The path to greatness is not without hurdles. It is mostly defined by crisis and confrontations. Two top Nigerian businessmen who have walked this road are Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim and Innocent Chukwuma.
The two astute investors have worked, fought and pushed hard to overcome several obstacles which has seen them at the zenith of their respective business careers.
Innocent Chukwuma — Motorcycle Spare Part Trader
Innocent Chukwuma is the founder of Innoson Motors. He was born on 1 October 1961 into a humble family in Uru-Umdim, Nnewi, Anambra State. His father, Chukwuma Mojekwu, was a junior civil servant. His mother was Martina Chukwuma. He is the last of six children (four boys and two girls).
Innocent had his primary and secondary school education in his hometown, Uru-Umudim in Nnewi.
After he completed his secondary school education in 1978, Innocent, who had dreams of becoming an engineer applied to study Engineering at the university. He couldn’t get in that year because he did not make the cut-off mark.
He, however, moved on. His brother, Gabriel, took him to Chief Romanus Eze Onwuka, popularly known as Rojenny where he served as an apprentice for a year. During this process, Innocent discovered that he had a natural talent for trading.
Innocent served as an apprentice to Chief Romanus Eze Onwuka who was at the time the biggest motorcycle spare parts dealer in Nnewi. Within a year of his apprenticeship, he mastered the art of buying and selling motorcycle parts, and later returned to his brother, Gabriel.
At the time, his brother, who had registered Gabros International to trade in motorcycle parts, gave Innocent the sum of N3,000 to start the business. With a free hand to run the new venture, Innocent rented a shop and bought the first goods.
In 1981, Innocent parted ways with his brother, and began to trade in Honda motorcycle parts. Making good use of his savings and cash which his brother gave him, he began his business as Innoson Nigeria Limited. Gradually, he then began to import motorcycles.
After a while, he noticed that people preferred second-hand motorcycles as the new ones were too expensive. The reason for the high cost was because those new motorcycles had been imported after complete assembly. Since a container of 40ft could only take like 40 motorcycles at a time, it meant few motorbikes could come in one at a time.
Innocent hit on a brainwave. He thought of what to do to cut down the cost of these new imported motorcycles so that Nigerians could better afford them. The method he adopted was to import the motorcycles disassembled so that more could fit in the containers, and then assemble the bikes on arrival in Nigeria.
Through this method, 200 units of motorcycles fitted into the 40 ft container, and he was able to sell them cheaper than others at the rate of ₦60,000-₦80,000 compared to others who sold theirs for ₦150,000. He happened to be the first to introduce the Jingcheng brand of motorcycle in Nigeria.
One of Innocent Chukwuma’s achievement is the establishment of an automobile manufacturing company in Nigeria. The business mogul established the first indigenous vehicle manufacturing company in Nigeria.
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Since then, this skilful entrepreneur has been assembling already branded motorcycles like Boulos and Leventis companies. He set up a factory to produce plastic components when he noticed a particular motorcycle had a lot of them on it.
Innocent Chukwuma was then struck by the prevalent custom of Nigerians buying and driving foreign used cars, due to the high cost of brand new ones. He had a vision of making cheaper local cars that would be affordable.
This vision led gradually to the present Innoson group of companies, which is a local entity with vast interests in the assembly and manufacture of vehicles, plastics, and agriculture.
Innoson Motors was incorporated in 2007, and the factory was commissioned in 2010 by Goodluck Jonathan.
Innoson Motors has quickly become a household name in Nigeria, and indeed in West Africa.
Bar. Jimoh Ibrahim — Sold Fish to Support Family
Jimoh Ibrahim was born on 24 February 1967 to Alhaji Yakubu and Omofemiwa Jimoh in Igbotak, Okitipupa, Ondo State. His father was an impoverished bricklayer with 7 wives and 40 children. His mother was a fishmonger.
Life for the little village boy was a continuous struggle. Jimoh did household chores, sold fish for the mother, and scraped food off a common plate with his siblings with whom he slept on a common mat in their humble home.
Jimoh was educated at St. John’s and Community Grammar School, Igbotako, from which he proceeded to Federal School of Arts and Science, Ondo.
Right from secondary school, he wanted to become a successful businessman. He gained admission to study Law at Lagos State University, but thereafter transferred to Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, in Osun State, to read International Law and Masters in Public Administration.
Jimoh Ibrahim was the Best Student (International Law) at the LL.B Final class, 1991.
He was subsequently called to the Nigerian Bar as Solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
He earned a Master’s degree in Economics and International Tax at Harvard University.
In his youthful years, Jimoh got minor contracts and used some of his father’s bricklaying materials to execute them. He started earning millions in his mid-20s, making his first million during his youth service period. He discovered that the Local Governments did not have a law of their own, but the state and the federal government had.
So he packaged a local government seminar on law for all the local governments in the country and that fetched him N3.6 million.
That same year, he organised about 14 workshops for top public functionaries at all tiers of government and by the time he was finishing youth service, he had about N70 million in his account. He built a home in his village and four houses in Lagos, including a four-storey building in Ikotun-Egbe. By the end of the national youth programme, Jimoh Ibrahim had six houses.
It was through one of those seminars that he learnt about the huge amount of revenue Nigeria lost to withholding tax by big oil companies. His further research made him submit his findings in form of a proposal that he could recover the funds as a consultant to the federal government, but with a specific percentage as his commission.
His submission was approved and within a short period of time was remitting billions of Naira to the account of the federal government. He acquired with the money he made from seminars a swampy land at the Victoria Garden City (VGC) gate, which he later transformed into an ultra-modern filling station with two expensive banking halls.
Barrister Jimoh who used to sleep four hours a day when he started, was the one who brought the concept of bringing in banking halls into oil marketing.
Though the initial budget for the outfit was N21 million, two banks paid a rent of over N40 million which was too much to build the Station. The surplus was invested in real estate. After the VGC outlet, he opened another station at Ilupeju Bypass. His approach was acquisition rather than construction. That way he acquired filling stations, instead of building from the scratch. Thereafter, he got licensed as an Independent oil marketer.
Jimoh Ibrahim served as a consultant to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on tax reforms in Croatia and Estonia and was part of the Harvard team that went to Bangladesh to form their tax reforms. He ran a law firm and had seven attorneys in his Law and Justice Chambers.
The prolific writer has authored three books including “Indigenous Governance in Nigeria”, and two biographical volumes on Mohammed Belo, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria.
He was a Special Adviser to the first military administrator of Bayelsa State; member of the exclusive Federation Account Allocation Committee, and Chairman of FAAC News (the first monthly magazine that published the activities of the Committee).
Jimoh was also the Executive Secretary of the African Center for Policy Studies; consultant to several outfits and multilateral institutions; Chairman of Global Fleet Companies, and Group Managing Director, NICON Group.
He served as the Chairman of the board of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) from April 2009 to December 2012.
A hardworking, incisive, futuristic and progressive politician, Barr Ibrahim was a Member of the National Board of Trustee of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP); National Legal Adviser; Finance and Publicity Committee, as well as Vice-Chairman, Presidential Inner caucus.
He contested the governorship of Ondo State under the platform of ANPP in 2003, but was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, the experience got him Global Fleet Oil and Gas.
The barrister presently imports petroleum and has a big storage depot in Apapa. He has equally diversified into many varied businesses including telecommunications, hospitality, industry, banking, real estate, block making, carpentry, roofing, tiles, industrial dry cleaning, insurance, etc.
Jimoh acquired a 70 per cent (N46 billion) equity stake at NICON Insurance and staked a claim in the acquisition and control of Executive Airlines Services (EAS), an airline operator that was renamed NICON Airways.
The NICON Group now has eleven subsidiaries: NICON Properties; NICON Energy; NICON Academy; NICON Trustee; NICON Insurance; NICON Investment; NICON PFA; NICON Hotels; NICON Saotome; NICON Airways; and NICON United Kingdom. His rapid expansion is traced to his rare ability to borrow from banks and pay on time — indeed faster than they expect. So banks are eager to lend him.
Barr Ibrahim is a celebrated philanthropist. In 1994 he awarded 54 academic scholarships to the people of Ilaje-Odo, Okitipupa Local Government.
In 2000 and 2001, he offered 500 scholarships to Ondo State indigenes in higher institutions and did the same in 2002 (this time including Ekiti State indigenes).
More recently, he built an N100 million post-graduate hall in the University of Ife, Ile-Ife. Barr. Jimoh Ibrahim is a model, orator and inspirational speaker who encourages the younger generation to aspire for greater heights. He gives free monthly lectures at Excellence Hotel, Ogba, on how to start from nothing to make millions in any business.