Magnus Eze, Enugu and Geoffrey Anyanwu, Awka
Business mogul and founder of The Dome Entertainment Centre, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo has instituted an entrepreneurial research chair at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka (UNIZIK) Business School, into the Onitsha Main Market as a central hub of Igbo enterprise development.
The research according to him would document the beginning, growth, and development of entrepreneurship at the Onitsha Main Market, which at a time, was the largest market in West Africa.
Announcing this after he was conferred with an award as Business Philanthropist of the Year by the UNIZIK Business School, at the ongoing 2nd edition of its International Conference in Awka, with the theme “Re-engineering Africa’s economies towards sustainable business development,” Dr. Okonkwo said that the coming generation of Nigerians have a lot to learn from the entrepreneurial spirit of the Igbo man which, according to him, were developed from the Main Market at Onitsha.
He stated that before the emergence of large markets in Lagos, the main market held sway as the hub of Igbo enterprise adding that “at that time, every Igbo billionaire took off from the main market in Onitsha.”
Relating that to his humble beginning in business, Dr. Okonkwo recalled that “I had my first lessons in trading at the Onitsha Main Market, rising from there to become who I am today.”
He noted that most Igbo businessmen and women of the time, had their offices in Onitsha and only travelled to Lagos on holidays.
He said that though the trend has changed, a proper study of the market and the growth of the apprenticeship system in Igbo land, would add value to new business innovation that would sustain growth and ensure enterprise survival.
Noting that the upcoming generation of Igbo businesses must learn from the mistakes of their forebears, Dr. Okonkwo regretted that the exploits of Sir Louis Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who at a time was the biggest name in business in Africa, ended with his passage.
He said Sir Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s contemporaries in Europe, America and Asia, have their names as super brands wondering why same failed in Nigeria.
Dr. Okonkwo challenged the UNIZIK Business School to use the research to help create innovation that would turn Nigerian businesses into super brands appreciated world over.
He said: “I am therefore happy that the management of Nnamdi Azikiwe University accepted the challenge to start a business school that will transform lives and help bring innovation to our traditional trading practice. I was at the maiden convocation dinner organised in honour of graduands of the Executive MBA programme of the business school last May. I was highly elated to see a crop of young Nigerians graduate from your programme. Seeing them tells me that there are no limits to what Unizik Business School can achieve in the lives of our people.
“It is for this reason that I accepted to be part of you today. It is also for this reason that I have decided to commit myself to funding a research into what makes Onitsha Main Market such a giant hub in the creation of great businessmen and women with deep insights and guts even when they have no university education.
“We must know what makes the Main Market, once the largest in West Africa, what it is today. We must remember that before Alaba International, ASPAMDA, Balogun, Ladipo (all in Lagos), there was the Main Market. Then, the big businessmen and women went to Lagos for weekends only.
“Their businesses were domiciled in Onitsha. So, I believe a research into the Main Market that will document its beginnings and growth, for our children will be a great intellectual contribution to the vaunted entrepreneurial spirit of the Igboman.
“This is more so as American journalist, Robert Neuwirth, had in a study, declared that the apprenticeship system in Igbo land, is the largest venture capitalist platform in the world. His study was based on the Alaba International Market in Lagos. However, I do not think we need a foreigner to tell us our story. This is a story that Unizik Business School must document and tell the world. Unizik Business School must strive to bring the world to Awka to learn something about the Igbo entrepreneurial spirit which created the Main Market.”
Earlier, the Vice Chancellor of the University, Prof. Charles Esimone, said that re-engineering Africa’s economies/business development should be anchored on exploiting the value chains of the continent’s primary resources, agricultural and minerals, expanding the portfolio to exports.