If the story of how the President of the Coscahris Group of companies, Dr Cosmas Maduaburochukwu Maduka, ploughed his way from grinding poverty to the lofty heights of affluence and influence were to be a movie, it would be a blockbuster that arrests attention scene after scene in all parts of the world.
And, perhaps, the most interesting scene would be about the Nnewi billionaire businessman and industrialist – believed to be one of the richest in the world – with a Bible and megaphone preaching to the ‘multitude’ in the streets. That was the aspect of the man that got a viral attention when a video of him on evangelism was uploaded in the social media a couple of months ago by an observer.
But, speaking on the subject-matter in his office last week, Maduka who was born into a Catholic family on December 24, 1958, but now a dyed-in-the wool Pentecostal Christian, said he and his family were surprised that outdoor preaching which has always been part of his life, stirred so much interest only lately. And what about the high risks involved? “I have one life to live, and I am not afraid of death, but take this from me: Nobody can do anything to me until God finishes with me.”
Tell us a little bit about your family background and childhood. How did your journey into business start and how did you arrive at what is today called Coscharis, one of the biggest group of companies in Nigeria?
I was born on December 24, 1958 at Jos, Plateau State, to Mr Peter and Roseline Maduka. I had my early life in Jos. With the vague eye of a child, I still remember my father carrying me in a car. Whether it was a rented car or his own, I cannot remember, but we went to buy bread from some white men who owned a bakery. Back then, Plateau was filled with expatriates, because they preferred the weather up there. I still remember with the eye of a little boy, my father taking me to the zoo to see the lions. It wasn’t long after, that the civil war broke out. My father died and my uncle relocated my mother back to Nnewi, my hometown. We remained in Nnewi. My father died long before the civil war. The best I knew of him, I have said it often that, that day was like a festival: A man dressed in a black suite and a bow tie was lying lifelessly in a bed, and different masquerades and different kinds of people were coming to our place. It was clear that something unique or unusual was happening. Everybody was happy except my mother in one corner of the house, crying and shaking her head and people were trying to console her. And, I was wondering why she was so unhappy while everyone else was feeling so happy. When I was growing up, we used to eat rice only during festivities, like Christmas or at bazaars, because of our poor background. But, on this fateful day, people were kind to me. They were coming back to me to ask me ‘what do you want to eat?’ and I would say, ‘rice’. So, I ate rice about six or eight times that very day. Later, I got to know that it was my father’s funeral. It wasn’t that year, but later along the line. So, life was rough and tough, but I had a strong mother. My mother was a very determined and devoted Catholic who, if one’s devotion can make one go to heaven, she would be one of the first people that would be there (in heaven). To the best of my knowledge, till her death, she never missed morning mass one day. She went for her communion at every service. She woke us up early in the morning when we were still adult to pray with the rosary. Sometimes my mother didn’t pray only once, but would pray at least twice. And for me as a child, it was tough and painful kneeling down. But she sowed in me the seed of agonizing prayer and commitment in to God. There is nothing better than teaching children when they are young, because it resonates with them as they grow up. So, I grew up, really hungry for God.
So, at that early stage, your mother was of great influence in molding your character?
My own desire was for me to discover for myself what made her tough. I was an altar boy and I served mass in the Catholic Church. I started the Region of Mary in our compound. At a time, we were told that Mary visited three children at Fatima. That blew my mind, and I felt that the kids must be children devoted to serving God. And, being devoted myself, I wanted Mary to also come to Nnewi. So, I went to the bush and knelt down praying with all sense of sincerity, telling Mary to appear and reminding her that she went to Fatima earlier. She didn’t come, but that is the kind of sincerity with which I always seek God. I grew up with that hunger and optimism. Before I became an adult, it was difficult and hard. My mother couldn’t cope with the challenges, so she sent me to her parents. I lived with my grandparents and managed their home. From there, I joined my uncle who was my mother’s younger brother who was a spare parts dealer in Ebute-Meta; specifically at Onyingbo bus-stop in Lagos. He wasn’t even living in his own home. He was living in his uncle’s apartment on Apapa Road. His uncle, Frank Ikwuazor, used to work at Bhojsons. This uncle lives in one-bedroom apartment with his wife. So, my uncle sleeps in the passage in the night. Both of us couldn’t sleep in the passage. What my uncle did then was to make sure he locked me up in the shop at Ebute-Meta. He would give me an empty bottle to use in case I wanted to urinate at night, and he would return very early in the morning to open the door for me. By the time I was eight years and he was now confident that I could lock the door myself, he left me to be managing myself in that shop where I was sleeping. That was also when my friend, Chisco (Chisco Group Chairman, Dr Chidi Anyaegbu) was working for his uncle called Bestman. That time, we both slept in the shop. Sometimes, we would go together to the Mai Shai (road-side Hausa tea and bread seller) to buy tea and egg, because we had to eat dinner anywhere before retiring to our store to sleep. We woke up as early as 5:00a.m to bathe by the side of the road because there was no bathroom. We kept our clothes in a carton and changed from there. That is the kind of life I consider the best university anybody can go through because it is a tough lifestyle. It inspires you and you imbibe unprecedented discipline that will prepare you to survive difficult challenges. In that situation, you don’t need anybody to tell you to save money. I did that till I turned 14. I was naturally a very smart and hardworking boy. My boss opened a branch in Jos and that was how I went back to Plateau. Our store used to be at 4/5, Drimi Street, very close to the motor park. I stayed under a bungalow where we were not allowed to enter inside the compound. I did very well in Jos and he moved me to Sokoto. I managed his office in Sokoto, and from Sokoto, I went to a nearby town called Gumi, selling spare parts. From there, he recalled me to Lagos and got me to open a shop at Nnewi. So, I was managing Nnewi branch when I was 13.
At what point did you start trading on your own?
One fateful day after I had turned 14, we were having a camp meeting and it was our third day of fasting, and my uncle got to know that I locked up the shop for three days. That did not go down well with him; so he called me and my senior brother, and said he understood I was becoming a religious fanatic, but would not want to stand in my way. In fact, mine is a strong Catholic family, and my being a born-again Christian brought a lot of disaffection against me in the entire family. My boss counted N200 and gave it to me. That was in 1976. I was devastated, because frankly speaking, it wasn’t a big amount owing to the fact that you couldn’t even rent a shop with it. In fact, N200 could not buy one carton of spark plug. So, in the presence of my elder brother, I asked my boss to tell me what he wanted me to do with the money. He told me that whatever I wanted to do with it was entirely up to me. I said, ‘no, I served you for six years plus, and you could give me say a minimum of N10, 000 or N20, 000. At the worst, you can give me N5,000, because I need to get a shop and stock merchandise there. Where do I go with this sum?’ And he instantly told me that whatever I wanted to do with it, I should do. My elder brother got angry and said I should forget it. He handed the money back to my uncle and said, ‘let’s go’. I turned to him and asked him if he kept any money to give me when we get home. He said ‘no.’ So, I looked straight into the eyes of my uncle and told him that I was faithful to him to the core, and that was true, because I never stole from him. ‘But, if God hardened your heart the way he did to Pharaoh in the land of Egypt, to the extent that you gave me N200, my prayer is that you will be alive five years from today, so that by then, if you hear about who I have become, your head will be spinning’. I said this in the presence of my elder brother. I have always been very confident because my mother trained me to believe in myself. I grew up with optimism and I am not one of those boys that doubt themselves. My mother told me I am a likeable fellow and that people cannot say no to me. She said this to me when I was four to five years old, and it always resonates with me. When you see those young children in the streets and you say their parents are abusing them, I feel completely identified, because that used to be me. I became a breadwinner before I turned seven years. I joined my mother where she fried Akara (bean cake). She would put them on trays for us to go and sell. On each occasion, I would sell two trays before my brother could sell one, because if you refused to buy from me, I would hold your cloth. If you insist you won’t buy, I would tell you my mother said that nobody says no to me. I have been living with that optimism that no door closes before me.
Did overcoming very daunting challenges so early in your life prepare you for the greatness that you have attained today?
Of course, after my encounter with my boss, I went back home to join my brother and together we formed a company known as Maduka Brothers. We worked together and within six months, we started to differ in ideology, and we agreed to part ways. With the profit we had made and what I got after I had settled with him, my money was either N316 or N346. So, he stayed on his own and I got another place where a friend of mine gave me free of charge for six months. I put my merchandise there. I was 15 then, but I already had clear goals of what I wanted for myself: I wanted to marry before 20. I wanted to own my car by 23. I wanted to have a son by 21. And, I wanted to be a millionaire by 25. And, I also said, ‘write all these down, because it wasn’t a mere dream.’ But, that created problems for me, because people felt my mouth was too big. I was hated for saying those things. My mother even got irritated by these things I used to say. She thought that I should be a little bit cautious. In fact, she said I boasted too much. Eventually, I got married when I was 19 years plus. I have been married for 41 years now. My son didn’t come until I was 26. I bought my first car at 22, not 23. It was a Volkswagen Passat. I bought it from Mandilas with 3,000 kilometers on the odometer. I recalled carrying my wife in that car and my mother was sitting behind. We were going to someone and like my usual self, I said, ‘I am 23; in the next two years, I will be a millionaire.’ My mother said ‘no, no!’ And I repeated, ‘in two more years, I will be a millionaire.’ My mother said my statement was turning her stomach. She told me not to say that again, and that if I did, she would come down from the car. I parked the car and I repeated it. I now asked her: ‘Do you want to come down, and she said ‘yes.’ I opened the door, she got out, and I closed the door and drove off, leaving her standing at that spot. It was like I was crazy, but it was my faith. But she was alive to see it all happen, because she drove a brand new Mercedes 190 from me. I think God also rewarded her through me. I had my first son at 26 and the second one at 30. I ended up having four boys or actually five boys (because one is late) and a girl. My daughter is a medical doctor. The two boys read Economics at the University of Lagos, and did their post-degree courses in the UK and Massachusetts (in the United States). They are all back to join the company. My third son is also a graduate. The last boy just graduated with 4.0 GPA, and is currently studying for his Masters degree in Cincinnati University, Ohio (also in the United States). He did that at no cost to me, because he is an athlete. He runs and jumps for the school. So, he studies under scholarship. He is good in sports and I think he took after my wife who used to run 400 meters when she was in school. God has been fateful to me in many respects. Sometime, I think it looks like He has been a little bit partial with me because in terms of education, I didn’t have any. The death of my father didn’t make it possible. The best my mother supported me was to the Third Grade. I don’t even have a school certificate. I don’t say that for people to be sympathetic to me because I can go to school now. But, I just decided to leave it. That is how God wants it. But, with my Third Grade education, I have been to Harvard Business School. I was the Chairman of the Nigerian Table Tennis Federation (NTTF) for 16 years, and I have been to five Olympics. I have sat on the board of Access Bank for 12 years and was the Chairman of Credit Committee. I run Coscharis and sit on the board of different companies. God has been fateful in His infinite mercy. But the greatest thing that has happened to me as a person is that I came to know our Lord Jesus Christ at a very early stage in my life and I have learnt to be principled. Life is governed by principles.
I saw an old photo of your wife manning a spare parts shop when she was much younger. What role did she play in the birth and growth of Coscharis?
When God created a man, he never gave him a wife without giving him work. In Genesis 2: 15, God put a man in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 2: 18, God said it was not good for man to remain alone. He made a wife for the man. The wife was made to be a helpmate. In other words, God expects a man to be doing something before he gets a wife. This is because if you are already doing something, the wife will have to perfect the things you are doing. But, where the problem arises is that if you are doing nothing and you bring a wife, there are two confused people. Her duty is to help you do something and she came and found you doing nothing. What will she do? So, I met this young lady in church and my pocket was empty then, but my faith was full. You need to see her today and see how she looks at 62. Because I tell people that there is nothing fantastic about a lady who is 16 years and is beautiful. Every lady that is 16 should be beautiful. But the beauty of a woman shows at 60. If you are 60 and beautiful, then we can say you are truly beautiful, because we can wind back time and see what you were like at 16. My wife sings well; when she looks at you and laughs, her eyes glitter. When I was wooing her, many people were on the line and I was the least in terms of what it would take to compete, but I had the strongest faith amongst them. Later, when I asked my wife what she really found in me (that made her say yes to me), she said she noticed that I believed in myself, and that I dressed very well. Her parents actually shot me. I can say that, because the uncle shot me three times. This is not an exaggerated story. It was a real story – the uncle shot me with a gun. She has been very helpful and instrumental to my success. The time I married her, I was really a strong, young man fighting to survive. I had just parted ways with my brother. I ventured into importation and the first consignment went wrong and I lost my capital. But, I am a very determined individual. I believe in dignity in labour. For instance, somebody who came to our wedding gave us a weighing scale. One day, things got so hard that I took it to the market and got people to weigh themselves for a fee. I was collecting 10 Kobo from each customer. I came back with some money and my wife wanted to know what I did, and I told her. She cried like a little baby. Later, to support me, she dusted her certificate and got a job where they were paying her N85. She would bring the money every month to keep us going and we did that until things got better again for me. So, she was my first employee. When you see the name Coscharis, it means Cosmas and Charity. So, we own the company together, because we built it together. She married me when I was driving a motorbike. She came to me when I had nothing. So, whatever I make today, she is my first employee and whenever I went to Japan, she stayed in the shop. Whenever I sent a consignment of goods, she sold it and when I returned, I would collect the cash and take a flight the next day back to Japan. Later, her elder sister joined her and that was how we built this company.
Could this be your own way of saying that Mrs Maduka is also a good manager for being able to take care of the shop then while you ran around to bring in the goods?
She did that and she was very helpful and instrumental to the growth of the business. I am good at working hard and making money, but she is good at administering and making sure we keep the money well, even though I would say I taught her some of those things. This is because those days when things were hard for us, I used to ask her to give me a list when it was time to give her money to cook soup. I never gave her money without seeing her list. When she returned the week after for money for another soup, I would say ‘write another list.’ Then, I would bring out the former list to compare with the new one. And, if I saw a bottle of oil, I would ask, ‘you bought oil last week, why are you writing oil again?’ Then she would ask me if oil had become Coca-cola that she could drink. That was the level of poverty and training. But she had learnt from all of those things, and today she can sign a cheque of N10 billion and her credit card has no limit. She is much more disciplined. I bought her some jewelry that runs into thousands because she can never go to the shops to buy anything like that for the reason that she is more economical than myself.
The viral video of you out there in the street preaching the gospel with a megaphone has elicited diverse reactions, particularly in the social media. What informed the decision to embark on street evangelism?
Well, I didn’t know why people were surprised. For me and my family, we were surprised when we saw how that thing went viral in the social media. My children were like ‘what’s the big deal? This is our daddy’s life, and we have been living like this.’ It is just that somebody that knows me recorded it and put it up there. I have been doing this since when I was 14. If I don’t have a wedding on Saturday, you will see me in the street preaching. I do that from church to church, but it is our mandate to preach the gospel. I never stayed a week without talking to someone about Jesus Christ. But, going to the street is what I do on Saturdays. We were shocked it meant a lot to many people. A lot of people believe that, it is not something that is in vogue anymore, but it is fundamental to people like me.
So, street evangelism has always been part of your life, but the difference this time is that it caught wider public attention because somebody uploaded the video online?
It is not only that. It went to the public view and made impact for people who know who I am and what it is worth. For example, it was risky, on the road and on Saturday. But that is how I do it. If I tell you about my programme you will be surprised. I am speaking at the Redeemed early tomorrow. By this time tomorrow (afternoon), I’m already airborne and my flight will be taking off by 1: 00 p.m as I am going to Zimbabwe to speak to about 30, 000 people for the next four days.
What is the name of your church? I ask because people who do what you are doing usually have their own churches?
I used to worship with the Upper Room Mission here in Kirikiri (Lagos) some years ago. After some years, I left Upper Room Mission and joined the Christian Pentecostal Mission (CPM) in Ajao Estate. When I left CPM, I joined Local Christian Assembly in Ebute-Meta. I was a deacon in that church until this year that I felt my calling is becoming too demanding on me. If I share the programme of my activities in the last two months with you, you will realise that I am about making my exit (from running my business). The two boys are here and I told them that I am giving them a notice of additional four years for me to quit finally. I now spend more of my time in ministration than I do in business. I will basically hand Coscharis over to them, giving them authority and responsibility and also trying possibly to take one of the companies to the public in the next five years before I finally quit, so that I can take some money for my retirement. This is really what my life is. I have given the business aspect its best. I am 61. I am going to be 62 by December. And, I just want to see what I can do with the next 20 years of my life. There are not much you can do at 80 and 85. So, I wanted to focus with the gospel and try to make presentations at universities. I spoke in the University of Lagos last year. I am speaking in the University of Ife on September 23. I have done it in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and I have done it in Kogi. Of course, I was invited by the United Nations in 2014 to speak on youth entrepreneurship. That was my first time at the UN and about 163 countries were represented in that gathering. I was explaining practical experiences, not theory. I speak on things they don’t teach you in Harvard that we meet in our day-to-day businesses.
People are concerned that by preaching in the open you are taking a big risk at a time crime cases, like kidnapping, are rife all over the country. Don’t you fear for your life?
We have one life to live, not two lives. In the book of Acts of Apostle, Chapter 14, Apostle Paul said: I have heard prophecies; there is a balm over me, Jerusalem. What do I care anymore about my life? Where is the best place to die? I will like to be shot speaking the word of God. I have one life and I am not afraid of death, but take this from me: Nobody can do anything to me until God finishes with me. And that is where people make mistake. Life is not how long you lived, but how much impact you made in life. Jesus died at 33 and we have not stopped talking about him. Peter James, John, none of them lived up to 70 years. We still talk about them today. But, in only one verse we read in the Bible, Methuselah was 999 before he died. Nothing more was said about Methuselah. Life is about how impactful and how effectively you have lived, and not how long you have lived.
Would you have been so close to God and preaching in the street as you are doing now if you were a poor man or a struggling man?
So many struggling people do this. The unfortunate thing there is that a lot of struggling people did it sincerely with devotion, but they think, because they do this, they are closer to God. And they think it is because they do it that they are not wealthy. God used me to demystify some mysteries about people’s lives: For instance, that a rich man cannot serve God. And that you cannot serve God being rich. It is a national norm. People are very comfortable to believe that if you want to be right with God, forget about money – that money is another god; that it is a mammon, and so, don’t serve it. They believe that if you want to serve God, accept poverty as a way of life and you will never be able to put food on the table. Some have even jumped into ministration because of their stomach. That is why they cannot preach their heart. They can preach for their stomach. They want to say something that will give them daily bread. But somebody like me, if I stand talking with you today, I don’t have any form of financial crisis in my mind. Money never crosses my mind. I will tell you the truth without any reservation, because I don’t have any offering box for you to drop money in. Rather, if you need some, I will drop mine. I also don’t want to start church. If I start a church, my church will be full.
I will be there myself
(Loud laughter) I am not under any illusion whether I will have converts. The growth of the congregation of the church will be so much. But I also want to let people know that you can be wealthy and be under authority. I go to a church where I give people seat to sit as an usher; that is, being a normal human being because some of us, money has entered into our heads. Money is actually god. Jesus said that you cannot worship God and mammon. That means that it is something to be worshiped and the Bible says it answereth all things. So, when people make me feel that they are very spiritual because they are poor, I say forget it. We count your spirituality when you have some money in your pocket.
Apart from the preaching about not serving God and mammon at the same time, Jesus also preached about the rich man in the Bible that was told to first sell his wealth and give to the poor before coming to follow him. What is your reaction to this, considering that you are rich and also preach his word?
In Mathew 13, verses 1 to 8 and 19, the Bible said Jesus spoke to the multitude, and there was nothing he has said to them that he did not speak to them in parables. So, what is the essence of the parables? Parable is a way of speaking the truth, but hiding the truth until the listeners are interested to know what the truth is. You speak with a story, hiding the truth of what you are saying because it is not for you to give it to people until they show the desire to know. Then He can decode it for them. He made us to know that everything he had said to people were spoken in parables, but he was always waiting for them to first show the desire to know. When Jesus talked about a rich man giving out his wealth before following him, it was not to be taken literally. But he saw that, that young ruler had a money-loving demon in him; such that he placed his confidence in his possessions. In other words, that money has become a god for him and he spoke on it, just to let him know that there was something more superior to earthly possessions. But people take it literally as if what it means is to give your money, your cloths, and your house to people before you follow Jesus. That, in my humble opinion, was not exactly what he meant.
Is there morality in business? Where does a born-again Christian draw a line between making profit and serving God?
Everything you do has a law that controls it. If you decide to be a businessman and you operate in a capitalist environment, because nobody limits the loss you are going to bear, nobody limits the profit you are going to get too. You work hard and you are rewarded by that handwork. And the checks and balances come in form of competition. But yes, you can have money and decide to dominate an industry by monopoly and use the money to fight people who venture into that area. That is where the issue of morality counts. I can decide that I am a mafia in the cement industry and I don’t want you to come in there. Any day I see you put money in cement, I can discount the cement cost by 50 per cent and make sure I devalued your money that you never dare to come into that industry again. That is where morality comes in.
What secrets of success would you give to any young man who approaches you with the question: How do I become a billionaire like Cosmas Maduka?
The first thing I would tell the person is to refer him to the Bible. One of the secrets of the kingdom that Jesus brought is about management. The difference between a garden and bush is that you organise the garden. You take away some wild plant from the garden, but there are still trees and other things in it. Once you stop maintaining it, the garden becomes a bush. Management is one of the skills that churches are lacking. If a young man comes to me today and says he wants to enter the ministry and what should he study between geology and financial management, I will tell him to go and study financial management because you don’t learn God in school. The reason churches are attracting poor people is because an average pastor cannot even spell the word management. The first discipline you learn is how to manage resources because resources are not in plenty supply. God instituted tithe to teach you the ability to set aside and to keep something. If you can learn the discipline to keep something or set aside for God, you will set aside for yourself. I believe in tithe and I tithe, not only in my pocket, but in my business. If I make a billion naira in my business, 100 million naira goes for my ministry.
Do you still ride power bike? In terms of security and safety, is it not too risky for a man of your high profile?
I go for evangelism on my bike. I cruise with my BMW 1600cc – one of the most expensive and powerful super motorcycles from BMW Motorrad. The sound alone draws the crowd before I drop my gadgets and Bible for gospel to start. I started driving bike when I was 11 years. Bike is in our family. My grandfather drove bike, my mother drove bike, my three sisters drive bike and my two brothers drive bike also. So, we are bikers in my family. Many people don’t believe I will live to see 20 years based on the crazy way I drove bike. I have driven motorcycle from Nnewi to Benin and also from Nnewi to Enugu and then Afikpo. And, I have a very unconventional style of riding it; by perching on the seat – rather than sitting normally on it – and delivering all kinds of breathtaking manoeuvres.
As an investor, have you ever burnt your fingers in business? Have you ever been so frustrated to a point where you felt like giving up?
In business, we have situations where we feel like throwing in the towel. Like everything in life, many times in our most agonising period, we remain optimistic and keep hoping for a bright future without letting people know how weak we have become. The year 2016 brought one of the toughest times for Coscharis Group in our 46 years of existence. The warehouse opposite us (at Mazamaza) was completely burnt and billions of naira was lost and insurance did not pay anything to us. In that process, we undertook a liability of 300 million dollars that somebody reneged upon. It was a test case for my integrity and the franchise called Coscharis to remain in existence. We bit the bullet and moved on.