By Tony Manuaka
What was your initial reaction when you got a letter informing you that you would be conferred with a national honour in the rank of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON)?
I was in a meeting that fateful day when I received a message from the Interior Minister informing me of my nomination for the National Award approved by the President. I was very happy because I did not apply for it. I was thankful to those that recommended me for the honour. That shows that my contributions and positive impacts are being noted and recognized. I was very pleased. It takes someone who has my interest at heart to see my contributions. In a society where only bad news and bad deeds trend more than good deeds, it is worrisome because good deeds may not be celebrated. People are always interested in the negative side of a person. But the people who recommended me for the national honor saw the good side of me and thought it wise that I merited the recognition. This was the same way I was nominated for the MFR national honour in 2003 by then President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. The same way I did not apply for it. I know that it is my service to the nation and humanity that has earned me this national honor. I see it as a challenge to do more. And I dedicate this honour to my wife, children, grandchildren, good friends and committed staff, who have made it possible for me to render these services to humanity. I could never have done it alone without their support and encouragement. I pray that God almighty will reward them all, in Jesus’ name.
You recently celebrated your 66th birthday; how does it feel to be 66?
In all my life, I have never remembered my birthday, because I was not born with a silver spoon. So, celebrating birthdays was not part of my childhood. Even when I grew up and became a successful businessman, when the birthday comes and I’m on a business trip either in Abuja, Dubai or America, people over there always remind me of my birthday with surprise gifts or surprise celebrations. That is only when I remember that it’s my birthday. People remember my birthday for me and that is how it has been.
My tradition of celebrating my birthday is visiting hospitals, paying the medical bills of sick patients, visiting orphanage homes, and spending time with the physically challenged. I have practiced these for the past 10 years and it has been extremely fulfilling and satisfying to my conscience. But this year’s celebration was different. I have never wanted to throw a big birthday party. My family and friends surprised me in a big way this year with good traditional music and other entertaining activities. I am most grateful to God that, from my childhood to 66 years, I have never witnessed any life-threatening health challenge. I am hale and hearty. I am not confined to a wheelchair. I still go around freely and energetically, carrying on with my businesses. At 66, I feel great. I asked my friends who have clocked 66 if this is how it feels and they said that I am lucky. I have every reason to thank God for the love, blessings, grace, favour, mercy and protection he has blessed me with over the years. It is not because I am the most hardworking man or the most righteous man, nor am I the strongest man on earth. When I see people who are envious of me, I say to them, please, take it easy with envy and pray to God for your own blessings and success. I did not come from a well-to-do home. I came from a very humble background.
Let’s look deeper into your family background…
My late parents were primary school teachers. You know how much teachers were paid at that time. And we were nine children with parents who could not sponsor our education to the university level. So, I was forced to work hard at the age of 14. I began to fend for myself at a very young age, working and schooling at the same time. I had an ambition to become a successful businessman. And to God be the glory, my ambition came to a reality. That was what inspired me to write a book during my 50th birthday, titled “You Too Can Do It,” to encourage and motivate people that, if they believe in their vision, they can achieve it. The book also aimed to change the false narrative that it is only people born in wealthy homes that can achieve success. I want to believe that my life has also helped to change that falsehood. Everybody has chances to make wealth, but it is not everybody that has the ability to sustain the wealth. It takes an extra kind of self-discipline to achieve wealth sustainability. It is God’s grace, power and love towards me and for the sake of my family that he has preserved me to witness 66 years.
At 66, what would you consider to be your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement is investing in humanity. It took the grace and support of God to achieve that. I have always invested in human capacity development, right from my childhood. I don’t know how to eat alone, even till this moment. I set up a football team and sponsored it while in secondary school. In my transport company alone, which was established in 1981, I have employed over 22,800 workers. The workers operate in 28 states in the country and in 106 locations.
Whenever I attend the management meeting and I see the number of staff I have employed, it gives me this soul-satisfying joy and gladdens my heart that the resources God has blessed me with, I am able to impact positively on the lives of people. And, if 50 per cent of wealthy Nigerians can invest in human capacity development, the economy and security challenges will drastically reduce to a minimal rate. If you research on the cause of kidnapping, terrorism and banditry, you will discover that 80 per cent is caused by poverty, lack of education and other basic things of life. When there is no sustainable means of survival for citizens of a country, that country, including the rich, is in serious trouble. I am the chairman of Anambra State Security Trust Fund, and because of the number of human beings I handle, I am exposed to human management. People will always look for means to survive in whatever way they can.
In the course of managing my business, I discovered that humans are very difficult species to manage, but with diplomacy, you can manage human beings well. I have taken investing in people as a career because I understand the adverse effect of not building up people to become responsible in a society. The reason why we have numerous miscreants in the society is simply due to the lack of empowerment. These people turn out to become tools in the hands of wealthy manipulators who use them to cause mayhem and havoc in the society. No educated or enlightened person will rig elections and snatch ballot boxes. No educated person will graduate from the university to become a terrorist or kidnapper. The people who indulge in criminal activities are usually impoverished and lack education. My greatest achievement is investing in people and I am proud of it.
Chisco Transport is one of your businesses that made you prominent. Share with us the story of Chisco Transport and its current state…
Chisco Transport has been in existence for 41 years since its establishment on June 6, 1981. The transport subsidiary is not my first line of business. I started business as a motor spare parts and motorcycle spare parts importer in 1977, after I studied under my master, Chief Daniel Offordum, who trained me on how to do practical business. I started the transport business when the demand for transportation was high. Then, there was only one transport company going to Nnewi from Lagos State. So, I discovered that when the traders finished buying their wares, they had to wait for days until the only transport company could move to the East, which was once in a whole week. I bought my first luxury bus from Leventis Motors in June 1981 at N56,500. As my business grew and expanded, the demand also became high and we began to acquire more branches. That was how Chisco Transport grew to what it is today, with a staff strength of over 22,000.
How has the insecurity and sit-at-home order in the South-East affected Chisco Transport?
The sit-at-home and insecurity in the East has not only affected my transport business. It has affected and is still affecting every sector in Nigeria as a whole. The effect is not peculiar to Chisco Transport. It is political to attribute insecurity to the East alone. There is insecurity in Nigeria! The security challenge is a problem, which is affecting the economy in Nigeria. Security is everybody’s concern but should be more of the government’s concern. The economy is crumbling gradually. The government was elected by the people to provide security. The people pay taxes to the government for the purpose of developing the state and country, which includes securing the life and property of the people. Unfortunately, it is not being managed the way it ought to be. That is why you see the insecurity challenge increasing by the day, instead of reducing. The money and resources are there. The manpower is available to combat insecurity. It saddens me that the poor masses are those who suffer the consequences of these crises. Without adequate security, investors cannot come in to invest. That has also contributed to the decline in job creation. It is only when the government creates an enabling environment that private investors can establish companies and employ citizens. And when people are employed and busy, they cannot be idle and be used for the wrong purposes.
Over the years, you have also divested into real estate, hospitality, oil and gas. What informed your investment decisions?
The purpose of divesting into oil and gas businesses is that we consume almost two tankers of diesel daily in the transport section. That was why we had to set up filling stations in strategic locations because of our buses. We set up tank farms with the idea to import diesel. Another purpose is to create jobs. It is the same purpose for which we established the hotels and real estate business. As a businessman, my major target is how to multiply money. If I have N1 million today, my target is how to invest it to become N2 million or more. Back then, I used to host my friends and business associates in a hotel and it did not come cheap. It was happening on a regular basis, until I decided to establish a guest house, which later metamorphosed to a hotel to also make money and accommodate my business associates when they visit. That is how far we have divested into other businesses.
Let’s look at what you have contributed so far towards the development of the education sector through your Chidi Anyaegbu Foundation…
The Chidi Anyaegbu Foundation is all about offering university sponsorship and scholarship programmes at different levels to the underprivileged youths in my community. It does a lot of philanthropic activities. It was on my 50th birthday that I decided to give back to society. I built the Chisco Institute of Transport at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, in Anambra State, and donated it to the university. I have built roads; I pay school fees for children from families that are incapable of paying their children’s tuition fees. The foundation has a manager whose job is to scout for families that are unable to sponsor the education of their children and the foundation funds them to university level. That is what the Chidi Anyaegbu Foundation does. The foundation also offers free medical care. We usually have an annual free medical mission where over 40 doctors, specialists, come from America with their sophisticated equipment to carry out surgery on over 500 ailing people in my community, free of charge. We halted the free medical mission since the COVID-19 outbreak. Philanthropy has become a tradition and lifestyle in my family. Those charity works that people think are impossible are what the foundation is doing. I am so happy about what the foundation is doing to impact lives positively.