Through a mutual friend, I met Obi Cubana for the first and last time at his Ibiza restaurant sometime in 2008; a year before the opening of his Cubana night club in 2009. I was publishing a soft sell magazine that was focused on making celebrities out of the bourgeoning Abuja businessmen, politicians and entertainers. I felt that the celebrity scene in Nigeria was overtly dominated by Lagos ‘’boys’ and girls’’ whilst Abuja with a lot of success stories that were grossly under reported and not well celebrated. One of such success stories was that of the 33 years old Obinna Iyiegbu, aka Obi Cubana.
Long before he gain wider fame recently, Obi Cubana, who was fondly called ‘’Okpole’’ by his friends and associates was a successful food, entertainment and hospitality entrepreneur. His flagship business was the popular Ibiza restaurant and bar, which is located on the very busy Porthacourt crescent in the heart of Abuja city. After many years of selling street foods from open parks and gardens to neighbourhood corner shops, Obi Cubana, a political science graduate of University of Nigeria Nsukka, who chose entrepreneurship over paid employment, opened his Ibiza restaurant on a plot of rented land in Abuja sometime in 2005. Starting on a temporary structure of wooden frame that was roofed with zinc sheets on a floor that was barely covered with chippings of gravel, there was nothing attractive about Ibiza restaurant except its food.
At Ibiza, Obi Cubana and team of dedicated staffs offered to the eating public the best of culinary services with specialization on the very rich cuisine of Nigeria’s south east region. Assorted dishes like Abacha, Nkwobi, Isi ewu, Ukwa, Ji akukwu nni, Utala na ofe nsala, ofe olugbu, ofe ora, ofe akwu etc. were readily available on demand during the day and night. Ibiza was and is still one of the most popular destination for Abuja night crawlers as in addition to the food, all manner of drinks and alcoholic beverages are readily available on demand. The opening of Ibiza restaurant coincided with a period of relative economic prosperity in Nigeria, massive infrastructural expansion in Abuja and a boom in the construction. This period witnessed a substantial restoration of Nigeria’s middle class due with a reasonable margin of disposable income that made Abuja their city of choice residence. With the surge in Abuja’s population, Ibiza became for many a kitchen away from their mother’s kitchen were their cravings for the most delicious and sumptuous native Nigerian delicacies are served.
In addition to the prevailing clement economic climate at the time, Obi Cubana along with his well-motivated staffs worked very hard to build, sustain and expand his customer base by his continuous innovation through massive reinvestment into his business to give it a competitive edge in the food and hospitality industry of Abuja. Also, Obi’s reputation as an amiable, humble and generous young preceded him attracted massive good will and well wishes from people across the country. These qualities combined to transforms Ibiza from a shanty to a food, entertainment and hospitality edifice and Obi Cubana from a tenant to the landlord of Ibiza. It was this phenomenal success story that led me to the young business seeking to feature on the cover of the second edition of my magazine.
However, my meeting with Obi Cubana wasn’t as fruitful as I had hoped. Whilst he received me warmly, Obi Cubana was a bit media shy and appeared more pre-occupied with quietly growing his business and we bade each other farewell on a friendly note and promised to keep in touch. By the following year when he opened his Cubana night club on the highbrow Adetokunbo Ademola crescent of Abuja I knew I saw Obi Cubana’s today, yesterday.
It was Obi’s Cubana night club that separated Abuja men from Abuja boys due to its exclusivity and class. Before the opening of Cubana, it was a common happenstance for ‘’Daddy’’ who was supposed to be away on a business trip to ‘’Lagos’’ to bump into his young ‘’brother in law’’ who is living with him and who was supposed to be in school in the club. Obi’s Cubana solved this problem by meeting the need for privacy and fun for this category of night crawlers. Once again, Cubana will become the place of choice for Abuja’s super rich middle age night life patrons. Therefore, when some people expressed doubt about the legitimacy of Obi Cubana’s money, after the carnival like burial ceremony of his mother in his home town of Oba, Anambra state, where naira notes of different denominations rained, some of us who knew him before the Oba event didn’t have such doubt. Like every one of us, Obi Cubana is not without sin. But the notion that behind every wealth is a big crime may not always hold true in every case.
Obi Cubana is not the richest man from Oba, Anambra or even Nigeria. Obi Cubana is simply a manifestation of the Igbo philosophy of ‘’onye nwere nmadu ka onye nwere ego’’ [he who has people is richer than he has money]. Obi Cubana’s begins at home with family and friends and what played out at Oba was an open show of love and support in appreciation for a successful young man who remained level headed, kind and generous. Judging From his humility and friendly association with people that are lower than him in terms of material possession, Obi Cubana also personifies another Igbo philosophy which says ‘’onye kakwam akolamu onu’’ [he that is richer than me should not talk down me]. And for those who understand Igbo cosmology, Obi Cubana’s phenomenal blow out after the Oba burial carnival from obscurity to global fame and subsequent his rise from grace to grace is actually an answered prayer of a dying mother for her beloved son who spared nothing to make her comfortable and happy in her life time.