Chief Solomon Ogbonna Aguene, president, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Lagos chapter, is an administrator and businessman with interest in real estate, collection and sale of exotic art works. He is passionate about development of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the welfare of the people.
For the love of arts, his office has a semblance of a mini art gallery, stylishly decorated with expensive art works depicting different values. The office is also adorned with photographs of many notable Nigerians, with Aguene standing confidently beside them in each of the photographs. This class of Nigerians represents his clients in the art business.
Born into the family of Chief Aguene Okorie of Onicha Igboeze in Onicha Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, he spent the early part of his life, assisting his parents in farm works. His father was a farmer and traditionalist in the old Ohaozara Local Government Area of the state. “My father was a traditionalist and lover of art works. Remember, African Traditional Religion uses artworks especially pottery and carvings to illustrate different deities and spirits. I grew up appreciating African arts,” he affirms with a lucid sense of dignity. In this interview, Aguene gives an insight into his business life and the efforts he has made to stabilise Ohanaeze Ndigbo in Lagos.
You have been President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo in Lagos for about two years and there seems to be much transformation from the look of things at your secretariat. What motivated you to aspire for this office?
Initially, I thought Ohanaeze Ndigbo starts and ends in Enugu or Igbo land until I learnt that it has chapters in all the states of the federation including Lagos. I enquired about the Lagos chapter but was told there was no specific location to meet the officials as meetings are held at hotels and rented halls. I felt it was not proper, and my instinct told me I could make a difference if given the opportunity to serve the organization. I discussed with some eminent Igbo people in Lagos who equally expressed their displeasure at the way Lagos chapter was being run. I am a cultural activist and promoter of Igbo culture and tradition. I felt that a well organised Ohanaeze Ndigbo Lagos will be an excellent platform to promote Igbo culture and tradition. So, I aspired to be part of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Lagos executive to promote Igbo culture and tradition.
So what situation did you meet on the ground when you become president?
I met an organization without a functional Secretariat or fixed address and no bank account. Furthermore, I met a polarised organisation with splinter groups and warring factions even among the Ndi Eze Igbo in Lagos. The battle for supremacy among the factions was tearing Ndigbo apart. Again, the organisation had no articulated goals and objectives. The various members of the executive were running the affair from their respective homes and offices. The lack of proper coordination impeded execution of set goals.
So far, what are the changes you have brought since you emerged as the leader of the group?
The first and foremost of all changes is the establishment of a functional secretariat for the organization. This makes for proper coordination of its activities and programmes. The secretariat is accessible to all Igbo resident and visiting Lagos. It is located at the heart of Lagos, the sports city, Surulere. Ohanaeze Ndigbo Lagos meetings hold here at the secretariat and records are kept, promoting accountability and transparency. The next key progress was to reconcile the warring Ndi Eze Igbo in Lagos. One of them become the overall Eze (Eze Gburugburu Goddy Ohazulike – Mpume); another, Chairman of Council Ndi Eze (C. O. Nwachukwu – Eze Igbo Isolo) and his deputy, Eze Eneh – Eze Igbo Ojo. The other major step was the strengthening of the activities of Ohanaeze Ndigbo at the Local Council Development Areas and Local Government Areas in Lagos. So, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Lagos is now one big happy family.
Have you also taken steps to ensure that the Igbo in Lagos live in peace with their various host communities to avoid periodic ethnic clashes and misgivings?
The first step we took in reconciling Ndigbo and indigenes of our host state was to make peace with the Lagos royal family, quelling the misgivings which arose during the 2015 general elections.
We paid a courtesy visit to the Oba of Lagos. We were accompanied by Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe (Retd), a former Chief of General Staff under General Ibrahim Babangida’s regime; Prof. George Obiozor, former Nigerian Ambassador to the United States, Cyprus and Israel among others. We started reaching out to other traditional rulers in Yoruba land including the Ooni of Ife. All these steps were aimed at building good relationship between Ndigbo and indigenes of our host communities. And it’s yielding results as the activities of miscreants (area boys) and security operatives in the market places have reduced. The markets are now conducive for business.
On the other hand, how would you say the government of Lagos State has supported the activities of Ohanaeze Ndigbo in the state?
The Lagos State government is running an inclusive government, carrying all ethnic nationalities including the Igbo along. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu administration in Lagos State recognises Ohanaeze Ndigbo Lagos as the umbrella organisation for all Igbo and keeps relating well with us. The government invites Ohanaeze Ndigbo leadership to key functions in the state. The government of Lagos State supports our empowerment programme for widows. Some of these women have been given teaching appointments by the government, while others got financial support for their trades. Recently, the governor channeled Igbo share of Covid-19 palliatives through Ohanaeze Ndigbo Lagos.
Do you enjoy cordial relationship with the President General of Ohanaeze, Chief Nnia Nwodo?
The President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo is a father to me and our relationship is very cordial. Ohanaeze Ndigbo is very lucky to have such a pragmatic and intelligent leader as President General. He brings his wealth of knowledge in legal, politics and public matters to bear in the running of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
Ultimately, what is your vision for Ohanaeze Ndigbo in Lagos?
My vision for Ohanaeze Ndigbo Lagos is to have an organization that grows from strength to strength, catering for the well-being of Ndigbo. We are planning to erect a seven-storey permanent secretariat for the organization. The seven-storey counts for the seven Igbo states of Abia, Anambra, Delta, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Rivers. Our present secretariat is a rented apartment, so we are working towards acquiring a permanent structure for the organization.
How do you intend to raise money to finance this project?
The project will be sponsored by some well meaning individuals who believe in my leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo in Lagos. There are people who I always call upon and they respond positively. These are the people we are going to rely on to make this dream a reality.
Apart from being Ohanaeze President, you are also a successful businessman. Tell us about your business life.
My core business areas are arts collection and sales plus real estate development. I have attended over 2,000 art exhibitions and auctions in Europe, America, Asia and Africa. I collect and sell art works especially African arts. I have over 3,000 masterpieces of African arts in my collection. I develop sell, lease and rent both residential and commercial buildings.
How good is Lagos as a place to do real estate business?
Lagos is the hub of real estate business in the Nigeria. It has a large market and strong economy for real estate business. Remember, this is the largest economy in Nigeria. Lagos is to Nigeria what California is to USA. So, it’s very profitable investing in real estate in Lagos. Landed properties appreciate very fast in Lagos when compared to other states including the FCT. Once you have the capital to invest and passion for the business, the sky is the limit.
And how profitable is it to be in this business of collection and sales of art works?
Art business is a gold mine that is unknown to many people. However, you must be a lover of artworks before venturing into the business. You don’t have to be an artist to be an art collector. Once you love and appreciate arts, you will develop a third eye to see good arts including masterpieces. Masterpieces sell in millions of dollars. You might see an antique which is thrown away as rubbish selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s a very lucrative business if you understand arts. People think you have to be a Picasso, Michel Angelo or Ben Enweonwu before going into arts collection and sales. No! All you need is the love and appreciation of art works, and you can start collecting and selling.
You seem to enjoy good relationship with many leaders in this country both past and present. Do you have the ambition to join politics in the near future?
You are a leader, as you manage man and material. I am a leader managing the affairs of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Lagos. Everything is not about politics. Political leaders are leaders, corporate leaders and leaders, religious leaders are leaders. What matters is your approach and philosophy of leadership. To me, leadership is not an enterprise but a sacrifice. We are all crafted differently and our destinies vary. Political leaders interact with leaders in other sectors, and I am privileged to have good relationship with a lot of political leaders. So, my association with political leaders should not be misconstrued as political ambition.
How did you come across these great men?
My area of business – arts appeal to great and influential people. Many great people appreciate arts and those of us in the business are drawn to them. The bulk of my clientele in the arts business are rich and influential people. Furthermore, I am a cultural activist, propagating the culture and tradition of Nigeria. So, I reach out to these great leaders and solicit their support in promoting and propagating the culture and tradition of Nigeria.