AFRICANGLOBE – Innocent “Innoson” Chukwuma and Cletus Ibeto are arguably two of the fastest rising Nigerian industrialists. Natives of Nnewi, the second largest city in Anambra State, South-Eastern Nigeria, both men are frontrunners of a crop of manufacturing-focused entrepreneurs emerging to national limelight from a city where business is a way of life.
Innocent and Ibeto own the two largest conglomerates in Eastern Nigeria. Innocent’s Innoson Group of Company is a diversified parent company with several businesses, one of which is Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company – the first indigenous auto maker in the country. Cletus’s Ibeto Group, worth of $5 billion, houses some of the country’s leading companies. One of its subsidiaries is Ibeto Cement, the second largest indigenous cement manufacturer in Nigeria.
Two Men, One Heritage
That both men, veterans of over two decades in the manufacturing enterprise, are considered rising stars in Nigeria’s nay Africa’s industrial circles reflects the challenges manufacturing-focused entrepreneurs in Nnewi have faced and the current successes that they are starting to enjoy.
The people of Eastern Nigeria, predominantly of the Igbo tribe, are renowned across the country for their trade exploits- especially in the importation, wholesale and retail of commodities. However, Nnewi, nicknamed the Japan of Africa, has a special reputation as Nigeria’s auto and auto parts manufacturing and trading hub.
Innocent and Cletus Ibeto are two of the most prominent Nnewi-based manufacturers and business moguls; like many others, they started as apprentices in retail shops before growing to become traders, and then manufacturers.
Innocent “Innoson” Chukwuma
Innocent began his trade with patent medicine – commonly known in Nigeria as a chemist – before jumping ship to motorcycle spare parts, which became the foundation of his business trajectory. In the early 1980s he founded a trading company focused on importation, wholesale and retail of motorcycle parts and accessories going by the name Innoson Nigeria Limited. That venture has since the last two decades grown into the multi-faceted Innoson Group with interests in the manufacturing of products ranging from Plastics to different kinds of automobiles.
Last week the Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company Limited (IVM), the auto making subsidiary of the Group, unveiled the first ever ‘Made-in-Nigeria’ Cars. The vehicles, built at the company’s Nnewi plant, were made up of 70 percent locally sourced parts – most manufactured in the same locale. IVM is already a major supplier of buses to the country’s commercial inter-state transport operators, it was also contracted to supply majority of the 6000 buses to the mass transit scheme launched on January 8, 2012, by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.
Recently, the Innoson Group created General Tyres & Tubes Limited, which has started trial production of tyres and tubes. Located in Enugu State, South-East Nigeria, the company says it can, at full capacity, meet the nation’s automobile tyre and tube needs.
Although the Innoson group currently rules the headlines, Cletus’s Ibeto Group was the pacesetter in automobile spare parts trading and manufacturing. Ibeto started out as a spare parts import dealer in the early 1980s, but by 1988, he stopped direct importation of lead acid automotive battery and plastic motor accessories after setting up a factory in Nnewi. His Union Autoparts Manufacturing Ltd is the largest manufacturer of batteries and automotive spare parts in Nigeria.
Another subsidiary, Ibeto Petrochemicals Industries Ltd, blends oil lubricants and produces various types of petroleum products for local and international markets. Its 60,000 metric tonne liquid storage facility is one of the largest in Nigeria.The Group’s interests have also expanded across automobile spare parts, cement production, energy, hospitality, petrochemicals, and real estate. The Ibeto Cement Company Limited, a subsidiary of the group, has an ultra-modern cement bagging terminal in Rivers State, in the Niger Delta, with a purpose built Jetty that has a production capacity of 5,400 bags of cement per hour. This facility is currently the biggest in the West African sub-region. The company is also building a cement plant in Ebonyi State, South-East Nigeria, which will produce 5 million metric tonnes of cement annually.
Cletus was for the first time this year named the 11th richest man in Africa by Ventures Africa with a valuation of $3.7 billion in net worth.
There Are Several Other Industrialists In Nnewi
Alongside Innoson and Ibeto are several other Nnewi-based manufacturers rising to national prominence. Alex Chika Okafor’s Chicason Group of Companies, Obiajulu Uzodike’s Cutix Plc, Izuchukwu Onwugbenu’s Louis Carter Group, Mathias Onwugbenu’s of Omata Holdings Ltd, and Innocent Okafor’s Cento Group of Companies are just a few of the Nnewi based fast rising industrialists.
Although many Nnewi-based manufacturers have been in business for decades, they have enjoyed limited business growth. The dominance of foreign imports, low patronage of the made in Nigeria goods, government’s sole interest in oil resources and poor infrastructure are some of the several factors that combined to grossly limit the growth of Nnewi’s manufacturing industry, and indeed that of Nigeria as a whole.
Real Growth Is Only About To Begin
However, the gradual but steady rise in economic diversification, changing perception of locally made products, and increasing government attention to indigenous industrialists, are joining to breathe life into Nigeria’s manufacturing industry. The Nigerian Automotive Policy is a landmark product of this growing awareness. Its embrace by Nnewi-based auto and auto parts manufacturers depicts the policy’s potential to positively impact the growth of their businesses.
Ibeto and Innoson’s rapid growth are evidence of the succeeding national push to increase indigenous manufacturing. It also symbolises an expectant boom for their kit and kin in Nnewi, and manufacturers across the country.
Nigeria is the highest gainer however; the country’s desperate need for jobs will be greatly eased by an expanding manufacturing industry given its immense employment potentials. The reduced dependence on imports, increased potential for exports, and significant contribution of the sector’s growth to the economy are only a few of the several other benefits.
Though the men from the East are not the biblical magi, they come to the mainstream of Nigeria’s economy bearing three gifts of industries, entrepreneurship and national development. The current oil revenue crisis can only make Africa’s largest economy embrace their gifts with passion and enthusiasm.