and non-natives benefit from the growing industrialization of the community through direct employment opportunities.
Besides its industrial pedigree, Nnewi has, since the end of the Second World War, made a name for itself as the home of several transport and logistics businesses. Sir Louis Philip Odumegwu Ojukwu was one of Nigeria’s first transporters.
Sir Ojukwu, the reporter was informed at Nnewi, exemplified the irrepressible spirit of the Nnewi native. In 1929, aged 20, Sir Ojukwu went to Lagos with nothing besides his intellect and his academic certificates. Ten years later, he was already managing his own chain of businesses including Ojukwu Stores, Ojukwu Textiles and Ojukwu Transportation company. By 1950, Ojukwu Transportation Company had over 200 trucks in its fleet.
Since then, Nnewi has become the homeland of founders of some of the major transportation companies in the country. Some of these are Chi Di Ebere Transport Ltd; Ekene Dili Chukwu Nig. Ltd; Ijeoma Motors Nig. Ltd; Ekeson Motors Ltd; Izuchukwu Nig. Ltd; Nsoedo Transport Ltd; Orizu Transport Limited; GUO Transport Limited; Bluebase Transport Solutions; Izu Okaka Anaedo Ltd and UBI Logistics and Transport Ltd.
Hotels and more
As an industrially active community, visitors troop to Nnewi on a regular basis. There are a number of hotels that might provide some shelter for the fatigued wayfarer or business visitor. These include Beverly Hills Hotel, Calido Fine Hotel, Hotel De Universe, Jideofo Hotel, King’s Palace Hotel, Con-Vaj Centre, Regent Hotel, Sabena Hotel, Twin Towers Hotel and Nnewi Hotel and Events Centre.
Obi of Umudim, Nnewi, in a chat with the reporter, asserted that Nnewi had produced quite a number of prominent Nigerians, insisting that whatever ill might have been committed by Evans, the billionaire kidnapper currently being detained by the police in Lagos, could never obliterate the glorious contributions of Nnewi to the industrial development of Nigeria and the African continent
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