As Enterprising And Humble As Innoson

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in The Union of May 15, 2015

Kosi, currently in Basic Six, is always asking me to help her do some of these assignments that require doing some research on the internet. If you have a child in primary school, you may have been passing through a similar experience. If it is not to print out the names of ministers and their portfolios, it is to give a list of state governors and their deputies. There was a time they were even asked to write on the impact of missionary education in Nigeria.

Sometimes, the homework could be on animals and their sounds; or what we call simile in dramatic literature – something like, as fast as a cheetah; as dirty as a pig; as slow as a snail or tortoise.

Last week, this homework flashed through my mind as I travelled down to Enugu from Nnewi with Chief Innocent Chukwuma in his car. I told myself that next time such an assignment would come my way, I would urge my daughter to add, “as enterprising and humble as Chief Innocent Chukwuma.”

Chukwuma, the Executive Chairman of Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Group, is well known to many Nigerians. The first thing that strikes you when you enter his office in Enugu is the array of awards that hugs your sight. And the awards have not ceased coming.

Recently, he won the Silverbird Television Extraordinary Achievement Award 2015. He is among those who will be conferred with the 2014 Zik’s prize for leadership later this month. Among the numerous honours and awards he has garnered is the Nigeria Centenary Honours Award by President Goodluck Jonathan. It was in recognition of his role as the first indigenous vehicle manufacturer in Nigeria.

Some other awards include Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR), National Productivity Order of Merit, Hall of Fame Award by Bank of Industry, Most Outstanding Indigenous Entrepreneur by Enugu Chamber of Commerce, Entrepreneurial Award by Institute of Directors and many others.

Beyond the awards, he is a philanthropist. He provided a 500KVA Transformer to Emene Community in Enugu; offered 50 indigent Nigerians scholarships to study in Nigeria and abroad; funded erosion control project and provided electricity and pipe borne water to Nnewi people. He has also donated vehicles and funded projects in some academic institutions in Nigeria.

Chief Chukwuma is the last born of six children. After his primary education, he joined his elder brother, (Gabros International Limited) in his business. He later started his own and in 1981, he established Innoson Nigeria Limited, which traded in motorcycle business. In 2002, he established Innoson Tech & Ind. Co. Ltd. in Emene, Enugu, to manufacture different plastic products. Two years after, Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Co. Ltd was born at Nnewi, Anambra State. Thus, Chief Chukwuma became the first Nigerian to produce different brands of a truly made in Nigeria vehicles. He is into many other business concerns.

The business acumen of this great Nigerian is legendary. He is the first Nigerian to introduce Complete Knock Down motorcycles into the market. He pioneered the local production of PVC plumbing hoses, motorcycle covers, crash helmets and so on. He has on his employ about 7500 workers.

Despite his numerous accomplishments, Innoson, as he is fondly called, is humility personified. He relates equally with everybody who comes across him. He picks all his calls except if the phone is not with him.

On our way back to Enugu from Nnewi, he received many calls both serious and unserious ones. One of those who called happens to be a student of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. The young man was speaking on behalf of a group which wanted one favour or the other from the man. He complained that he was not allowed to see Innoson when he visited in Enugu. Politely, Innoson apologised to the man and asked him to repeat the visit.

He drove himself from Nnewi to Enugu late evening of the day in question. As we chatted, he made me understand that he had driven the Range Rover we travelled in for 12 years.

As I wondered how this astute businessman was able to go this far without university certificates, he let me into the way his mind works. He said, “Before I went into motorcycle manufacturing, I was a spare parts dealer for both motorcycles and vehicles. That was when I noticed that it was expensive to buy motorcycles in the country. I decided to find out why and I observed that there were only four companies that were importing motorcycles into the country. .. The way they brought them in was by shipping about 40 motorcycles in one 40-feet container and the freight charge would take about 40 per cent of the cost and this was the main reason why motorcycles were being sold for about N150,000 in Nigeria.

“So when I travelled abroad, I discussed with them and they gave me the motorcycles in spare parts; so I brought them here, assembled them and sold them for N70,000 which is half the market price. Based on my selling price, people started buying new motorcycles again, foregoing the fairly used ones.

“After a while, I looked at it again and noticed that motorcycles had a lot of plastic components on its body. This made me to set up a plastic plant in Enugu to support the motorcycle plant. Having set up the plastic plant which now enabled me to produce the plastic parts, I further slashed the price to N60,000 which is the selling price of motorcycles in the Nigerian market today. I am the one responsible for that.”

What more do I add. Rather than asking pupils to keep cramming the names of governors or ministers who are always being changed, they should be made to study such great entrepreneurs like Innoson. At this critical point in our nation’s history, we need more of industrialists and entrepreneurs who will provide employment for our people. Politicians produce nothing but take the large chunk of our national wealth.  So sad.


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